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Jay Evans, president and CEO of Inimmune Corp., center, talks with then-University of Montana President Royce Engstrom, left, and Gov. Steve Bullock in 2016 during an announcement of the biotechnology company's move to Missoula and a tour of the lab, housed temporarily at the Montana Technology Enterprise Center.

From a biotech startup to an outfit that created marketing software for tour operators, a smattering of Missoula companies has made the Montana High Tech Business Alliance’s lists of high-growth companies to keep an eye on in the coming years, the top tech employers and the top startups.

The Alliance put out the three lists to put a spotlight on a booming industry that’s growing faster than the statewide economy and paying higher wages. A 2018 survey conducted by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that the 350 Alliance member companies are growing nine times faster than the Montana economy, and expect to add nearly 1,200 new jobs this year that pay twice the median wage.

“We really want to draw attention, particularly for job seekers or investors or community leaders, to highlight the companies they should be paying attention to,” said Christina Henderson, executive director of the Alliance. “These companies are creating jobs in Montana, creating wealth and have the best opportunities for investment.”

In 2017, the Alliance put Missoula mapping tech company onXmaps on the 25 Montana Top Tech Employers list, and this year it added AT&T, Advanced Technology Group (ATG), Blackfoot, Edulog and WGM Group in Missoula, along with 20 other companies around the state engaged in a variety of industries.

Henderson said the companies all have skilled employees and leverage technology in their operations. They also have to meet at least two of the following criteria: more than 20 employees, plans to grow, established for more than 10 years and involved in the community.

One of the high-growth companies the Alliance focused on was TOMIS, a company with more than 30 employees in Missoula that provides a software marketing platform and managed marketing services for tour companies like Idaho River Journeys, a guided river tour outfitter.

On Tuesday, the Missoula County Board of Commissioners approved a Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grant to help the company create 11 new high-paying jobs that bring in revenue from out-of-state. The company tripled its 2017 revenue this year, according to Henderson, and is in the midst of a fundraising effort.

LumenAd, a digital marketing tech company in downtown Missoula, also made the list along with Satic USA, a solar and clean energy manufacturing company.

The third and final list, Montana Startups to Watch, included DermaXon, a biotech company that is studying new acne and anti-aging skin treatments. GeoFli, a location-based marketing software company in Missoula, and biotech startup Innimune also made the list.

Henderson said sometimes high-tech companies are not well-known in their communities even though they make big contributions to local economies.

“They often do fly under the radar because they’re not Main Street businesses with signs out front,” Henderson explained. “They’re often hidden away in business parks or on the second level of buildings. They can employ dozens of people and local folks don’t know they’re there.”

Henderson said second-stage companies that are past the startup level often employ more than 10 employees and have over $1 million in revenue but are usually out of sight, unlike restaurants or clothing shops. She also said there are plenty of businesses that people don’t realize are actually technology-heavy.

“Because they’re maybe in different industries like engineering or construction, people might not think about them as specifically tech, but there’s so many tech-enabled jobs,” she explained. “They are transformed by tech jobs as they grow.”

DermaXon was founded by research scientists at the University of Montana and recently hired Michelle Huie as its CEO. The average person on the street in Missoula probably hasn’t heard of the company, but it is making waves in the scientific world.

“DermaXon has received a total of $1 million in non-dilutive funding to advance two novel compounds,” Huie told the Missoulian in an email. ”One compound is for neuropathic pain in cancer patients and the second compound is to treat ichthyosis, a rare skin disorder. Based on the novel mechanism of action, both compounds have broader reaching potential in additional indications.”

Henderson said the point of the lists is to bring awareness to companies that are playing a bigger role in Montana’s economic future.

“The companies recognized on the Montana Top Tech Employers 2018 list are clear leaders in Montana’s innovation economy ,” she said. “These companies are the backbone of Montana’s tech and manufacturing industry, employing thousands of people across the state and serving customers around the world.”

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