Awesome Towns for Entrepreneurs: A Spotlight on Bozeman, MT

When choosing a place to start a business or relocate, the internet largely removes geographical distance as a constraint. That’s got entrepreneurs considering entirely different options than a decade ago. Places like Silicon Valley, New York, and Los Angeles are oversaturated. The next best thing is not necessarily metropolitan—but micropolitan.

Bozeman, Montana, is a micropolitan city on the up. Money Magazine named it in the top ten best places to live in 2017. Its population grew 35 percent between 2000 and 2010, and another 30 percent between 2010 and 2018. But there’s still plenty of room to scale: the town has an estimated population of under 50,000 people—the city’s small size contrasts with its booming business potential.

Bozeman appeared on the business map in a big way in 2011, when RightNow Technologies, a local company with 1,100 employees, was acquired by Oracle for $1.5 billion. What followed was a new class of Bozeman entrepreneurs, bolstered by a new startup incubator and national recognition. Startups have raised millions in seed funding, and gone on to be acquired for staggering amounts. It’s all part of the reason why of the 25 least populated states, Montana has repeatedly been ranked by the Kauffman Index as one of the top places for startup activity.

Fast Facts: Why Bozeman, MT?

  • Communal. With an estimated population of just under 50,000, Bozeman has plenty of small town vibes. But the benefits of that go beyond smiles and waves. Mentorships, business lunches, and even casual collisions with the town’s business and political elite are all much more possible than they would be in a larger urban settings.
  • Navigable. Everything in Bozeman is, theoretically, 15 minutes away. But some still take the scenic route: an estimated 14 percent of Bozeman’s residents walk or bike to work. If you want to kick back on your commute, however, the Streamline bus provides fare-free intra-city transport, as well as connections to neighboring areas.
  • Connected. A burgeoning local fiber network gives small and medium sized businesses in Bozeman internet connections that start at a gigabyte a second, and it’s ready to scale up as demand increases. The local airport, recently ranked by Money Magazine as the fifth best in the country, has direct flights to many major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Houston.
  • Educated. Montana State University, the largest school in the state, makes freshly minted talent a natural resource in Bozeman. And for entrepreneurs looking to raise a family, Bozeman has several Blue Ribbon Schools, as well as the second-lowest in-state college tuition rates in the country.
  • Outdoorsy. From an outdoors point of view, there’s far more to do in the Bozeman area than there is in one of the nation’s largest cities. Bozeman residents have access to some of the best skiing in the Western United States, whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River, miles of trout streams to fish in, and hiking trails that start in town.

Five Businesses to Watch in Bozeman, MT

Schedulicity

Schedulicity started as a booking platform that allows service-based businesses to connect to their customers. Founded in 2009 by Jerry Nettuno, the idea started small and personal. Seeing entrepreneurs as a vital part of the local Bozeman community, Nettuno wanted to provide them with simple, affordable, and powerful tools to grow and connect with their clients.

Initially targeting small businesses in the health and beauty industry, Schedulicity now helps over 100,000 businesses in over 50 different industries with their scheduling, marketing, and payments. For all that growth, Schedulicity was named the best startup in Bozeman for 2019.

Beartooth

Beartooth is a company that exudes the spirit of the Big Sky Country. Built for backcountry communication, it uses a form-fitting case to allow text, voice, and location sharing from your smartphone, even if there’s no cell service.

Founded by two Montana State University alumni, businessman Michael Monaghan and former smoker jumper Kevin Ames, the idea started as a simple one: how could you easily allow a cell phone to function like a radio transmitter, or walkie-talkie? It took a year to find the answer to that question, and another year to bring it to the public at a San Francisco tech conference. Several years later, they’re still going strong, and still headquartered in Bozeman.

MyVillage

MyVillage is reimagining early childhood education by looking to the past. The MyVillage system sets up home education centers within a neighborhood, and empowers a caregiver to watch over and educate the area’s children. Drawing on the old ideas of a village and communal learning, MyVillage’s mission is to harness the power of community to create exceptional care for every child.

