Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Helena, MT

Helena, MT

Founded in 1864 as a camp in the Montana gold rush, the city became one of the nation’s wealthiest early in its history.

Helena, MT, is the state’s capital and the seat of Lewis and Clark County. Founded in 1864 as a camp in the Montana gold rush, the city became one of the nation’s wealthiest early in its history. Though the city’s wealth isn’t quite what it once was, it has established itself as a hotspot for entrepreneurship, despite the diminutive size that makes it one of the country’s least populous state capitals.

Helena ranked 45th overall on WalletHub’s 2019 rankings of the best small cities to start a business, with a ranking of 52nd in the “Access to Resources” category suggesting that the city has more resources than its modest population may suggest. The city also caught the attention of Inc.com columnist Dustin McKissen, who wrote a glowing article on its growing entrepreneurial scene.  Outside of Helena specifically, the entire state of Montana also ranks highly in terms of entrepreneurship: the state was 9th overall on WalletHub’s list of the best states to start a business in 2019.

Based on these rankings, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that make up Helena’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:

 

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

The Helena Makers Meetup Group hosts regular meetings with the goal of teaching people the basics of being a maker through classes and workshops on topics like laser cutting.

Those interested in real estate investing can attend this group’s monthly meetings to meet others in real estate investing and learn some tips, tricks and other tools of the trade.

Helena Young Professionals is a group of young business professionals in the area that meet to host social outings, volunteering opportunities and professional development events.

 

Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

The Helena Area Chamber of Commerce hosts regular business-related events, including Toastmasters meetings, networking opportunities and more.

The Made in Montana Tradeshow is an annual two-day trade show hosted in Helena in which companies throughout the state have the chance to connect with wholesale store buyers.

Montana Business Events is a website that compiles, organizes and displays a variety of business- and entrepreneurship-related events taking place throughout the state.

 

Startup Competitions:

Early Stage MT, a program that works with Montana-based tech startups, hosts regular competitions for emerging companies in cities around the state.

Teenpreneur Roundup is an annual online startup competition in which high school students throughout the state submit business ideas for the chance to win cash prizes totaling $2500.

The Blackstone Launch Pad at the University of Montana hosts a pair of startup competitions open to students at a handful of colleges throughout the state, including Helena College.

Carroll College in Helena hosts a pair of business pitch competitions every semester for students to compete in and qualify for up to $1000 in funding.

 

Co-working Spaces:

Located in the middle of downtown Helena, The Lion Building has several floors of offices, event space and retail space in a walking mall on the first floor, all available for lease.

The Sidecar is a co-working space in Helena that offers traditional co-working, dedicated desk and private office membership levels as well as hosts social events for its members.

TopFloor Coworking offers a variety of membership plans as well as making conference and training rooms available to rent by its members.

 

Makerspaces:

Down the road in Missoula, the Missoula Public Library has a small makerspace located on the first floor that includes 3D printers, a CNC machine, a Cricut maker machine and more.

The M.O.P. Shop is a 6,000 square foot workshop that contains a woodshop and metal shop, a wide variety of tools, a lounge area, private studios and even a retail space for its members.

Montana State University in Bozeman offers the MSU Makerspace, a makerspace centrally located on campus open to be used by all students.

 

Incubators:

Though it’s located in Bozeman, the Bozeman Technology Incubator provides mentoring and other support to technology and manufacturing businesses throughout the state.

MBAC, the Montana Business Assistance Connection, helps connect startups and established businesses alike with the resources and funding they need to grow and thrive.

There is a network of small business development centers throughout Montana, including in Helena, that work to support small businesses and help them grow.

Located in Missoula, the Montana Technology Enterprise Center that connects high-growth tech startups from around the area to the support services they need to grow.

 

Accelerators:

Powered by Techstars at the University of Montana, the Blackstone LaunchPad is a campus program that helps support student entrepreneurship on and around campus.

Early Stage MT works with early-stage technology startups headquartered throughout the state of Montana through several programs, including a five-day Hyperaccelerator.

The Montana Innovation Co. invests twice per year in both non-profit and for-profit startups around the world, relocating them to Montana for a six-month accelerator program.

 

Colleges/Universities:

Carroll College organizes a variety of resources for entrepreneurial students, including a certificate program, a lecture series, networking events, a pitch competition and much more.

Part of the University of Montana system, Helena College’s Business Technology & Entrepreneurship program offers a certificate program in entrepreneurship.

The Jabs Entrepreneurship Center at Montana State University in Bozeman organizes both entrepreneurship classes and outside-the-classroom resources.

In addition to the Blackstone LaunchPad program for student entrepreneurs, the University of Montana offers a certificate program in entrepreneurship and small business.

 

Angel Groups/VCs:

In addition to classic angel investing, the Montana-based investment group Frontier Angels aims to actively promote and support women business leaders.

Founded in 2007, Goodworks Ventures is an investment firm that works with technology, sustainability, food and science startups.

Based in Bozeman, HomeStake Venture Partners is a venture capital firm that invests in “home-grown” companies throughout the state of Montana.

With locations in Bozeman and Missoula, Next Frontier Capital aims to invest in promising technology startups throughout the state and the Rocky Mountains region as a whole.

 

Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

The Helena Independent Record, the city’s daily newspaper, offers a variety of newsletters, including a weekly business-based one.

Though Montana Business Quarterly doesn’t offer any newsletters, a yearlong subscription to the magazine costs only $20.

 

Are you familiar with the entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Helena, MT not included in the article above?  If so, let us know via a comment below and we will add it to the article. 

Interested in Ecosystem Spotlights of other cities in the USA?

Cedar Rapids, IA, Cheyenne, WY, Fort Collins-Loveland, CO


Quinn Pilkey

Quinn is a journalism major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He also serves as a freelance author for Hashtag Basketball where he writes about the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and at Funding$age where he researches and writes about entrepreneurial ecosystems.