Missoula Independent Tech 2016

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Tech 2016

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Table of Contents Missoula’s tech network ..........................................4 Using big data to improve health care ...................8 A platform for emerging filmmakers .....................10 Local leader in global security ...............................12 Helping the buses run on time .............................14

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Tech 2016


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Fertile ground A look at the vast network pushing Missoula’s impending tech boom by Alex Sakariassen When Ryan Duarte walked into the second floor of the University Center in March 2015, he had his heart set on building a massage chair. Not just any chair, he says, but “the ultimate smart massage chair,” one that would integrate with all of a consumer’s technology and provide them with biostatistics. He’d hoped the Blackstone LaunchPad, a campus-based entrepreneurship program funded by the global Blackstone Charitable Foundation, could help turn his idea into a reality. 4

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“I just had to do this thing,” Duarte says. “I thought, ‘That’s got to be what I do with my life.’” Duarte walked out of that first meeting not with a plan of attack for his massage chair but with a refined and refocused idea for solving skin cancer—specifically, an app now called SolarScreen that regularly monitors the user’s exposure to UV rays. Duarte had a lot of ideas, he says, but the folks at Blackstone LaunchPad got him started on his “minimal viable product,” something which would allow him to hit the ground

running. They also put him in touch with University of Montana computer sciences professor Rob Smith, through whom Duarte eventually found the computer programmer, cofounders and staff he’d need to get SolarScreen into the hands of smartphone users everywhere. Duarte has since joined the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, given numerous presentations for groups like the local 1 Million Cups and won Blackstone LaunchPad’s Fall Startup Pitch Competition. His company, Montana Root Applications, now has seven apps in various phases of development, including a recycling incentivizing app done in partnership with a team of UM students. “It all hinges on the human-to-human connection an incubator can give you,” Duarte says of the LaunchPad. “And as far as advice, it’s super important that you are going to take advice from somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about. That’s what they provide you, a one-and-only-place in Missoula you can go to talk to somebody who’s going to take you seriously and hear your big giant idea and tell you where to start.” Blackstone LaunchPad Director Paul Gladen points to SolarScreen as a prime example of the work his organization does nurturing entrepreneurship in Missoula and Montana. Where they start depends entirely on the people who walk through the door, Gladen says. Some, like Duarte, may have nothing more than a wacky idea. Others might be looking to take an established business to the next level. LaunchPad offers help in any way it can, from advising on different startup business models to connecting would-be entrepreneurs with potential mentors and coaches. But this isn’t “Shark Tank,” Gladen says. They don’t determine which ideas have promise and which appear dead on arrival. Only the marketplace and the individual’s ability to respond to challenges can do that. “Whatever your idea is, it’s not for us to tell you whether it’s good or bad,” Gladen says. “It’s for us to help you understand the steps you need to take to figure that out for yourself, and as part of that journey also figure out whether you have the desire and motivation to be an entrepreneur. You may suddenly

decide it’s not as cool and sexy as sometimes the media will make it.” The LaunchPad is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the infrastructure now in place in Missoula to drive what many see as an impending tech industry boom. The Montana Code School started up in Missoula less than a year ago in response to the growing demand for people with computer programming skills. The Montana Technology Enterprise Center, or MonTEC, has already helped support and incubate businesses as diverse as Mamalode magazine, Rivertop

photo by Cathrine L. Walters

Renewables and Agile Data Solutions. Companies like Good Works Ventures, LLC, continue to promote a thriving tech sector at a variety of levels, from their involvement with the Hellgate Venture Network and past Missoula Startup Weekends to the establishment of the Dinny Stranahan Business Incubator (DSBI), an office building on North Reserve designed to accommodate both businesses and exchanges of ideas. “It’s having that ability to have those conversations in the hallway or easily walk across and ask somebody something– that’s what focused space like this does,” says DSBI manager Tech 2016


photo by Cathrine L. Walters

Kiah Hochstetler. “When there is that breakdown of those barriers, you reduce that barrier of entry for people to have conversations that foster new things and grow.” One of the entities leading the charge to cultivate tech ventures in Missoula is the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, launched in April 2014 by former RightNow Technologies founder and CEO Greg Gianforte. The Bozeman millionaire, who has made his business narrative central to his 2016 gubernatorial campaign, is often credited for putting the Gallatin Valley on the tech map. But the Alliance has prompted that growth to spread. According to Executive Director Christina Henderson, the organization has grown from 20 founding members to more than 260 member businesses today. Roughly a third of those are housed in Missoula, she adds, some of which have been around for 25plus years. “Bozeman had their big thing that put them on the map with

