Grunke column: MEP Angel Network keeps investment — and innovation — local

I recently had the privilege of leading the inaugural pitch session held by MEP Angel Network. Four remarkably innovative and interesting entrepreneurs stood up and pitched their companies, ideas and in many ways themselves to a room full of local private investors. Their goals? To secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in private angel investor capital.

MEP Angel Network is a group of private investors assembled by the Missoula Economic Partnership. The network’s express goal is to assist fledging, local companies with their single greatest need — capital. In return, an investor receives some type of equity stake in the company’s future.

I’ve attended many similar presentations in other communities, and I have to say this was truly one of the best. Entrepreneurs were limited to a 15-minute presentation using up to 12 slides, plus 10 minutes for question and answer. All four represented their visions and community well.

They were able to tell the human side of their stories. Demonstrate marketability of their businesses. And cover the financial nuts and bolts, too. All in less time than some presenters spend covering agendas. They were lively, passionate and above all professional.

It was a huge step for economic development in Missoula.

Supporting growing companies right here at home is key to long-term economic and job growth. Think about it. HP started in a garage. Microsoft in a dorm room. 3M in a wind-beaten shack on Lake Superior. Yet each of those companies grew to change the world in its own way. They grew from startups funded by friends, relatives and investors to international economic drivers. And their headquarters, by the way, are still in their “home” states.

By actively working to connect private investors and entrepreneurs, Missoula is encouraging that same cycle. Because when Missoula’s private investors fund innovative startups here, it keeps those companies and their intellectual capital here. It also attracts entrepreneurs from outside the market to set up shop in Missoula. Over time, that means more jobs, exciting new sector hubs … and maybe the next Microsoft.

What I witnessed in that boardroom in early April wasn’t only about entrepreneurs pitching to fund their visions or about investors looking to make a solid ROI. It was about Missoula getting in the game and helping to determine its own economic future. That’s something that can only bode well for the future of every entrepreneur looking to call Missoula “Home.”

This column by James Grunke, CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership, originally appeared in the April 22, 2012 edition of the Missoulian’s Western Montana InBusiness.


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