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Matt Gangloff has an idea for a business.
It’s called New Leaf Environmental Monitoring, and its goal is to apply high-technology concepts to environmental issues. The product is designed to monitor chemical toxins in and around the home, specifically focusing on people who live near natural gas wells and the myriad problems they face.
Gangloff, a senior studying management information systems at UM’s School of Business Administration, and his partner, Andrew Burrington, put the idea to the test at the Fall Business Plan Competition this past December. They presented their plan to a panel of experts, and they ended up winning the grand prize.
“That got me thinking that, ‘Wow, this is actually possible,’” Gangloff says. “But I didn’t really know how to pursue it. I had an idea for what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to take those sequential steps.”
Enter Blackstone LaunchPad, a new program designed to help UM students—and alumni—precisely in Gangloff’s predicament.
UM’s Blackstone LaunchPad, which had its grand opening in February, helps entrepreneurs jumpstart their own businesses. A $2 million grant announced last summer established a partnership among UM, Montana State University, and Headwaters RC&D in Butte to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career option. It also provides students with a network of venture coaches and entrepreneurial support to transform new ideas into sustainable companies.
The timing couldn’t have been better for Gangloff.
“Here I am, nine months after I came up with the idea, having a business that has gone from zero to sixty because of this program,” he says.
The program is directed by Paul Gladen, an entrepreneur and co-founder of the Hellgate Venture Network.
In his first couple of months on the job, Gladen has been pleased with the interest in the program. He says about seventy students and alumni registered with LaunchPad, and about thirty actual business ventures have been submitted.
“In the early stages, our biggest challenge is getting the word out that LaunchPad is open to all students,” says Gladen, who hails from the United Kingdom. “We not only want to pick up those people who say, ‘This program is perfect. I want to start my own business. I have this great idea for a product, and it sounds like these guys can help me,’ but additionally, we want to help those students who have never considered starting their own business as a viable option and turn on that light bulb.”
Beyond students, LaunchPad also is open to UM alumni, and there are a couple of ways to get involved. First, alumni can use LaunchPad if they have a business idea they’d like to pursue. The other way is to help students tap into the knowledge, expertise, and relationships that alumni can offer.
“A lot of building a business in many ways is about networking,” Gladen says. “It’s who you know or who can help open some doors. It can also be about finding someone with specific skills, either to be a part of that team or just offer some advice or make an introduction.”
The LaunchPad office, located in the University Center, has a definite startup vibe to it. Lime green paint covers one wall, while floor-to-ceiling windows make up the others. There are stand-up workstations and colorful bean-bag chairs. The setting gives the program high visibility in a high-traffic area to reinforce the idea that it’s open to all students.
“This goes beyond just business school students, whose domain of expertise is in the technicalities of business: finance, strategy, marketing, technology. Often they don’t necessarily have the experience or knowledge around a specific product or service area,” Gladen says. “So I think if we team them up with people coming from forestry or drama or physics, we’re going to get that combination I think is going to create not only more innovative, creative businesses, but also more complementary skill sets that will increase the chances that those businesses will succeed.
“But at the end of the day, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be the type to get up and go and make stuff happen. If we can help you make that happen a little more easily and a little more quickly, that’s what we’re here to do.”
John Heaney is the editor-in chief of the Montanan. An Anaconda native, John graduated from UM in 2002 and took the helm of the Montanan in 2010. In between, he worked for the Missoulian, the Spokesman-Review, the Coeur d'Alene Press, and the Anaconda Leader.