By Sean Forbes ExploreBigSky.com Contributor
There was a time in and around the Gallatin Valley, not long ago, when the young and restless drawn here by institutions like Montana State University and mountains such as Lone Peak had to choose between a certain quality of life or making what would commonly be considered a comfortable living. That was quite often somewhere else.
StartupBozeman — a burgeoning network of entrepreneurial professionals primarily organized by Rob Irizarry, Gary Gannon and Jake Cook — sees that scenario changing, and is working to bring together the resources to help make it happen.
“There’s always people doing things, it’s just a matter of providing a place for them all to gather,” Irizarry said. “It’s kind of interesting to see how many people there are that were sort of looking for this.”
What began with the blogging efforts of Irizarry, who looks at his work as a return to his startup roots after leaving RightNow Technologies following its acquisition by Oracle, is blossoming into a sort of Farmers’ Alamanac for small businesses by connecting those who have been there before with others just starting out.
StartupBozeman has also branched out into mentoring at Bozeman High School and informal meetings at Rockford Coffee every Thursday.
“One of the things about the entrepreneur deal is there’s no map,” Irizarry said. “You’ve got to figure out all this stuff. So one thing that’s interesting about entrepreneurs, the smart ones, they realize that even though it’s a different business many of those problems are the same.”
With the growth of the internet, and technology in general, as well as lean business practices relieving some initial costs, starting a business no longer has to be the monumental undertaking it once was. And, despite the current economic situation, Irizarry sees plenty of opportunity, and more than a few actual examples, of people taking the initiative and pursuing their passions.
That motivation is bearing fruit, like Oracle’s interest in RightNow.
“If you look historically, often those large exits, which there’s no doubt this was a large exit, provides a bunch of different seed[s] for a startup community,” Irizarry said. “So there are people with talent, money, experience, all the kind of stuff in the Petri dish that you need to get a startup community to the next level.”
To that end, StartupBozeman is also working to connect those communities and interests already developing throughout the state.
“In Big Sky, I’m … there are a lot of people that live there or own property up there who have done it, exited, and are now kind of done,” Irizarry said. “But those kinds of people, they can’t help themselves. They’re wired that way. So I think there is a tremendous opportunity in relation to Big Sky both for investment and the talent pool.
“Here’s a guy who built a company, or was CFO of the company, or has a marketing specialty, or is an electrical engineer, or whatever those talent pools are, where they could mentor companies in Big Sky or in Bozeman. The hard part when you start out [is]— to use the Montana expression — ‘if you haven’t been to the rodeo, it’s all new.’”
That’s where StartupBozeman sees experience stepping in and helping to bolster an admittedly daunting success rate. Something Irizarry hopes will not only benefit the bold few, but will eventually translate into a broader prosperity.
“I’ve got three kids. I’d love to see them, when they graduate from high school or MSU, not have to leave,” Irizarry said. “So many parents, they look at it and where do their kids go? They go to Seattle, or D.C, or they go to Silicon Valley, because that’s where the jobs are.
“I think that dynamic is also changing, and will continue to … I think it’s less about the talent-pool problem anymore, and more about protecting that culture – that we don’t need or want a Silicon Valley here. We want to keep the special part special, and actually leverage that to build something that’s unique.”
To join the conversation or just keep up with the latest from StartupBozeman, visit startupbozeman.com.