MISSOULA – A University of Montana graduate student won first place in the Montana Small Business Development Center Shark Tank competition, held March 12-14 in Helena, for his business to help tour operators manage their digital marketing.
Evan Tipton, who is studying recreation resource management in UM’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation and set to graduate in May, bested 24 other competitors to earn $5,000 for his business, TOMIS.
TOMIS already has 25 paying customers, and a beta version of the software will launch in April. Tipton has worked in digital marketing and tourism management for the past six years. He notes that TOMIS has already raised $95,000.
“I realized there was a large opportunity and huge need to help these locally owned and operated tour operators navigate the painful and complex waters of digital marketing,” said Tipton, a native of Savannah, Georgia. “As a result, we started TOMIS, the digital marketing assistant for tour operators. We are driven by our mission to level the playing field in this industry by helping these local tourism businesses grow, at a price they can actually afford with software that actually makes sense, as it is tailored exactly to their businesses.”
“Evan is one of the most intense, driven and hardworking individuals I know, especially when he has a passion,” said Norma Nickerson, director of UM’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research and Tipton’s graduate adviser. “This business in tourism and nature-based recreation is his passion.”
Tipton, who received his bachelor’s degree in parks, tourism and recreation management from the forestry college in 2012, credits his time at UM for his success. “Through my undergraduate and graduate studies in the recreation management program, I gained in-depth knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of this industry,” he said. “This program is filled with world-class professors and opportunities that can help set other current or prospective students up to succeed in this industry, just as it did for myself. Working with professors such as Norma Nickerson, Keith Bosak, Wayne Freimund and Bill Borrie provided an invaluable foundation to propel me into the real world.”
The Small Business Development Center partnered with the Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Recreation for this year’s Shark Tank competition. Local entrepreneurs presented their business plans and received feedback from a panel of industry professionals.