UM Business Startup Challenge Returns, Applications Due This Summer

MISSOULA – Student entrepreneurs from across the state will meet in Missoula this fall for the University of Montana’s John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge. The 32nd annual event, presented by the UM College of Business and Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars, will take place in person from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8.

The competition, sponsored by Ontra Marketing Group and Missoula Economic Partnership, is open to any student enrolled in higher education across Montana, and provides more than $50,000 in prize money to students who pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

Photo of audience listening to competitor presentation

The public watches teams pitch their businesses at the 2019 John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge.

Applications to compete in the fall 2021 event are currently being accepted. However, competitors are encouraged to reach out to the UM Blackstone LaunchPad this summer to solidify business ideas and obtain assistance on submitting applications before the Sept. 8 deadline.

Businesses, organizations and individuals committed to the future of entrepreneurship in Montana provide all of the prize money for the event and participate as judges. Competitors pitch a vast array of venture ideas, with previous winning concepts including filtering brewery waste water with mushrooms and cricket farms for edible protein.

Finalists represent multiple Montana higher education institutions and pursue a range of majors, from business, psychology and journalism, to chemistry and natural resource conservation. Teams also have the unique opportunity to present and network with business professionals and community leaders attending the final round presentations.

“While COVID has presented wide-ranging challenges for businesses across Montana, we’ve not seen a let up in new entrepreneurial ideas and ingenuity,” said Blackstone LaunchPad Director Paul Gladen. “We’re excited to see the student ventures applying to be part of this year’s competition.”

Now in its third decade, challenge finalists include a number of established Montana businesses, including Five on Black Brazilian Grill, Market on Front, Morphose Exercise Systems, GeoFli and Big Sky Brewing.

Ticket sales to attend the live public final found presentations will be available online in the near future.

For more information visit the John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge webpage. For questions regarding the competition email Paul Gladen at or call 406-243-5723.


Contact: Paul Gladen, Blackstone Launchpad director, 406-243-5723,