By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

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With the Israeli consul general in attendance, the University of Montana rolled out a new program Thursday night, one that will house seven different platforms designed to help startup businesses succeed at various stages along the journey.

The program, Accelerate Montana, covers an entrepreneur’s first stop at Blackstone LaunchPad to a business’ ambitious decision to export its product on a global scale with the aid of the Montana World Trade Center.

The Montana Code School, the Montana Small Business Development Center and the Montana Procurement Technical Assistance Center, among others, now fall under the umbrella of Accelerate Montana.

“We will all align and collaborate under the common umbrella of Accelerate Montana,” said Joel Fanguy, president of the Montana Technology Enterprise Center at UM. “The alignment will provide an even greater impact on the more than 700 businesses that are mentored, contracted with or helped annually by all these programs.”

A panel of university employees and business delegates unveiled the program at the Gilkey Center for Executive Education – a new facility that opened on campus this past year.

Brigitta Miranda-Freer, executive director of the Montana World Trade Center, describes the role Accelerate Montana plays in the local business community. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Brigitta Miranda-Freer, executive director of the Montana World Trade Center, describes the role Accelerate Montana plays in the local business community. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

There, before a crowd of roughly 50 enterprises ranging from Missoula Job Service to the popular Missoula restaurant Five on Black, Fanguy noted the role UM plays in educating students, mentoring entrepreneurs and helping startups find the footing they need to succeed.

“These activities work together in creating local and regional sustainable businesses in an ever-increasing global economic community,” said Fanguy. “Much of the success and connection has been made possible through a commitment by the university over the past five years to create a better and stronger alignment between the business community and the university.”

Brigitta Miranda-Freer, executive director of the Montana World Trade Center, said the programs under Accelerate Montana can help the state’s business reach the next level. In some cases, that includes looking beyond the state’s borders.

At times, it may also mean entering an international market.

“That extension of the core team is something that carries over to all the Accelerate Montana teams,” she said. “We have the opportunity to work with smart, talented and engaging risk-takers every day. They’re putting it on the line and trying to grow a business in Montana, and we get to participate in that with them.”

Miranda-Freer noted Montana’s recent ranking as the top state in the country, per capita, for its number of startup business. Released by the Kaufman Foundation, the rankings have placed the state at the top position for four consecutive years.

“Here in Montana, we’re proud of the distinction that we’re the number one state in the nation for startups, per capita,” she said. “We should be proud of that distinction. Israel shares a similar distinction, but on a global scale.”

Andy David, Israel’s consul generation to the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S., said his country is often seen as a place of deserts, strife and camels. The misunderstandings aren’t unlike those that circulate about Montana, which is seen by some as a backwater state with little economic activity.

But Israel and Montana offer more than shallow stereotypes. Israel is known globally as the startup capital of the world. While it’s home to just 8 million people, it packs an economic punch, and David divulged some of his nation’s secrets on Thursday night.

“Until four decades ago, we were a third our size,” David said in an interview before his presentation. “We grew three times bigger, and still the unemployment rate is very low. The only reason for that is knowledge-based industries. Invest in knowledge, invest in universities, invest in creating more talent and more programs, and always compare yourself to your competitors.”

David believes people and teamwork serve as the leading recipe for success, saying a good idea will flop without the right people in place. Fostering innovation, thinking globally and incentivizing opportunity are also part of the equation.

And while Montana may be far removed from the nation’s economic hubs, David said that matters little in today’s global environment. Israel, he said, is no different, given its geographic surroundings.

“Today’s industries are less and less dependent on distance,” said David. “It’s not about how many grains you can sell, or how many oranges you can sell, as in our case. It’s about how many ideas you can sell, and with ideas, distance doesn’t matter.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at