Finding Big Opportunities in Big Sky Country…
Last year, I packed up my apartment and office, rented a U-Haul, and moved myself and my food start-up, Bumbleroot Foods from San Francisco to Montana.
I had moved to San Francisco initially because of the startup ecosystem that exists there — other startups, investors, service providers and creatives. The Bay Area was a great place to meet and collaborate with other startups, to practice pitching at the numerous pitch competitions, and to have access to investors.
BUT…while my company was operating on a shoestring in every other area, I couldn’t justify the high rent prices. And I was being pulled to the nature of Montana where I grew up. I missed the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, and most of all — the people.
The area of Montana I moved to — The Flathead Valley, near Glacier National Park — is a nature-lover’s paradise, but there aren’t many jobs outside of the tourism industry.
This has created an entrepreneurial culture and mindset that I’ve found rivals any city I’ve lived in.
People choose to live here, and that choice requires that they often need to create their own company or job to do so. There are also a lot of retirees, who have deep experience in a number of industries from across the world, and also have a lot of wealth. This combination has created a dynamic, creative ecosystem of interesting businesses.
Montana has been the perfect home for me and my growing company. The ecosystem looks different than it does in Silicon Valley, but it stands out to me for a few reasons:
Sense of community and collaboration
In small towns people rely on each other. We might not always have Uber, or delivery service, but you can easily find someone to pick you up if you need a ride or to pick something up at the grocery store. As a friend here like to says, it’s about “people helping people”.
“The Biz Squad” is a group of over a hundred women entrepreneurs in our community. When someone needs to find a designer, an attorney, or inquires about help with a business plan, there are immediate helpful responses on a private Facebook group. For almost any resource a new business would need, this group has an answer! And we collaborate, promoting each other’s businesses and finding ways to grow the pie for all of us.
There is a lot of wealth outside of Silicon Valley, and people are looking at ways to invest in local businesses. I met one of my investors as I was working in local coffee shops.“What are you always working on?” he asked one day. That led to a number of discussions and an investment from him and one of his friends.
Local economic development organizations and the Montana State government provide a number of resources and incentives to encourage small business growth too- from low interest loans, to matching funds for training, equipment, and trade shows.
Inspiration & Quality of Life
When things get stressful taking a few hours to hike, ski, go out on the stand up paddleboard, or horseback ride will quickly get my head on straight. I can do these all within minutes of my cabin.
The awe that I find in nature creates the feeling that anything is possible.
And at Bumbleroot, our mission is to connect people to the wonder in their food and to create a more sustainable food system. Where else better to be than Montana, where the health of our farms and ranches is so closely linked to the health of our wilderness?
I recently listened to a podcast where Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, stated that “Every company is becoming a technology company.” I agree. Even though we’re a food company, we sell most of our products online, we market online, and we utilize data to find our customers and share messages that are meaningful to them. If all companies are becoming technology companies, we can’t all be in Silicon Valley.
Thriving ecosystems exist outside of the Bay Area, and I’m so glad I found this one the slice of Heaven that is Northwest Montana.