RightNow and Oracle coming in,” Henderson says, adding that software companies are becoming the dominant subsector in the Alliance’s membership. “I think Missoula is going to be put on the map from a different perspective as a place that has a vibrant, robust entrepreneurial ecosystem that allows you to come here or be here, start a company and grow it and have that solid workforce that’s necessary.” Henderson sees the Alliance’s contribution to incubating business in Missoula as “almost a matchmaking role.” A survey of members conducted in 2015 revealed a critical need for guidance in finding qualified, talented employees, so the Alliance added a jobs portal to its website. It’s become increasingly apparent, Henderson says, that people in the startup world also need help navigating the financial side. She notes the Alliance recently held a meeting featuring several high-profile companies and the bankers who’d backed them. What came out of it, she adds,

“Whatever your idea is, it’s not for us to tell you whether it’s good or bad. It’s for us to help you understand the steps you need to take to figure that out for yourself.”


Tech 2016

was a list of 50 ways to fund your business. Through conferences, roundtables and direct contact, Henderson and her cohorts have created an atmosphere of networking and assistance not just for the tech sector but for all businesses in Montana. “Those sorts of resources are something that we really believe strongly in providing,” she says, “because if you’ve never done it before, it’s hard to know where to go and it’s hard to find a map or a guidebook to get you from point A to point B and beyond.” The LaunchPad, MonTEC, the Alliance and others have created photo courtesy GeoFli an expansive and interconnected web of resources for Missoula’s Kyle Pucko of Missoula-based GeoFli, which personalizes web content based on the burgeoning tech industry. That viewer’s location, gives a presentation during the John Ruffatto Business Startup work has made it increasingly Challenge last May. GeoFli is another company that received entrepreneurial advice from the Blackstone LaunchPad. easier for newcomers like Duarte, “I have 4,000 LinkedIn connections,” Duarte says. “When I once just a guy with an idea for a massage chair, to move formet Paul Gladen, I didn’t know what LinkedIn was. = ward and plug directly into the scene.

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Tech 2016


photo by Cathrine L. Walters

(Geo)locating disease Missoula startup brings big data to big questions in medicine by Derek Brouwer Alex Philp is the first to admit he’s no expert in medicine, but that hasn’t stopped the Missoula entrepreneur from trying to crack America’s largest industry. Philp has made a career of leveraging big data to solve problems, founding Geographic Communication Systems in 2001 and a number of other startups. Two years ago, he was looking for new applications. “What’s something we could get into where we could disrupt that market?” he says. Through his role on the St. Patrick Hospital ministry board, Philp was aware of the sea change occurring in the health care 8

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industry—providers facing increasing pressure to keep patients healthy, rather than just treat them when they’re sick. The shift poses existential questions for the field: namely, how to make money by minimizing illness. Philp says his latest venture, Upstream, helps companies go a step further. “We’re not just interested in making people less sick,” he says. “We’re interested in making sure people don’t get sick in the first place.” Upstream does this by crunching numbers to determine the prevalence of diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, asthma, obe-

sity and stroke, and estimates the cost to treat them over time. The company then writes equations to show where it pays off to intervene through preventative health. What sets Upstream’s data analytics system apart, Philp says, is its focus on “engineering the geography of health.” Just as factors like income and education are linked to the occurrence of disease, so are environmental elements like air and water quality. In fact, Philp says, where someone lives is the second-highest determinant of their health, more than genetics or access to health care. Geography and big data are Philp’s specialties, and his idea to apply them to health care attracted interest from highprofile investors. Among them is Oregon branding expert Scott Bedbury, who joined Philp as Upstream’s cofounder and board chairman. Bedbury developed Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan and helped transform Starbucks into a national brand, but he sees Upstream as one of his most ambitious projects yet. “This is probably the biggest idea I’ve ever tangled with,” he says. “It will put a dent in the universe.” Upstream raised over $1.6 million in angel and seed capital in the year since forming and now has 18 employees between its offices in Missoula, Bend, Ore., and Seattle, Wash.

