Montana startups find receptive audience at 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Conference

The Montana Pavilion featured representatives of four startups talking not only about their products, but about Montana’s quality of life and tech job opportunities. (Katy Spence/Montana High Tech Business Alliance)

Four Montana business startups attended the 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Conference in San Francisco last week, spreading the word about the state’s booming tech industry and connecting with businesses from around the world.

With help from the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and the Montana Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the companies traveled to the technology convention as the Montana Pavilion, representing the state for the first time to potential investors and expansion-minded businesses.

“I think the story of the tech boom in Montana, of our status as one of the No. 1 states for entrepreneurship in the country is little known nationally. So we’re hoping this can draw some attention,” said Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance.

The event is the world’s largest tech startup conference, hosting thousands of companies, investors and economic development organizations.

“We hope that the four companies that are attending can get exposure for their ideas and visibility, that they can meet potential investors or clients, or even recruit some employees who would be interested in leaving the Silicon Valley for the fantastic lifestyle of Montana,” Henderson said. “I think it’s primarily a great way for a growing startup to get visibility to investors and the media, and bring a national audience to the products they’re building here in Montana.”

Missoula tech entrepreneur Paige Williams presented a unique product on Startup Alley. (Katy Spence/Montana High Tech Business Alliance)

Paige Williams, CEO and founder of Audience Awards in Missoula, attended the conference to market and share the work of her global video platform company, which connects filmmakers to job opportunities and contests that help share their productions.

Brands like 21st Century Fox, Kodak, GoDaddy and Hilton Worldwide hire filmmakers to create content that can then be entered in contests and used on company websites and social media platforms.

Other Montana businesses that attended the conference included tech companies Elebase.io, Triple Tree and WebBuy.

The Montana Pavilion was in an area called Startup Alley, where other small technology businesses had tables and advertised their products and services.

While other companies emphasized software, AI and robotics, Williams said Audience Awards was unique on Startup Alley.

“There’s a lot of companies that are heavy tech and not platforms. There’s not a lot of platforms here, and Audience Awards is a social community platform as well as a video platform, so we were unique and stood out because there was no one like us in Startup Alley,” Williams said during the conference.

Williams connected with a few other brands to collaborate with on short film content for luxury brands and even with a shoppable market platform startup called Myxx.

As a member of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance Board of Directors, Williams wants to show what Montana is doing to become a high-tech hot spot for other talented entrepreneurs.

According to a 2017 report funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Montana has been ranked one of the top five states for startups for the last five years.

“What’s great about having the Montana Pavilion is people can find out about Montana,” Williams said. “It’s a great place to have a company and raise a family. I am very intentional in having my company in Montana.”

Williams attended a few sessions that described the expansion of the tech industry outside of Silicon Valley to cities that are more affordable and she encouraged others to move to Montana. Overall, she views the experience as a successful one and hopes to have another Montana Pavilion attend next year’s conference to highlight other startups.

“The main reason I serve on the board of the Montana High Tech Alliance is because I believe in really talking Montana up and making it a place that can be a tech hub and making sure we have enough investment, financial services, as well as talent so that we can create great businesses,” she said. “The more we get out of the state and talk about our businesses the better it is for Montana and for people to be more aware of what’s going on in Montana.”