Montana State University has been awarded a federal grant to create a public-private partnership for growing tech companies in Montana.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration announced July 23 that it had awarded $750,000 to MSU’s Prospect Montana, a newly created program to promote high-tech economic development statewide.
The three-year funding will support three complementary efforts to see high-tech companies grow and create jobs in communities across the state, said Daniel Juliano, head of MSU’s Technology Transfer Office, who applied for the grant.
Roughly $400,000 will go into a new “gap fund” managed by the university’s Office of Research and Economic Development, Juliano said, which will be awarded to advance technologies toward commercial applications or to build prototypes.
“This isn’t for fundamental research,” Juliano said. “This is to get promising technologies out of the lab and into startup companies that will create high paying jobs here in Montana. So, there has to be commercial potential.”
Awardees will get the chance to meet and learn from Next Frontier Capital, a Bozeman-based venture capital firm, which will be evaluating the developed technology for potential private investment and nurturing the new entrepreneurs behind the startups.
Discussion about forming a partnership with MSU started over a year ago, said Les Craig, partner at Next Frontier Capital.
“The decision for us to support the project was driven by the continued growth and success of Montana companies and the great potential we are seeing in the development of early stage technologies at MSU,” Craig said.
Of the remaining federal funds, approximately $110,000 will go to MSU’s 406 Labs Business Accelerator, a program at the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, which will provide education and mentorship to keep the students and faculty who receive gap funding on track to launch their startups.
“This grant is a game changer for our entrepreneurial efforts here at MSU,” said Mark Ranalli, dean of MSU’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
The federal grant will also benefit Early Stage Montana, a nonprofit program led by Pat LaPointe of Frontier Angels. Early Stage Montana is in its second year of helping state startups prepare for private investment. The nonprofit will receive $65,000 from the grant.
Promising startups will be invited to work with the program to showcase their work to a larger venture capital network where they can find funding.
“Prospect Montana will fill a need in the tech ecosystem to help get breakthrough ideas out of the lab and start them on their path to commercial success. Early Stage MT and the Frontier Angels are able to then bring training, mentorship, and access to capital to help these emerging companies move fast to create jobs in our communities,” said LaPointe.
The remaining money will go toward launching and promoting the gap funding program, preparing participants to submit gap funding proposals, and administering the program.
The Prospect Montana program will begin this fall with a competitive request for MSU gap fund proposals. Grant funds will be awarded to three to five applicants based on the commercial potential of their technology.