MISSOULA – The University of Montana and the Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC) have secured a grant to create one of 20 new centers in the nation dedicated to women in business.
The MonTEC Women’s Business Center, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, will be housed in Missoula but serve the entire state, with employees in Missoula, Great Falls and Fort Belknap. It is the second WBC in Montana.
“I have been saying out loud for three years that I would like a WBC in Missoula,” said Morgan Slemberger, the UM director of women’s entrepreneurship and leadership who spearheaded the grant application. “A colleague alerted me to this rare SBA opportunity with a little more than eight days’ notice. I talked with a lot of people in a short time, and because stakeholders in our state believe in women, we got the grant. It was a stretch, but we made it happen.”
Statewide support for the new WBC poured in, with pledges of in-kind and monetary support from the cities of Shelby, Choteau, Bozeman, Great Falls, numerous small businesses, banks, Missoula Mayor John Engen, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, the State House of Representatives and more.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are essential Missoula values,” Engen said. “To get the rare opportunity for Missoula to headquarter a statewide, SBA Women’s Business Center is a privilege, but it also is a way for the city of Missoula to actually live its values. I cannot wait to hear about the different, women-owned businesses that this new center will support."
Women entrepreneurs have long faced challenges launching and maintaining successful businesses – challenges made even greater in large, culturally diverse and technologically sparse states like Montana. Many Montanans’ incomes fall below the nationwide average, further making it difficult to access business resources.
In spite of these challenges, women-owned businesses in Montana are on the rise, and according to American Express’ 2019 report, Montana is No. 10 in the country for women’s ability to create jobs. (See page 14).
Montana’s current WBC is housed at Prospera in Bozeman, and the new decentralized WBC will focus on serving even more women across the state – urban, rural and people of color. Coordinated through the center director in Missoula, MonTEC’s WBC will host business counseling, programs and training for women entrepreneurs and business owners in all locations.
MonTEC’s WBC will leverage UM’s commitment to economic development through its existing women’s entrepreneurship and leadership program, Pursue Your Passions, in amplifying support for current and aspiring women business owners.
At UM, a suite of additional programs such as the Blackstone LaunchPad, Accelerate Montana’s Rural Innovation Initiative, the Small Business Development Center, Montana World Trade Center and Missoula Procurement Technical Assistance Center all help support entrepreneurs and business.
Already UM’s Accelerate Montana program has been successful in aiding women entrepreneurs during the pandemic with an award of $300,000 in CARES Act Recovery Grant funding.
Through supporting diverse women entrepreneurs, MonTEC’s WBC hopes to create financial independence for Montana women and sustain and grow the state’s economy.
“When we invest in resources like the WBC, we see meaningful impacts like new business innovations, more jobs and a better quality of life,” said Jason Nitschke, Great Falls Development Authority vice president and Small Business Development Center regional director. “I couldn’t be more proud of this collaboration.”
Tonya Plummer, executive director of the Montana Native Growth Fund (also known as Island Mountain CDFI) in Fort Belknap, said support for organizations like the WBC is especially important for Native woman business owners. Although 69% of Native women entrepreneurs were raised in families where parents or other family members owned a business, 63% had no formal business training.
“Native women are natural entrepreneurs – resourceful, resilient, creative and deeply connected to our communities,” Plummer said. “The ability to offer a WBC Native woman business adviser meets this need. The growth of successful, thriving Native women in business promises exponentially positive impact on future tribal generations.”
Slemberger, who will supervise the WBC director, thanks all the partners who supported the new center.
“In Montana, our people may be few, but our vibrant communities are plentiful,” Slemberger said. “MonTEC’s WBC proposes to be different from those that have preceded it: divergent in location, but convergent in a collaborative, needs-based approach to drive meaningful outcomes for each diverse community member it will serve.”
For more information on the MonTEC WBC, visit umt.edu/passion.
Contact: Morgan Slemberger, UM Accelerate Montana director of women’s entrepreneurship and leadership, 971-219-4101, firstname.lastname@example.org.