UM to Host Annual Business Plan Competition

May 04, 2015

MISSOULA – The University of Montana School of Business Administration, along with the Montana Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs and Blackstone LaunchPad at UM, will showcase the entrepreneurial aspirations of students from across the state at the 26th Annual John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge. Formerly known as the John Ruffatto Business Plan Competition, the event will take place Thursday, May 14, in the Gallagher Business Building on the UM campus.

Montana is gaining recognition as an entrepreneurial frontier – a place with not just an abundance of natural beauty but also a talented workforce that prides itself on education and an uncommon work ethic.

“The hardy, driven and entrepreneurial spirit of the state’s original settlers proves to be one of Montana’s greatest assets in the new global economy,” special programs coordinator Larae Hackney said, “and the statewide Business Startup Challenge solidifies this reputation.”

As one of the oldest competitions in the country, the business school is proud to host this prestigious event for another year. Faculty-sponsored teams from higher education institutions across Montana are invited to compete. From those teams, 16 will be chosen to compete on May 14 for more than $45,000 in prize money.

The panel of judges who will evaluate the teams’ startups consists of venture capitalists, angel investors, bankers, attorneys, corporate executives and successful entrepreneurs. Over the course of the day and two rounds of pitches, judges will narrow the field of 16 down to four finalist teams. The finalists will present their startup to the public audience at 5:30 p.m. on May 14.

The name change reflects the rise of the lean startup philosophy, which encourages “getting out of the building” to research, develop and validate business startup ideas over more traditional business plan documentation.

This year’s event will reward competing teams that demonstrate real-world activity and evolve their business ideas based on market interaction and feedback. This change is being mirrored at business plan competitions around the world and also is reflected in programs such as Startup Weekends that emphasize doing over planning.

The John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge is a highlight of the spring semester at SoBA. Competing students spend weeks and sometimes months developing and refining their written and oral presentations for the competition.

The shared business ideas and educational experience of this competition have helped Montana in many ways over the years, leading to successful businesses such as Big Sky Brewing, American Expedition Vehicle, Market on Front and Five on Black.

For more information about supporting or attending the event, visit, call SoBA Special Programs Coordinator Larae Hackney at 406-243-4830 or email

Contact: Larae Hackney, special programs coordinator, UM School of Business Administration, 406-243-4830,