By Becca Skinner

Becoming a small business owner isn’t easy.

For me, it’s meant learning not only how to be a photographer, but also an accountant, a secretary and an editor. This juggling act of time and energy is driven by my passion to create images people will love and cherish for the rest of their lives.

When I moved to Bozeman from Laramie, Wyoming, I was thrilled to see so many young entrepreneurs like myself. I’ve since learned that doing something I enjoy and making my own schedule are valid perks, but business doesn’t stop at 5 p.m. on Fridays.

Per capita, Montana has the highest number of startup businesses in the nation, according to the Kauffman Index for Entrepreneurial Activity. At 610 startups for every 100,000 adults, it’s leagues ahead of the second and third place states, Alaska and South Dakota, which have 470 and 410, respectively.

Business-friendly legislation and resources like the Bozeman-based Prospera Business Network are likely contributors to the state’s burgeoning startups, but I’d argue that Montana has something else, as well: a large number of enthusiastic, driven individuals eager to make their mark on the world through vision and creativity.

For this photo essay, I’ve featured six artist-entrepreneurs who inspire me – a potter, a filmmaker, a blacksmith, two bakers and a jeweler. As much as anyone, they exemplify the energy behind this vibrant and growing business community.

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RyanMitchellRyan Mitchell started Gangbusters Pottery in 2012, while managing Rocky Creek Farm in Bozeman. He served as an artist-in-residence at the Emerson Cultural Center from 2010-2012, and currently teaches classes there, as well as at his studio downtown and in local elementary schools. His hand-thrown cups, bowls and plates are decorated with earthy, often playful lines, shapes and colors. Find them at local coffee shops, Tart and Owenhouse Ace Hardware, and examples of his custom wedding tableware online.

DeiaSchlosberg

Deia Schlosberg’s creative firm Pale Blue Dot Media focuses on generating attention at the intersection of human rights and climate issues, contracting mostly with nonprofit organizations. A filmmaker, graphic designer and illustrator, Schlosberg recently garnered two College Emmy Awards, Best Documentary and the Bricker Humanitarian Award for “Backyard,” a 30-minute film on hydraulic fracking. The film will be featured in both the Livingston Film Festival and Wild and Scenic Film Festival.

EricDeweyEric Dewey was 20 when he started Desperado Forge. In the four years since, the blacksmith has apprenticed and worked with some of the most recognized artisans in the industry, taught and demonstrated at the Museum of the Rockies, and been featured on the Outdoor Channel. Although his craft is thousands of years old, Dewey’s work is contemporary. His forged pieces can be seen from luxury homes to retail stores around Bozeman.

EstherSullivanEsther Sullivan makes jewelry in her downtown Bozeman studio, using primarily reclaimed metal to create delicate geometry in her necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings. After earning a metalsmithing degree from Montana State University in 2005, she worked with jewelers in Vermont and Bozeman before starting her own business, Esther Sullivan Designs, in 2009. She also works on commissioned pieces ranging from vintage hand-me-downs to custom accessories and wedding rings.

Lauren&CarolineTwin sisters Caroline and Lauren Schweitzer are the minds and the muscle behind the year-old Bozeman bakery, Wild Crumb. Originally from Northern California, both women attended school in San Francisco before moving to Montana. Their bakery features organic artisan bread ranging from Gorgonzola Walnut Sourdough or Polenta Olive, to classics like Rye and Whole Wheat. They also make a large spread of delicious pastries fresh every morning. You can find the bakery at the corner of Peach and Wallace.

This story was first published in the summer 2014 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.