Innovation-based economic development

As one of the main strategies of Missoula’s Best Place Project and the Missoula Economic Partnership, “innovation-based economic development” is intended to increase innovation, entrepreneurship and support for small businesses throughout the greater Missoula area. More specifically, one of the important long-term goals for our community as a whole is to encourage and support 25 new business startups with innovative or tech-related concepts.

In order to be truly effective and successful over time, leaders of an innovation-based economic development strategy, known as IBED, must understand and subsequently address myriad dimensions of a local and/or regional economy. Initially, they must clearly understand existing community assets that are available to support future innovation efforts; assets here include access to needed capital, infrastructure in terms of startup facilities and educational/research institutions, and a pool of talented individuals motivated to engage in entrepreneurial activity. Properly equipped with this foundational knowledge, strategy leaders should then strive to both build up existing programs and develop suitable new programs to enhance the area’s overall entrepreneurship/innovation climate. An ultimate goal is to provide specific opportunities to targeted business sectors — helping those 25 companies above.

In that vein, to better understand regional entrepreneurial finance mechanisms and processes available through venture capital organizations, “angel” investors/networks and high net worth individuals, Missoula Economic Partnership staff have begun an informal dialogue with leaders of the Hellgate Venture Network. In addition, Partnership staff attended the most recent HVN gathering to meet the larger membership group and jointly determine how best to work together going forward. Also, HVN leaders agreed to participate in ongoing planning sessions with the Partnership and the Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC), a local business incubator; these discussions are slated to begin in early December. Similar conversations and discovery sessions with other private-sector venture capital-like organizations are in the planning stages.

In another foundation-building piece for the IBED strategy, Partnership staff has initiated an innovation-based dialogue with The University of Montana and MonTEC leadership. In general, the focus of these early discussions is how best to partner in developing a robust innovation/entrepreneurial program designed to facilitate creation, development and capitalization of new products and services. More specifically, to start, group members are sharing their preliminary perspectives on the current tech-led — or innovation-based — situation in the greater Missoula area with respect to capital flow, regional business cluster mapping and associated opportunities, university research and development activities, and the crucial “valley of death” from an entrepreneurial perspective. UM leadership, led by Joe Fanguy, director of UM’s technology transfer program, also shared the current status and future plans of various entrepreneurship groups at the university, including the UM Entrepreneurship Club, Montana Association of Distinguished Entrepreneurs and the annual UM spring Business Plan Competition.

These initial Partnership-UM-MonTEC discussions will serve as a sound base from which to conduct more formal strategic and program planning sessions — sessions scheduled to begin in early December.

On the community talent front of the IBED strategy, Partnership staff has conducted a preliminary analysis of the concept of a “talent-driven organization” as championed by HUMANeX Ventures, a Midwest consulting and training organization. Our goal here is to better understand the concept and its applicability to the Partnership, to select Missoula businesses and, eventually, to the Missoula community in its entirety. Ultimately, this type of program could well be an important aspect of our comprehensive plan to not only understand our human resources, but to further develop and place the right people in the right jobs in the right organizations as a key ingredient to economic development success.

Finally, in an effort to pull it all together and place innovation-based economic development into proper perspective within our overall economic development strategy, Partnership staff is researching best practices and lessons learned from other communities similar in economic makeup to Missoula. Of particular note is the Kalamazoo, Mich., experience as detailed in the book “Community Capitalism”; it’s a very compelling success story. This book was recommended to the Partnership’s Board of Directors as a case study in how to succeed with community-based economic development efforts over time.

We at Missoula Economic Partnership actively want to learn others’ best ideas and practices — and adapt them to Missoula’s best use. And that’s what all these meetings and conversations and research aim to start.

Bill Bensen, strategy & planning program managerProvidence St. Patrick Hospital

Missoula Economic Partnership | 500 N. Higgins Ave. | Suite 300 | Missoula, Montana 59802 | P: 406.541.6461 | F: 406.541.6464