The company’s technical team of programmers, a statistician and an economist works from its office in the Hip Strip, where Philp serves as chief science officer. He sees Missoula as a natural home for the business, with its tradition as a leader in geographic information systems as well as a growing pipeline of math and computer science talent from the University of Montana. The company recently hired a trio of UM graduates. Bedbury, too, sees the location as a distinctive asset for a startup looking to antagonize a $3 trillion industry through big data. “I think part of the strength of this is that it’s not Silicon Valley,” he says. “It’s a bunch of crazy scientists hanging out in Missoula connected with the university.” Upstream released its “Navigator” analytics dashboard several months ago, picking up a few large, forward-looking health care providers as clients, Philp says. As Philp’s team develops their software, they’re already beginning to stumble upon intriguing associations and potential applications. “Ultimately, we’re talking about new ways of pioneering health,” he says.=

“I think part of the strength of this is that it’s not Silicon Valley. It’s a bunch of crazy scientists hanging out in Missoula connected with the university.”

Tech 2016


photo by Cathrine L. Walters

Showtime Audience Awards grows by giving emerging filmmakers a global platform by Skylar Browning A few years ago Paige Williams was an independent documentary filmmaker hoping to make a name for herself in a crowded industry. The University of Montana graduate earned critical acclaim and accolades for her deeply personal 2009 feature-length documentary Mississippi Queen, and again two years later for her look at teens aging out of the foster care system, From Place to Place. “Every film is its own little business,” Williams says. “It starts as a seed of a concept and, if you’re lucky, goes into distribution and outreach and keeps going. … It’s almost like every independent filmmaker, we’re all little creative entrepreneurs walking around, raising money, doing Kickstarter campaigns, getting investors to put money into our films, and it’s all so we can tell great stories.” Williams’ story has taken a heck of a turn while still staying true to her independent filmmaking roots. As the founder and CEO of the Audience Awards, Williams works to cultivate emerging filmmakers and connect them through an innovative video contest platform with some of the largest brands in the world. In other words, she’s providing today’s filmmakers the sort of exposure and opportunity she never had. 10

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“One of the gifts of this company is being able to help other creative entrepreneurs with their ideas, and I really like that,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve believed in this from the start.” The Audience Awards started in June 2013 with Williams admittedly naïve about what it meant to run a tech company. She hired developers and designers capable of turning the contest platform idea into a reality—“I’m really good at surrounding myself with people smarter than me,” she says—and worked on improving the product as clients and their needs kept growing. In spring 2015, the Montana Office of Tourism hosted its Real Montana video competition through the site, resulting in more than 140 submissions. More recently, Kodak launched its Super8 Filmmaking Challenge through the Audience Awards— 525 filmmakers submitted to three different categories—and tied the contest to its revival of the storied Super8 camera. Finalists from the Kodak challenge were invited to Park City, Utah, where their selections screened as part of the Slamdance Film Festival. Williams’ company, which now employs five full-time and

three part-time employees, is also currently working on tailored contests with the likes of Univision, Fusion and Hilton. The whiteboard in her office is full of dozens of other brands and industry leaders still negotiating new deals. “I had a vision of what this could be and now that’s quadrupled,” Williams says. “It’s an exciting time—and also a little chaotic just because we want to make sure we continue to do it the right way.” Part of “the right way” involves keeping the Audience Awards in Missoula. Williams says when she calls partners in New York or Los Angeles, she inevitably hears one of two things: She’s the luckiest person in the world for being able to live and work in Montana, or she’s asked if she rode a horse to the office. It’s the former who tends to understand that, in today’s tech world, the right idea can be delivered from anywhere. “What I want the Audience Awards to do is show that it’s possible to do these things from here,” she says.

Williams credits a strong network of tech companies throughout the state, as well as the Montana film community, with helping guide the Audience Awards. Part of the idea for the company actually came from Deny Staggs, film commissioner with the Montana Film Office. One of Williams’ earliest advisors was Rod Austin, a seasoned tech consultant based in Missoula. Groups like the Blackstone LaunchPad, Hellgate Venture Network, 1 Million Cups and the UM Business School have created a way for startups to work together and recruit others to the area. Williams personally serves on the board of directors for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. “It just seems like there’s this huge coming together movement of showcasing all of our talents to the world and how Montana makes an impact to our economy on a local and national and international level,” she says. “There’s some cool stuff going on here.” In fact, there’s so much cool stuff going on that Williams is talking with the Montana Department of Commerce about a possible campaign to highlight all of the new businesses cropping up in the state. She may not be working as much behind the camera as she did as an independent filmmaker, but in many ways Williams’ role hasn’t changed with the Audience Awards. “We think there’s a good story to tell,” she says, “and we’re going to help get it out there.” =

