By Christina Henderson
Here’s a quiz – how many high tech and manufacturing companies do you think we have in Montana?
On December 20, 2016, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance emailed our third annual survey of Montana tech companies with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana to 242 Alliance member companies and 304 non-member companies in high-tech and manufacturing. That’s 546 total tech companies in Montana.
This doesn’t include the tech companies we haven’t found yet. We have to hunt them like rare wild beasts as they tend to hide in remote business parks and second floor offices without signage.
The Alliance is ramping up our efforts to raise the visibility of Montana's many world-class businesses and related jobs that need to be filled. To kick things off, we’re highlighting 15 Montana companies to watch in 2017. To form this list, we looked for startups and growth companies that fit at least one of the following criteria:
Here are our picks in alphabetical order.
1. Ascent Vision, Bozeman
Ascent Vision founder Tim Sheehy was a Navy SEAL officer and Army Ranger who saw an opportunity to provide lower-cost aerial surveillance to government and industry. Launched in a barn in 2013, Ascent Vision formed a joint venture with Australian gimbal maker UAV Vision and in the first year grew from two people to 50 and multi-millions of dollars in sales. In late 2016, Ascent Vision broke ground on a 30,000 sq. ft. facility to meet high demand for sensors in unmanned aerial vehicles, maritime surveillance and self-driving cars.
2. Audience Awards, Missoula
Launched in 2013 by award-winning filmmaker Paige Williams, Audience Awards is a platform that connects brands to high-quality, user generated content through video contests and film challenges. Partnerships with GoDaddy, Hilton Worldwide and Kodak have brought Audience Awards recognition in Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines. The company raised more than $500,000 in funding in late 2016 from Alliance of Angels and Victress Capital, expanding its offices and its team.
3. Centricient, Bozeman
Centricient closed a $6.5 million round in 2016 led by Venrock (venture capital arm of the Rockefeller family) and followed by Next Frontier Capital. Centricient is re-imagining customer service for a mobile world, connecting customers and enterprises through text messaging. The firm was founded by Mike Myer, the former CTO of RightNow Technologies which sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1.8 billion. Centricient also formed a partnership in 2016 with Helix Business Solutions, an Oracle Service Cloud solutions integrator, to sell and implement messaging to its customer base.
4. Clearas Water Recovery, Missoula
Clearas Water Recovery, maker of a patented biological wastewater treatment system, closed a $4 million series B round in 2016. The 40-person team has developed a scalable, algae-based system that purifies industrial and municipal wastewater to the highest regulatory standards and creates a useful byproduct. According to CEO Jordan Lind, Clearas earned $4 million in revenue in 2016, and has a backlog to reach $16 million in 2017 and $27 million in 2018. Lind is a 3rd generation Montanan, descended from sugar beet farmers, who co-founded a previous high-growth Missoula tech company as an MBA student at the University of Montana.
5. Elixiter, Bozeman
Founded by Billings native and RightNow Technologies veteran Andrew Hull in 2011, Elixiter is a marketing services firm focused on clients of the Marketo platform. Rapid expansion led Elixiter to relocate four times in four years. Since the company’s inception, Elixiter has averaged 100% year over year growth and landed on the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing companies in 2016. Fortune Magazine ranked Elixiter number 52 on its inaugural list of 100 Best Workplaces for Women. The company has a team of about 40 consultants serving clients like FitBit, Aetna, Cisco, and Lynda.com.
6. Foundant Technologies, Bozeman
Co-founded in 2006 by MSU graduates who were early RightNow Technologies employees, software-as-a-service company Foundant Technologies helps philanthropic foundations streamline and simplify their grant proposal processes. Foundant was on the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest growing companies in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and named one of Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work. By late 2016, Foundant had 50 employees, more than $4 million in annual revenue, and merged with Washington firm Smalldog to offer the promising new CommunitySuite - financial solutions for community foundations.
7. Girlzilla, Malta
Misty Kuhl's vision for Girlzilla – a marketplace for women’s used outdoor gear - earned her a spot as a Native Entrepreneur in Residence and $125,000 in funding from New Mexico Community Capital, as well as a seat at Obama’s 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Palo Alto. An enrolled tribal member (Gros Ventre) of Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Kuhl graduated (cum laude) from Montana State University as a first-generation college student. She then relocated to Albuquerque, NM where she was a small business owner, whitewater rafting guide, and REI sales lead. Kuhl moved her company home to Malta, Montana in 2016 in the hope of bringing sustainable economic opportunity to her community. The Girlzilla platform is slated to launch in 2017.
