An entrepreneurship support center for Montana State University students, alumni and faculty has won a $50,000 award from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help enhance its business accelerator program, 406 Labs.
The Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU was one of 68 programs selected nationwide as winners of the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition on Aug. 31. It was the only organization in Montana to receive the award.
The award will be used to expand and formalize the individualized business venture coaching that the LaunchPad initiated with funding from the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition award in 2015, according to Les Craig, director of the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad. The new pilot program will operate as intensive, 90-day workshops offered to small cohorts of business ventures.
“We have some exciting ventures at MSU that will be going through this programming, taking them from the idea stage to, hopefully, full-scale commercialization,” Craig said.
With the $50,000 it received from the Small Business Administration in 2015, the Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU created 406 Labs, a program designed to launch new businesses into the marketplace. The funds helped with purchasing workspace where entrepreneurs have access to high-speed Internet and receive one-on-one guidance about marketing, hiring and securing venture capital.
“It was about creating this next level of support for ventures that have graduated our Blackstone program and are really ready to grow,” Craig said.
IgniteFeedback, a Bozeman-based tech start-up, is among the more than half-dozen business ventures that 406 Labs has assisted. In 2015 the company raised more than $300,000 in venture capital to expand its customer engagement software services.
Another venture, Crooked Yard Hops, which grows and processes hops for local breweries, received a $38,000 grant from Montana Department of Agriculture to expand its operation.
“Our goal is to continue to invest in the successes that we’ve had over the past year,” said Trevor Huffmaster, director of operations for 406 Labs.
The new programming incorporates proven strategies developed by business accelerators in the Global Accelerator Network, a selective group that 406 Labs joined this year, Huffmaster added.
The incoming cohort of ventures will launch the first 90-day pilot program on Oct. 24, Huffmaster said.
“It will be very focused,” he said. “We’ll really try to take them to an end result,” such as delivering their venture funding pitch to a group of industry leaders and investors.
Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU was one of more than 400 programs to apply to the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition. More than 100 investment and business experts judged the applicants.
“SBA created the Growth Accelerator Fund competition in 2014 as a way to make new connections and strengthen existing bonds within America’s small business support network, bringing entrepreneurs and innovators together and connecting them with local and national resources that support small business job creation and growth,” SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet said while announcing the winners.
“When ventures start out, they’re often on their own,” Craig noted. “It helps to have a foundation to go to, with people who are rooting for you and are there to help.”
By using the award to further structure the 406 Labs venture coaching, Craig said, “our hope is that the momentum that we’re going to build … leads to a long-term plan to fund this program.”