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Safe keeping LMG Security proves innovation, results bring business to Missoula by Christina Henderson / Montana High Tech Business Alliance I watched a documentary recently titled Muscle Shoals that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. It tells the story of a music producer named Rick Hill who built a world-famous recording studio, FAME Studios, in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Hill turned his rural hometown (pop. 13,000) into a mecca for iconic musicians including Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Simon and Garfunkel, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Rolling Stones. Hill didn’t pick up and move to Los Angeles or New York, where all the action was. He stayed in Alabama and focused on mastering his craft, producing Grammy-winning albums and turning local musicians into the country’s best rhythm section. Hill developed a reputation for making hit records and the industry came to him. Montana high tech companies do the same thing. They stay where they are and focus on being the best at what they do. They are so good their customers come to them based on wordof-mouth and reputation. A perfect example of is LMG Security in Missoula. •••• 12

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Sherri Davidoff was lured into a complex field by a very simple offer. Back in 2000, she responded to an ad looking for MIT students who wanted to “stay up late and eat pizza.” That ad turned out to be for MIT’s brand-new Network Security Team, and Davidoff ultimately became the team’s lead incident handler and completed an undergraduate project on network visibility. She graduated from MIT in 2003 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering and a passion for bleeding-edge cybersecurity research. Davidoff started her career on the East Coast and then brought her expertise in 2008 to Missoula, where she founded LMG Security, a research, education and consulting firm. In her words, LMG’s job is to “break into banks and write reports about it.” If a company gets hacked, they also call LMG to “handle the investigation, get them cleaned up and then get to the root of the problem to help make sure it doesn’t happen again.” LMG’s global clients include government agencies, health care organizations and Fortune 500 companies. Davidoff is enthusiastic about her decision to locate her company in Missoula.

“Montana is a great place to start a small high-tech business,” she says. “Here we have affordable office space, a trained labor force and strong community support for high-tech initiatives. Thanks to the Internet, LMG’s staff can live in a gorgeous place and at the same time provide world-class cybersecurity services to an international market.” Since its launch, LMG Security has maintained steady growth and a constant push for innovation. The company’s speciality is network forensics, a topic on which Davidoff has literally written the book. She co-authored the world’s first textbook on the subject, Network Forensics: Tracking Hackers Through Cyberspace (Prentice Hall, 2012). In the early days, LMG invested $1,500 to build a “Play Lab,” a space where staff can experiment with malware and practice penetration testing. LMG created a suite of network forensics puzzles, which then became the basis of a class Davidoff taught for industry knowledge centers like SANS and Black Hat. The team used the lab to develop a gamechanging system to detect malware on mobile phones that that was featured in Wired magazine in 2013. Davidoff is now helping to train the next generation of information security professionals and put Missoula on the map as a center of cybersecurity research. LMG is one of the founding sponsors of the Cyber Innovation Lab at the University of Montana, along with the Washington Corporations, ALPS and GCS Research.

LMG currently has 14 employees and is focused on hiring and training local talent. According to Davidoff, interns from the University of Montana have been critical to the firm’s growth. “UM students are bright, motivated and thirsty to learn more technical skills,” she says. “I’ve always been impressed at how quickly our interns ramp up and become contributing members of the team. LMG would not be what it is today without them.” And, of course, Davidoff knows exactly what to put in an ad to attract the right students. =

The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 260 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. More information on the Alliance can be found at MTHighTech.org.

Sign on with Big Sky Commerce between now and March 26th, 2016 and BSC will donate $100 in your name to the Missoula YMCA! Each donation provides a child with one year of after-school activities!

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Ride on Edulog’s technology helps get children to school around the world by Shannon Furniss / Montana High Tech Business Alliance Getting female students and teachers to school in Saudi Arabia—a country where women are prohibited from driving and must be accompanied while in public—can sometimes be challenging. If a chaperone or driver is unavailable, females are unable to get to school. A Missoula tech company has spent the past two years working on a project involving 2 million students (most of whom are girls) and 30,000 school buses to ensure that these young women have the opportunity to get an education. In recent years, the Saudi Arabian government has made substantial investments in education, with a special emphasis on getting girls educated and into the workforce, according to Jason Corbally, president of Education Logistics, Inc., or Edulog. Developing a dedicated school bus system will help solve some of these transportation challenges for women and help all students get to school safely and efficiently, he says. It also will help reduce traffic con14

Tech 2016

gestion, Corbally adds, noting that “the latest statistics tell us that one school bus takes 50 cars off the road.” With nearly 40 years in pupil transportation systems, Edulog has contracted with the Saudi Arabian government on a project to improve the efficiency of the country’s school bus system. Edulog serves as the technology arm, helping with school bus routing, scheduling, GPS tracking and student tracking. A number of other consulting firms from around the world are working on the infrastructural and operational needs of Saudi school buses.

