Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC) and the University of Montana have received grant funding to create a space for female small-business owners to network, grow and improve the financial standing of their businesses.
Thanks to a Small Business Administration grant of over $1 million over five years, the new Women’s Business Center will be established in Missoula, making it the second in the state after Bozeman. The Missoula center will partner with advisers in Great Falls and Fort Belknap, who will help provide additional outreach in their respective communities.
The grant was a collaborative effort, led by the UM Director of Women’s Entrepreneurship and Leadership Morgan Slemberger, in partnership with Jason Nitschke and Tonya Plummer. Americorps VISTA Mary Sullivan, who helped write the grant, said there were also many matching donors and supporters. These included the City of Missoula, Clearwater Credit Union, and several who provided letters of support, from Sen. John Tester to the cities of Shelby, Bozeman and others.
Sullivan said the center would provide such services as advising on business models, financing and budgeting classes, and advice on marketing principles and canvassing models, adding that they would also be asking specifically what people need. She also said most of the services would be free or low-cost, to help ease the burden on entrepreneurs.
“Money is very tight when you’re trying to start something, or you’re playing around with an idea,” she said.
In the case of Fort Belknap, executive director of Montana Native Growth Fund Tonya Plummer says that outreach to Native entrepreneurs looks different than to non-Natives, due to the limited resources on reservations and a community-minded culture.
“A lot of what an Indigenous entrepreneur will want to do is give back to their community, so very often we approach things with a different mindset,” Plummer said. “Being able to provide a new means of economy in tribal society, a new means of wealth creation, is huge.”
In Great Falls, Jason Nitschke directs the regional Small Business Development Center and is Vice President of the Great Falls Development Authority. He said he thinks the new center will be a great asset to the state, tripling the impact of the Bozeman location. And that’s not his only reason for supporting the project.
“The thing that excites me most about being able to stand up a new women’s business center and create more resources for female entrepreneurs in the state of Montana is because I hope, at some point when my daughter is old enough, she’ll have opportunities here,” Nitschke said. “So she doesn’t leave me when I’m old,” he laughed.