The founders, Erica Mackey and Elizabeth Szymanski, consulted with early childhood education experts at Harvard, talked to hundreds of care providers across the US, and drew upon their own experiences to build the MyVillage framework. In 2019, MyVillage closed a $5.95 million seed round—the largest ever in Montana.

SiteOne Therapeutics

SiteOne Therapeutics is a biotech company dedicated to developing novel pain treatments, making it a key weapon in fighting the opioid epidemic in the US. Founded by Dr. John Mulcahy and the late George Miljanich, SiteOne keeps its headquarters in Bozeman while also maintaining a research site in San Francisco. An active founder, Dr. Mulcahy is SiteOne’s VP of research, and he’s acted as principal investigator on numerous small business grants that the National Institutes of Health have issued SiteOne.

Quiq

Quiq is a conversational engagement platform that helps businesses engage with their customers through modern channels like SMS, AI-powered chatbots, and social messaging. This summer, they pulled in $12.5 million in Series B funding. Co-founders Mike Meyer and Bill O’Neil both got their start at Bozeman’s biggest tech player, RightNow Technologies, where they served in high leadership roles. Quiq’s marquee clients already include Office Depot, Overstock, and Brinks, but Quiq remains proudly headquartered in Bozeman.

Local Resources for Bozeman Entrepreneurs

Bozeman Chamber of Commerce

Bozeman’s economy is one of the strongest in Montana, with one in every ten new businesses in the state coming from Bozeman and the surrounding area. The Bozeman Chamber of Commerce has played a big role in that dominance: it’s become one of the largest and most aggressive business organizations in the state over its 100 years of service. The Chamber hosts several weekly leads groups that bring together members of the business community to share ideas, information, leads, and referrals. Two other events, Business Before Hours and Business After Hours, provide networking opportunities.

For those looking to start a business in Bozeman, the Chamber of Commerce is a one-stop resource, as they’re committed to playing an active role in encouraging, and growing, new businesses in the area. This is a full-throttle endeavor: the Chamber runs programs on community development, leadership, training, tourism, economic development, and strategic planning.

1 Million Cups: Bozeman

The ideas behind much of the world’s high-powered digital tech originated with a couple of analog cups of coffee. That’s the ethos behind 1 Million Cups, a free-to-all program designed to educate, engage, and inspire entrepreneurs. From a rough start in 2012, it’s now expanded to over 180 communities, including Bozeman.

The formula remains as simple as making a cup of coffee. During each meeting of a local chapter of 1 Million Cups, an entrepreneur has six minutes to present their company or business idea (which can be either newly formed or up to five years old) to a room of community members. The community members then have 20 minutes to ask questions, provide feedback, or offer support. The Bozeman chapter meets on Main Street. There’s no charge for participating, and coffee and cake is provided.

Blackstone LaunchPad: Montana State University

Blackstone LaunchPad is a non-profit campus resource for students, alumni, and faculty interested in business and entrepreneurship. By providing venture support, mentorship, and a strong network of community resources, they foster entrepreneurship and innovation in the local community. The LaunchPad coordinates off-campus opportunities, leverages connections with industry-leading mentors, and convenes students and faculty at world-class speaking engagements. Powered by a three-year, $2 million grant, the LaunchPad has helped over a dozen local ventures find success.

Bozeman Technology Incubator

Formed with some of the proceeds of RightNow’s sale to Oracle, the Bozeman Technology Incubator provides free mentoring to all of Montana’s high tech and manufacturing businesses. The mentorship process begins through email, in a question-and-answer format.

An exclusive number of businesses with the highest growth and job-creation potential are selected to join The Summit Circle, an intensive business acceleration program. Those admitted to The Summit Circle receive access to an extensive network of successful entrepreneurs, coaching sessions, strategic planning, recruiting assistance, and introductions to possible funding streams.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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