Missoula, University of Montana land new Women’s Business Center

The new Women’s Business Center, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, will be housed in Missoula but serve the entire state, with employees residing in Missoula, Great Falls and Fort Belknap. (University of Montana courtesy phot0)

The University of Montana and the Montana Technology Enterprise Center on Tuesday secured a grant to create a new Women’s Business Center – one of 20 new centers in the nation dedicated to female entrepreneurs.

The new center, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, will be housed in Missoula but serve the entire state, with employees residing in Missoula, Great Falls and Fort Belknap.

“I have been saying out loud for three years that I would like a WBC in Missoula,” said Morgan Slemberger, the UM director of women’s entrepreneurship and leadership, who spearheaded the grant application. “It was a stretch, but we made it happen.”

Slemberger said support for the new center came from across the state, with contributions ranging from bank donations to Sen. Jon Tester and Missoula Mayor Jon Engen, among others.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are essential Missoula values,” Engen said. “To get the rare opportunity for Missoula to headquarter a statewide, SBA Women’s Business Center is a privilege, but it also is a way for the city to actually live its values.”

Slemberger said women entrepreneurs have long faced challenges launching and maintaining successful businesses – challenges made even greater in technologically sparse states like Montana. Many incomes fall below the nationwide average in the state, further making it difficult to access business resources.

Despite the challenges, Slemberger said women-owned businesses in Montana are on the rise. According to a 2019 reporter released by American Express, the state is No. 10 in the country for a women’s ability to create jobs.

“In Montana, our people may be few, but our vibrant communities are plentiful,” Slemberger said. “(The center) proposes to be different from those that have preceded it.”

The Accelerate Montana program at UM has already been successful in helping female entrepreneurs during the pandemic, with an award of $300,000 resulting from the CARES Act Recovery Grant. The new Women Business Center hopes to create financial independence for women across the state and sustain and grow the state’s economy.

“When we invest in resources like the WBC, we see meaningful impacts like new business innovations, more jobs and a better quality of life,” said Jason Nitschke, Great Falls Development Authority vice president and Small Business Development Center regional director.

Tonya Plummer, executive director of the Montana Native Growth Fund in Fort Belknap, said support for organizations like the WBC is especially important for Native woman business owners.

Although 69% of Native women entrepreneurs were raised in families where parents or other family members owned a business, 63% had no formal business training.

“Native women are natural entrepreneurs – resourceful, resilient, creative and deeply connected to our communities,” Plummer said. “The ability to offer a WBC Native woman business adviser meets this need. The growth of successful, thriving Native women in business promises exponentially positive impact on future tribal generations.”

For more information on the MonTEC WBC, follow this link.