8. GTUIT, Billings
GTUIT was Montana’s fastest growing company last year, reaching the 203rd position on Inc. magazine's 2016 Inc. 500. The firm grew 1,894 percent over three years and earned $10.9 million in revenue in 2015. GTUIT was Launched in 2011 by three engineers with decades of experience in the Bakken oil fields. After convincing their first customer to fund the prototype, the co-founders developed a process that cuts emissions and puts flare gas to use instead of burning it as waste. In 2015, GTUIT received equity investment from Caterpillar Oil & Gas and an award of excellence from the World Bank Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership.
9. LMG Security, Missoula
After earning degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from MIT and writing the world’s first textbook on Network Forensics, Sherri Davidoff launched LMG Security in 2008. LMG is a cyber security consulting, research and education company experiencing fast growth in a hot field. LMG’s global clients include government agencies, health care organizations, and Fortune 500 companies. Davidoff teaches at industry knowledge centers like SANS and Black Hat and has been featured in Wired Magazine. The LMG team has doubled in size over the last three years to 25 employees and climbing. The firm just purchased a new building near the Clark Fork River in Missoula.
10. Montana Precision Products, Butte
Montana Precision Products was created in 2013 when SeaCast Inc. and General Electric formed a 50-50 joint venture to build parts and castings for GE’s jet engines. SeaCast was owned by Butte natives and brothers Bert and Mike Robins, who continue as owners of Montana Precision today. According to General Manager Chris Eurich, Montana Precision has around 135 employees in Butte. The company invested $1.5 million in new technology in 2016 and plans to grow its workforce by 50 percent in the next three years to meet growing demand for more fuel-efficient LEAP jet engines.
11. onXmaps, Missoula
Eric Siegfried launched onXmaps in 2009 as a new graduate of Montana State University's College of Engineering to solve his frustrations finding accurate land ownership maps while hunting in Montana. He started making GPS plug-ins and later launched the ROAM app for hunting and backcountry recreation. Siegfried bootstrapped a $500 initial investment into a multi-million dollar enterprise employing 65 people. Thanks to the ROAM app’s popularity, onXmaps is expanding its offices in 2017 and plans to have 200 employees in Missoula in five years.
12. Orbital Shift, Missoula
After earning a Master’s in Computer Science and an MBA from the University of Montana, Orbital Shift founder and serial entrepreneur Kevin O’Reilly relied on bootstrapping and early customer feedback to fine tune his SaaS products in online workforce management. Today over 40 percent of Orbital Shift users log into the software every single day. In late 2016, Orbital Shift closed a $1.25 million Series Seed round led by Next Frontier Capital and added an office in Bozeman.
13. PFL.com, Livingston
Founded in 1996 by CEO Andrew Field as a traditional print shop, PFL went online in 1999 with the first ever e-commerce site for commercial print – PrintingForLess.com. PFL landed on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies three times and was featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and on CNBC for its innovative HR policies. Two decades later, the firm has 225 employees and is evolving into a marketing technology company. PFL has developed a popular SwagIQ gifting plugin for Salesforce and carved out a niche MarTech category called Tactile Marketing Automation that’s on track for steep growth in 2017.
14. Spika Design and Manufacturing, Lewistown
Lewistown native Tom Spika started his company in 2001 as a two-person shop on the family farm. Today Spika Design and Manufacturing is a multi-million dollar company, designing and building aviation maintenance equipment for global markets. Spika was Montana Exporter of the Year in 2013. The firm now employs 60 people, including Tom’s daughters Katie Spika (COO) and Bekhi Spika (Marketing Director), and is developing innovative programs to attract and train local talent for high-paying jobs. A 6,000 square foot expansion in 2016 is accommodating new contracts and engineers.
15. ViZn Energy, Columbia Falls
Ron Van Dell had stints at GE and Dell Computer and was CEO of three startups in Austin and Silicon Valley before coming to Montana to join ViZn Energy as president and CEO in 2014. During Van Dell’s tenure, the industrial-scale battery manufacturer has grown from about 15 employees to more than 60 scientists, engineers, and software technicians working on the forefront of the clean energy revolution. ViZn previously raised over $37 million in independent investments and was closing up another $25 million round of funding in late 2016.
These are just a few of the Montana companies we'll be keeping an eye on in the coming year. Who would you add to the list?