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Entrepreneur in Residence

Greg Gianforte talks to Carroll College students during summer 2014. Gianforte will serve as Carroll's first Entrepreneur in Residence this year to help students, alumni and community members start businesses. 

 

Montanan Greg Gianforte, who has successfully started five software companies, will deliver a lecture Monday evening at Carroll College to kick off the first year of a program designed to help students create businesses.

Gianforte will work with students, alumni and community members over the coming year to help them create real, working companies.

“This is not a theoretical process; we’re going to start actual businesses,” Gianforte said.

The idea for the program started during a conversation between Carroll College President Tom Evans and Gianforte. Evans wanted an opportunity for practical innovation on campus. The two decided to create a program that will encourage collaboration across disciplines and apply classroom experience to a real project.

The Entrepreneur in Residence program was born.

Gianforte’s Monday evening lecture to launch the series will focus on the process for starting a business. He’s delivered similar lectures at Harvard, the London Business School and other universities around the world.

The lecture is free and open to the public, who will also be invited to participate in the program.

After the lecture anyone interested in participating has two nights to think up a plan. Then on Wednesday, each prospective participant has one minute to pitch their idea to Gianforte and the other members.

The crowd will vote for which ideas are best, and those whose pitches were not chosen will join other teams.

Gianforte said he hopes to narrow it down to about a dozen teams. The best ideas, Gianforte said, will stem from something the person already knows a little bit about. Second, it should be a marketable idea on a national scale, so the company can offer national wages.

After the teams are formed, Gianforte will return to Carroll once a month to meet with the teams and offer advice. In the meantime, he’ll be assigning practical homework for the teams to complete.

Furthermore, when Gianforte is gone, the program will be spearheaded by two Carroll professors.

Annette Ryerson, an assistant professor of marketing, is one of those teachers.

Ryerson said Carroll alumni will have the same opportunity as a current student through this program. Community members are also welcome to join, but the current plan is to limit one community person per team.

Ryerson is also working to set up a deal with “The Shop,” a Helena incubator where business-savvy professionals meet to discuss new companies or projects.

“We can come and use their space and use their brains and just kind of get some support during those months when (Gianforte) is not here,” Ryerson said.

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Ryerson said many people probably have ideas that they don’t pursue because of a fear it won’t work. This program will give them an edge to make it happen.

“Montana has a lot of very smart, educated people and we want to use this opportunity to grow that,” Ryerson said.

Carroll juniors Al Olszewski and Christopher Michael are two mechanical engineering students who plan to take advantage of the program.

They first heard about the opportunity last year, and have been working on developing an idea ever since.

They don’t have a patent for the idea yet, so neither shared specifics, but they were willing to say it has to do with handling information and would “make life easier when you’re walking around so you don’t have to carry as much luggage.”

Though it’s an idea they think has potential, without the Entrepreneur in Residence opportunity they probably wouldn’t try to tackle it now.

“It’s kind of hard to start up a company without any guidance or funding,” Olszewski said.

“Especially while you’re in college,” Michael added.

Both said they hope the product takes off and they could continue working for themselves after graduating school.

Gianforte has the same goal. 

“What I do is create livelihoods for people, and I think the best way to do that is help entrepreneurs start businesses and work in education,” Gianforte said.

Since he’s already created successful businesses, he’s decided to dedicate the next two decades of his life to the mission of enabling new business start-ups in Montana.

“For me it’s about giving back,” Gianforte said.

The lecture begins at 7 p.m. in the All Saints Hall at the Carroll College Campus Center.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the name of the Helena incubator as "The Garage" not "The Shop"

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​Alexander Deedy can be reached at 447-4081 or alexander.deedy@helenair.com

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