From pins to software When Edulog began in 1977, school districts were determining bus routes by putting pins on maps and trying to string them together. Today, Edulog uses sophisticated software that it has developed to help clients in at least 1,000 school districts across the U.S. and Canada to route 150,000-plus school buses every

day. Finding more efficient bus routes saves millions of dollars, says Corbally, citing recent projects in Miami, Toronto, Toledo, Atlanta and Memphis. “Keeping a bus on the road is expensive—a new bus costs around $100,000,” he says. “Transportation is anywhere between 5 percent and 8 percent of an overall school district budget. The goal is to save money and put it back into the classroom.” In addition to routing and scheduling software, Edulog’s product line includes boundary planning, enrollment projection, driver payroll, vehicle inspection, field trip management, fleet maintenance, GPS tracking, student tracking and consulting services. Corbally’s first introduction to Edulog was in 2004 while pursuing an accounting degree at the University of Montana’s School of Business Administration. An intern in Edulog’s accounting department, Corbally quickly moved up the ranks to marketing and sales. By 2009,

he was the director of sales and a year later, he became vice president of business development. By 2011, Edulog named Corbally president and one of the company’s youngest executives at age 27. The Butte native now leads the rapidly growing company with nearly 130 employees in Missoula and around 30 subcontractors living outside the state.

New technologies for new markets One reason for Edulog’s growth is the new innovations it brings to market. GPS technology developed by Edulog to track students as they move on and off the bus has become increasingly popular in school systems. Parents can install an app on their phones to find out exactly what time their child will arrive at the bus stop and receive messages about route or schedule changes. In addition to empowering parents, it also reduces the number of phone calls to school districts, Corbally says. Missoula’s Hellgate Elementary uses the software, as does Frenchtown, but Edulog does most of its business out of state— and around the world. The project in Saudi Arabia provides Edulog with the opportunity to “take our wealth of knowledge we’ve built over all these years and bring it to a market that’s in early stages,” Corbally says. It also gives the company the chance to address technology issues and build new software. Another Middle East project, in Dubai, has allowed Edulog to partner with government and multibillion-dollar companies like IBM, Microsoft, Cisco and Esri (a mapping company) to work on “the most expansive and technologically advanced solution that school buses have ever seen,” Corbally says. Along with these Fortune 500 companies, Edulog will work to improve school bus efficiency in Dubai. “In traditional Dubai fashion, there is a lot of glitz and glamor,” he explains, from reader boards that will display students’

names on the outside of the bus when it arrives, to cameras, wifi and TV screens for educational learning. While Edulog has focused on routing, scheduling, GPS tracking and student tracking, it has been an opportunity to partner with industry giants to help build a world class system. “All of the companies are really looking at this as the flagship of the rest of the world—how to implement a school bus system in a huge city,” he says.

No place like home In recent years high-tech companies are popping up all over Montana, and finding talented software developers is a challenge, according to Corbally. Some of the work Edulog’s president is doing as a committee co-chair on the “Main Street Montana Project,” is addressing workforce issues. A newly formed partnership with the University of Montana will allow Edulog to train workers for Middle East projects and may help the university attract international students to campus. An Edulog class that focuses on project management, GIS mapping, implementation services and use of Edulog’s system will be offered at the university in spring 2016. While he travels all over the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Africa to meet with clients and identify their needs, Corbally says Edulog’s roots remain firmly planted in Missoula. “I’ve never lived anywhere but Montana,” Corbally says. “I can tell you I’ve been to almost every state, and I’ve yet to find a place I’d rather live.” =

The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 190 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. More information on the Alliance can be found at MTHighTech.org.


Rural Friend

In its relatively short history, the Internet has become nearly indispensable — a necessity few of us could imagine doing without. Its uses are varied — entertainment, information, connecting with others. More and more often, the world is brought to our homes and businesses by the connections we are able to make on the Internet. Rural Americans have historically been left in the dark, sometimes quite literally, in terms of electricity, telephony and connectivity. Neighbors often separated by distance have been the last to be offered technology that would not only make their lives easier, but also offer additional safety and connection to others. Indeed, rural neighbors had to form cooperatives just to receive such staples as electricity and phone service that their urban counterparts had enjoyed for years. From its inception, SpeedConnect has focused on bringing Internet connectivity to rural and underserved communities and customers. It also offers the latest and fastest technology to these rural areas — high-speed, high-capacity wireless Internet.

1206 W. Kent Avenue, Suite A, Missoula, MT 59801 Phone: (406) 542-5643


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