I gave the following speech today as part of the University of Montana’s Innovation and Imagination Day session on Entrepreneurship. I was invited to represent the student point of view as president of the UM Entrepreneurship Club.
When we think of entrepreneurship, we tend to think of it happening in the present and the future. But I am the child of a history teacher, and my dad taught me that we need to also look at our history to understand the context of current events.
History tells us The University of Montana is home to pioneers. Jeannette Rankin graduated from the University of Montana in 1902 with a degree in Biology. In 1916 she ran against 6 men to become the first female elected to Congress (4 years before women in this country were granted the right to vote). Montana is home to pioneers.
Montana elected Jeannette Rankin to Congress again in 1940, and two years later she was succeeded by another great Montana statesman – Mike Mansfield. The building we’re in is called the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library.
Orphaned at a young age, Mike served in the military and then worked in the copper mines of Butte for 8 years. He met a local schoolteacher, his future wife, Maureen Hayes, who encouraged Mike to further his education. With Maureen’s support, Mansfield earned his high school diploma and two degrees from the University of Montana. He became a professor of history, a congressman, Senator, and Ambassador to Japan.
In Montana, a mucker from the copper mines, or a smokejumper (like Dr. Cameron Lawrence, who spoke earlier) can become a college professor. In Montana, there are no limits on what a person can become.
Right Now Technologies was founded just 15 years ago by Greg Gianforte, in a spare bedroom of his house. By the time Gianforte sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1.5 billion, Right Now was Bozeman’s largest commercial employer and only publicly traded company. It had more than 1,000 employees, with half of them in Bozeman. According to my boss, economist Patrick Barkey, that one-time sale created an almost 80 percent increase in wages and salaries in Gallatin County.
The Montana entrepreneur who founds the next company with the power to change our economy may be on this campus, or even in this room right now.
The UM Entrepreneurship Club supports and promotes students who believe we have the power within us to launch companies and initiatives that can solve our state’s – and the world’s – biggest problems. The club was founded in Spring 2011. One of the co-founders, Ivy Dong, is our outgoing president and she has tenaciously led the club for the last two years, overseeing tremendous growth.
Club meetings have grown to attract 40 people, with a significant number of businesspeople from the community attending. Our club is truly multidisciplinary, with students from forestry, law, computer science, and resource conservation as well as business, and both graduate and undergraduate students.
This spring we launched a Startup Round Table with five students, basically because I saw Greg Gianforte speak on campus and I wanted to ask for his help with my business idea but was too chicken to ask. So I persuaded the Entrepreneurship club to start this thing, and four other students were crazy enough to join me for the ride. Some of these students are here today.
Walker Milhoan began his undergrad degree on a rodeo scholarship but dropped out to become a helicopter ski guide and start a Crossfit gym in Bozeman. Now Walker has returned to the UM to finish his MIS degree so he can combine his passions for ranching and technology to address protein shortages in third world countries. He drives to school every day from St. Regis, which is an hour away from Missoula. Walker’s three-year-old son Gunnison is an honorary member of our Round Table.
Andrea Duke is a first generation college graduate and MBA student at the UM. Her family owns five businesses in Billings in the oil and gas industry. Andrea plans to start her own company around natural resource extraction and has multiple internships, including one with the MT World Trade Center working with businesses in the Bakken.
Jacob Bolson is a U.S. Army veteran who served as an officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jake is graduating with his MBA this spring and plans to launch a family hospitality business with his wife while working in business management.
Ivy Dong is a native of China who relocated to Arizona with her family in high school. She is currently interning with Senator Baucus in D.C. and will graduate with her PharmD/MBA this spring. Ivy interned with Johnson & Johnson in Beijing and will open her own startup in the Health and Wellness Industry after launching her career in pharmacy.
To find mentors for our club I identified some of the most successful Montana entrepreneurs I could think of and asked them to help us with our ideas. To my amazement, everyone said yes. The first six mentors this semester are:
Greg Gianforte (who I mentioned earlier) is a serial entrepreneur who started five successful software firms including RightNowTechnologies.
Tim O’Leary is the co-founder and CEO of R2C Group out of Portland, the largest consumer direct marketing agency in the US.
Diane Smith is co-founder and former CEO of Avail-TVN, a Kalispell digital media company she grew from concept to $30 million in funding in less than 4 years.
Mario Schulzke is the new Assistant VP of Marketing for the UM and the founder of IdeaMensch, an entrepreneurship blog and series of events featuring interviews with over 1200 entrepreneurs.
Cameron Lawrence you heard from earlier.
Russ Fletcher is curator of the Montana Associated Technology Roundtables (MATR) newsletter and co-founder of Inteneo Systems, a company on the cutting edge of Big Data analysis in Montana.
My vision is that five years from now, in 2018, The University of Montana will be named the Most Entrepreneurial University in America. To get to the top of this list, we would have to take on some of the most prestigious schools in the country – Harvard, MIT, Stanford. You may say it’s crazy to think we could get on this list, let alone rise to the top of it, but I firmly believe it’s possible.
Malcolm Gladwell published a New Yorker piece a few years ago about David and Goliath and how underdogs can win against much larger, stronger opponents. Gladwell is publishing a book this coming October on the same theme.
He wrote,“David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time… When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win.”
Gladwell says with superior strategy, the supposed weaknesses of the underdog can become the strengths that help them win. The pioneering spirit that makes us uniquely Montana can help us become the most entrepreneurial university in the nation. We just need to have an imagination big enough to believe it’s possible.