MISSOULA – Charmed, a Missoula-based startup company assisted by the University of Montana, has been selected for the prestigious Techstars Boulder Accelerator program, which accepts less than 1% of applicants.
Charmed was supported by UM-based Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars. Founded with support from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, the organization works to boost entrepreneurship among UM students, faculty, employees and alumni, as well as the broader Montana business community.
“This is believed to be the first time a Montana startup has been accepted into a Techstars accelerator, making this a huge accomplishment,” said Paul Gladen, director of Blackstone LaunchPad at UM. “It’s also just the third venture from across the Blackstone LaunchPad global network of campuses accepted into Techstars, the leading global high-tech startup accelerator.”
Charmed (https://www.charmed.app/) provides online daters with real-time advice from friends and experts about their conversations on any dating app. The startup has worked with the Blackstone LaunchPad since spring 2018, benefiting from coaching and connections to mentors, as well as participating in UM’s John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge in 2019.
The Charmed team includes four UM students and alumni: co-founder and CEO Taylor Margot (a forestry major), Kassi Strong (a psychology major with a business minor), Mary Fewer (accounting and management information systems) and Krister Kroll (master’s in business administration).
“Techstars is a very exciting opportunity for Charmed,” said Strong, a UM alumna and member of the Charmed team. “Not only are we able to grow as a team and focus on quick growth and development, but we are receiving mentorship and guidance from people who have found major success in the tech world.”
Strong and Fewer are former and current members of the Blackstone LaunchPad student team, where they were introduced to Margot initially to assist with market research. Strong also has been a two-time competitor in UM’s Ruffatto business challenge, the premier student entrepreneurship contest in Montana.
“The predominant feeling of going to Techstars is empowerment,” said Margot, a Charmed co-founder and another UM graduate. “Charmed is still just an idea – a big idea, but an idea. Having a group like Techstars believe in our vision and believe that we are the team to institute a massive social shift in modern dating, is overwhelmingly empowering.”
Gladen said Charmed also benefited significantly from the wider startup ecosystem at UM – most notably as a participant in the Early Stage Montana Hyper Accelerator in the summer of 2019.
“So much of how startups operate is unconventional by traditional business metrics,” said Kroll, a member of the Charmed team and current UM student. “You have to be fast and agile. Techstars has the resources and connections to help us be faster and more efficient than we could ever be on our own. Over the next three months, we will drive to build elegant software, understand users and fire up our growth engine. By opening dating apps to our support networks, we are reimagining online dating.”
Morgan Slemberger is assistant director of Blackstone LaunchPad and directs its Pursue Your Passions program, which works to empower female entrepreneurship. She said both Fewer and Strong participated in the program, and Strong also helped run PYP in 2018-19.
“It’s tremendous to see two talented and motivated women thriving in a high-tech, high-potential startup team,” Slemberger said.
While Charmed is at the beginning of its startup journey, Missoula and Montana already have witnessed the job-creating potential of successful Techstars Accelerator ventures. ClassPass, which participated in Techstars New York Accelerator program, opened an office in Missoula in early 2018 and now employs in excess of 200 employees in the city.
“It is no surprise to us that the third Blackstone LaunchPad team to be accepted into a Techstars Accelerator comes from (UM),” said Erica Lock, vice president of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. “Paul Gladen and his team have done an exceptional job supporting student entrepreneurs and providing them the skills, connections and opportunities they need to launch a successful startup. We saw that impact ourselves firsthand this past fall when the Charmed team came to our annual LaunchPad Propel event in New York, and we can’t wait to see what they do next.”