Jason Thane left Missoula in the late ’90s to attend college at Montana State University, then launched his career in software development in Seattle. He’s worked there for the past 12 years, running a successful company designing software applications for clients.
But Thane was happy to be back in Missoula on Tuesday in front of a local audience as he helped pitch to investors his new software development venture, Kira Inc.
Potential investors heard presentations from four very different companies Tuesday at the inaugural event for the Missoula Economic Partnership’s Angel Network. It’s a program working to connect up-and-coming companies looking for capital with area people looking for good ideas to invest in, said James Grunke, interim president of the Missoula Economic Partnership.
The Angel Network event was the first formal pitch the Kira team has done. It’s a step Thane hopes will help enable them to bring much of Kira’s operations to Missoula. Thane is the founder of Kira.
Kira develops software applications, or apps, that help connect the health care industry to mobile devices like iPads. One Kira app would allow health care providers to quickly access medical images stored in an existing platform, Microsoft Amalga. Like any startup, the company needs investors to get off the ground.
There are many events similar to MEP’s Angel Investor meeting in the Seattle area, and Kira could have started its capital campaign there, Thane said.
But the idea is to “get money from people to help us succeed in the right way. We want to start here and raise funds here from investors aligned with who we want to be as a company,” Thane said. “This is home, we want to make a difference.”
Kira knew about MEP and applied through the partnership to get a chance to present at the first Angel Network meeting.
“As an early-stage seed company, it represents some of the best opportunity to get in front of experienced investors,” Thane said.
MEP recognizes it’s not always easy for area companies with good ideas to find opportunities to make pitches to investors.
“This is our first step to creating better access to capital,” Grunke said.
With the Angel Network, MEP acts as a collector, then connector.
“We come at it from both directions, No. 1, identifying entrepreneurs. And No. 2, identifying groups of quality investors. It’s very important to have both,” Grunke said.
The network wants to provide early-stage capital in the range of $250,00 to $1.5 million from individual “angel” investors. Providing the link to local investors will help companies stay in Montana and in turn, create good-paying jobs in Missoula, said Tom Pew, chair of the Angel Network committee.
Companies interested in taking part in the Angel Network applied through MEP. A committee then vetted the companies’ applications, ranking the companies’ readiness to present to potential to angel investors, who were invited through to participate through a more informal process.
Not all interested companies are ready to be put in front of investors. Sometimes pitches need modification, Grunke said.
“But our job is always to get them in the shape where they’re ready to present. Part (of the program) is developing the expertise to get a successful pitch. It’s entrepreneurship training,” Grunke said.
Ryan Montgomery and his family are set to open Missoula’s first micro-distillery this June. Renovations are under way at the old Pipestone Mountaineering building at 129 W. Front St., which will house Montgomery Distillery’s tasting room and brewing facility.
Montgomery has already secured enough money to open, but additional capital from investors would allow the distillery to reduce its debt and decrease the risk of running out of cash as it gets off the ground.
Before his pitch Tuesday morning, Montgomery met several times with MEP’s Angel Network team to work on his presentation.
“I don’t have a lot of experience pitching to investors. ... We had a two-hour session to go through the presentation. I got advice to fine-tune (the presentation). It really helped,” he said.
Whatever the meeting yields, “it’s a big benefit just to pitch,” Montgomery said.
MEP’s goal is to hold a similar Angel Network meeting each quarter.
One of MEP’s goals is to create 2,500 new, primary jobs here in five years. With the help of investors, the four companies that presented Tuesday could bring roughly 200 jobs to the area, Grunke said.
If fundraising in the next months is successful, Kira could be ready to begin assembling a staff this summer.
“Once we get the money, everything is in place we’re ready to go. It’s about putting developers to work,” Thane said.