Blackfoot launches C2M beta in Missoula to lift regional technology startups

Joe Fanguy, vice president of strategic development at Blackfoot, said “C2M beta will bring together entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and industry experts to quickly prototype solutions, and test them with real customers.” (Missoula Current file photo)

With space at the Montana Technology Enterprise Center running short, Missoula’s economic leaders have long sought a new location to help incubate the city’s growing technology sector.

They got that on Tuesday when Blackfoot Communications announced the opening of its anticipated innovation lab at its West Broadway headquarters.

The first of its kind in the region, C2M beta will give startup companies access to Blackfoot’s technology infrastructure, expertise and 16-state customer base in a push to accelerate the delivery of products and services to the market.

“As part of Blackfoot’s Smart Growth strategy, we’re continuing our decades-long commitment to deliver cutting-edge products and services to our customers,” said Blackfoot CEO Jason Williams. “With the launch of C2M beta, we’re now proactively partnering with startups to drive innovation, attract strategic partnerships, and further support Montana’s thriving tech economy.”

Visions for a second technology campus began taking shape last year when Blackfoot hired Joe Fanguy as its vice president for strategic development.

Over the past eight years, Fanguy helped revitalize the Montana Technology Enterprise Center, which has produced $30 million in private investment, helping several upstart tech companies position themselves for long-term success.

C2M beta will play a similar role, and it could serve as the western anchor to what the University of Montana and its partners envision as a citywide innovation corridor.

“C2M beta will bring together entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and industry experts to quickly prototype solutions, and test them with real customers,” said Fanguy. “To sweeten the opportunity, Blackfoot will support participants with its advanced broadband, wireless, cloud and data solutions as part of the open innovation experience.”

Fanguy said companies selected to participate in the program will work with Blackfoot over a six-month period. In that time, C2M beta will assemble a customized team to support selected startups by providing business, technical and project support.

Fanguy said the center will focus on solutions in health care, banking, telecommunications and media, especially those that leverage cloud, wireless and big-data technologies.

“We aspire pre-seed and seed-stage startups to think broadly about this opportunity,” Fanguy said. “C2M beta is not just a Missoula opportunity, but a partnership platform with reach across Blackfoot’s rapidly expanding service areas, both inside and outside of Montana.”

The Audience Awards, a Missoula-based tech company founded by Page Williams, will serve as the first C2M beta business. The new tech center will also receive support from Front Street Capital.

Russ Piazza, founder of Front Street Capital, said his firm will co-host quarterly “Open Innovation Sessions” with C2M beta and Blackfoot in Missoula. The sessions will focus on testing the culture and chemistry of the team, and gauge how the business fits with C2M beta resources and Blackfoot’s own network.

“The philosophy of C2M beta aligns well with our focus on company management, specifically the principles of integrity, teamwork, passion, purpose and employee empowerment,” said Piazza. “It will provide benefit to Front Street’s growing portfolio of early stage investments, and the Montana tech ecosystem as a whole.”