Two University of Montana Blackstone Launchpad employees launched a retreat business this week that focuses on building women’s entrepreneurial skills while providing a unique Montana experience at local lodges and destinations.

Founders Kassi Strong, Morgan Slemberger and Genevieve Lind created Peak Retreats to empower women and provide expertise in business growth, communication, branding and funding.

Kassi Strong
Kassi Strong

It’s similar to a conference, Slemberger said, but participants will have more one-on-one discussions with consultants and be able to relax and recharge through skiing, snowshoeing and spa treatments.

“I think the main thing you can get from a conference is one, some tangible results from speakers, but two, the power of networking and those water cooler conversations you have at a conference,” Slemberger said. “Peak Retreats will be really fascinating. We kind of have a price point that is at a conference price point; however, we will build a far stronger, close-knit community than any conference ever will.”

The retreat takes a personal approach, Strong said, with only 10 spots available for the first event. The founders hope through self-funding, the business can host three to four retreats each year for women from anywhere in the country.

“We want to make sure we’re working with everyone individually, but also allowing a lot of people to participate by hosting multiple retreats,” Strong said.

The inaugural retreat is set for January 23-25 at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake in Whitefish, and will feature keynote speakers discussing the challenges participants face in their businesses.

Lu Setnicka, former global director of human resources for Patagonia, and Sarah Kay, head of global brand and innovation leadership at Nike, will talk about branding and life coaching.

Missoula native Lisa Stone will add the knowledge she’s gained as chief strategy officer at ElleVest, a digital investment platform for women.

“Our coaches just have really big experiences that not very many people in Montana have had the opportunity to experience, so it’s awesome to get sort of the bigger picture from these women,” Strong said. “They have really neat insight on how to balance their personal lives and how to create meaningful goals and stay healthy while they do it.”

Health coaches, such as Linda Green, director of wellness at UM’s Curry Health Center, will also attend, offering advice to entrepreneurs about how to better manage stress, a significant concern for new business owners according to a Blackstone Launchpad survey.

“If you look at national statistics, entrepreneurs usually have higher stress, poorer health mentally and physically,” Slemberger said. “You sacrifice a lot to get a business off the ground and sometimes it’s not the healthiest practice, so our survey results mimicked that. We want to ensure that this experiences is not only productive but also holistic and an experience that’s relaxing and can generate more valuable time in the work week of an entrepreneur and a business leader.”

Morgan Slemberger
Morgan Slemberger

According to Slemberger, just 2 percent to 4 percent of all venture capital funding goes to women. That’s the critical startup funding businesses need.

“It’s staggering to me the lack of perspectives that we are missing out in the world for women’s entrepreneurship,” she said.

In 2015, Blackstone Launchpad started Pursue Your Passion, a community of female students seeking information and help in business development. In 2018, 48 percent of the entrepreneurs registered with Blackstone Launchpad are women.

Strong is a senior at the University of Montana studying psychology and business, and created her own local crepe vending restaurant, Crepe Cuisine. Slemberger and Strong are confident they can help others start a career path as well.

“I think right now with the Time’s Up movement and the #MeToo movement, the world is listening to things that are just being offered to women,” Slemberger said. “I think the world is ready to make a substantial shift, so we want to help with that and give women more power through being successful in business.”

Learn more about Peak Retreats or January's inaugural retreat on their website.