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$2 million grant to create entrepreneurship ‘LaunchPads’ and UM, MSU

Political leaders, college students, colorful banners and flat screen TVs ringed the state capitol building’s rotunda on Friday for the unveiling of a 3-year, $2 million grant to expand entrepreneurship through Montana’s two biggest Universities.

The University of Montana and Montana State University will split the grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, an arm of the multinational investment firm Blackstone Financial. Each campus will staff an office in their respective University centers with the goal of connecting students interested in starting a business with a support network of professionals and venture coaches to help those students create sustainable companies.

“The goal here is to keep homegrown talent right here at home,” Sen. Jon Tester told the crowd packed into the rotunda. These ‘Blackstone LaunchPads’, as the offices will be called, are modeled after a program developed at the University of Miami in 2008. A press release from the Blackstone Charitable foundation said that program has created 1,413 business proposals and 210 new jobs. The release also claims the Montana LaunchPads have the potential to generate some 150 new ventures in Montana in the next five years.

Blackstone Financial President and COO Tony James owns a ranch near Twin Bridges, Montana. He said Tester asked him to take part in a small business opportunity workshop about a year ago. That led to him wanting to include Montana in the ‘LaunchPad’ initiative, which also includes projects in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, with another soon to launch in California.

“We agreed with the President of the United States that we would do this in only six states…why Montana? Well, first of all, your entrepreneurial spirit, it’s unusual,” James said.

Tester said the initiative will need to raise $600,000 from the private sector in order to fund the program for its full, three-year, initial run.

An official from Montana State University said he expected the ‘LaunchPads’ offices to open in a few months.

Also speaking at the Friday unveiling were Sen. Max Baucus, Governor Steve Bullock, Montana State University President Waded Cruzado and University of Montana President Royce Engstrom. 

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