By Martin Kidston

The Missoula Economic Partnership launched a new digital platform this week to connect the city's private sector with the education sector at the University of Montana and beyond in an effort to help solve tech problems faced by area businesses.

Jenn Ewan, vice president of MEP, said the platform, “Data Science and Technology Request for Talent and Help,” will also enable the university to develop stronger statistics on the city's private-sector industries.

That, she added, could help educate students in the real-world needs of local businesses.

“This new effort is just another way for us to gather data on industries,” said Ewan. “It gives the university an idea of what the private sector is doing. It's not particular to any single industry. The form is there to capture what the need is.”

The platform, developed by Submittable, includes a range of topics, from cybersecurity to system integration. Ewan said the information that's submitted will help build a data set on what local businesses need in their daily endeavors.

The School of Business Administration at UM assisted Missoula International Airport last year on a similar passenger survey. That effort also included graduate students in computer science.

“Anyone who has a data-science need, whether it's on the Web side, an app design, user interface or back-end coding, they can submit that to our platform,” said Ewan. “I can then get it out to the education sector to help solve the need.”

The survey poses a number of questions, from what's driving a company's need for help and who's best to solve it – a new employee, an intern or a project team.

It asks for future business goals, when the project must be solved, and whether the requested help represents a temporary or permanent need.

“This initiative helps make sure the school is producing the right students to meet private-sector demand,” Ewan said. “We're planning on doing the same thing with the life sciences and health care. It's been really well received.”