Paige Williams’ basement wasn’t conducive to working with a team to create a new company.
Last July, just a few months after starting Film Spur, Williams moved operations into a Montana Enterprise Technology Center office. At the new space, her startup has access to tools such as conference rooms, fast Internet and a mailing address, which have combined to help her expand Film Spur quickly, said Williams, who also began Porch Productions in 2006.
Her new company hosts the Audience Awards, an online forum for viewers to acknowledge their favorite independent films. It also provides a central place for
people to view independent films. A mobile app will provide independent film suggestions to people who comment that they like other films, including commercial cinema ones.
“It starts a dialogue about films,” Williams said.
If it was just the office space itself that MonTEC supplies, Film Spur might just be a dream, Williams said.
“Because we were able to move here, I’ve got a lot of support and connections,” she said.
MonTEC helped connect her with resources and professionals locally and nationally.
She’s also able to get advice from other entrepreneurs by walking down the hall instead of setting up appointments, Williams said.
“I don’t think I would have been able to make those connections otherwise,” she said.
The community and connections are an intentional mission to foster successful startups at MonTEC. Now that the center’s space is full with nine promising companies, it is continuing to explore how it can expand to serve more startups, said Joe Fanguy, director of technology transfer for the University of Montana who also heads up MonTEC.
When MonTEC began roughly a decade ago, it was based on a real estate model that provided affordable rent for businesses.
That model changed about a year and a half ago to one that is about community and support of other entrepreneurs based in MonTEC, as well as connections with other community organizations, such as the Missoula Economic Partnership.
The former model included some networking events, but they didn’t go far enough, Fanguy said.
“The vision here was for us to create an internal community,” he said.
In addition to Film Spur, MonTEC’s community includes an independent publishing company, a renewable chemical company, 3-D printer manufacturing, geological analytical services, a magazine about motherhood, a bio pesticide company, a company that works on health care data integration, and another company that allows people to upload money to “money clouds” for social commerce interaction.
Forming bonds between different professionals in the building creates personal and business relationships, which often mirror the diverse nature of the businesses housed in MonTEC themselves, he said. “And so it starts to give people an opportunity to interface, interact on a daily basis where they really wouldn’t have that opportunity otherwise.”
That the center was able to fill its space so quickly is indicative of Missoula startups in general and about how quickly they’re transforming themselves from one-man operations to job creating companies, Fanguy said.
“I do think it says a lot about the stage at which we have companies developing here in our community,” he said.
The interest is spurring MonTEC to continue to re-envision itself into the future and the center is piloting an affiliate program to include startups at different stages of development.
Ideal affiliates would be a few years away from needing office space full-time, but still need things such as a mailing address and access to a conference room and who could benefit from interaction with other entrepreneurs, Fanguy said.
Affiliates also would create a pipeline of businesses ready to move into MonTEC when other businesses reach a point after several years where they’re successful enough to venture out on their own, he added.
Another idea for growing MonTEC’s support of startups would be to create another space, where businesses that are able to run their operations without support can cluster and continue to be associated with MonTEC.
“The idea would be to be able to maintain contact, experience, connection with people that obviously are helping to build our community,” Fanguy said.
Being an affiliate of MonTEC would have been helpful for the initial phases of her companies, Williams said wistfully, and she hopes that once she reaches all her milestones with MonTEC after several years that she will be able to sell Film Spur and be able to contribute to success of future startups.
“I think that there’s a huge amount of gratitude in the residents of MonTEC,” she said, herself included.
MonTEC provided her with the tools and connections she needed to make the leap from the filmmaking world to the business world, she said. “I don’t think that bridge would have presented itself without MonTEC.”
Success of Film Spur and other MonTEC businesses will be successes for Missoula and Montana – not just for the entrepreneurs who created them, Williams said.
Not only will they create jobs and bring in outside investment, they will put Missoula on the map as a good place to do business, she said.
“When you say Missoula, Montana, it won’t be a question mark after that statement, it will be an exclamation point,” she said.
Already, people seem to associate MonTEC with success, she said. “There’s a respect that goes along with it by saying I’m a part of this community.”