MISSOULA – The University of Montana’s Blackstone LaunchPad Pursue Your Passion program celebrated the conclusion of the 2017-18 school year by awarding certificates to six outstanding women and two inaugural fellowships on May 2.
The women have spent the past year considering careers that harness their passions, diving into the unique entrepreneurial ecosystem in Montana and learning business fundamentals from dynamic community members. Five of the women applied for the two UM startup competitions – EPIC Pitch and the John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge – and three were selected as finalists out of more than 40 other applicants.
Pursue Your Passion, a student program designed to increase women’s participation in start-up competitions and entrepreneurship, has catalyzed exciting new opportunities for supporting female entrepreneurs in Missoula. The fellowships recognized two students for outstanding entrepreneurial work and vision.
The spring fellows are environmental studies graduate student Catie DeMets from Verona, Wisconsin, and psychology undergraduate Kassi Soelter from Billings. Both women were past finalists in UM’s EPIC Pitch Competition and the John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge.
DeMet’s passion for sustainable food systems has led to her business idea for Mirthful Farm, a pizza farm that flips the farm-to-table concept to put the table back on the farm by hosting community nights with pizzas made with farm-fresh ingredients.
“This program showed me that I can be an environmental advocate, but I don’t have to make zero dollars to do that,” DeMets said. “I was welcomed by an entrepreneurial community that I did not know even existed.”
Soelter’s passion for French cuisine, discovered during her time spent as an au pair in France, led her to start Crepe Cuisine, a mobile crepe restaurant that serves traditional French crepes with a Montana twist. You can find Crepe Cuisine at the Missoula Farmers Market on Saturdays by the red Xs in the summer and at First Fridays by Five on Black.
“This fellowship makes a big impact for my business,” Soelter said. “The $500 will pay for permits that allow me to expand my business by serving crepes downtown on First Fridays.”
Each fellowship includes a $500 stipend, workspace at on the UM campus in the Gilkey Building and additional consultative support to continue work on a passion or business idea throughout the next year.
After the call went out last fall to raise $1,000 to fund two fellowships, members of the Montana community funded these fellowships in a matter of days, surpassing the goal by nearly three times and sustaining the fellowships for three years.
Pursue Your Passion, launched in 2015, continues to grow and expand under the leadership of Program Director Morgan Slemberger. The program has supported more than 40 students and led to the creation of several female-owned businesses in the Missoula community.
“Pursue Your Passion is an exemplary collaboration between the University of Montana and the community,” Slemberger said. “Montanans, particularly Missoulians, have supported this program with time and money in order to create entrepreneurial opportunities for our future female leaders to grow.”
The program will offer a one-semester course this fall, in partnership with UM’s Davidson Honors College, to become an entry point to a multiyear experience available to UM students at any level throughout their academic career. The course is designed to strengthen team connections, develop 21st-century skills, practice creative problem solving and engage with female change-makers in Montana and beyond. Through this course students will gain access to the Pursue Your Passion program, network and be eligible to apply for the fellowship.
Registration is open for the one-credit fall 2018 course. More information about the program is online at http://www.umt.edu/passion.
Blackstone LaunchPad at UM is a center for entrepreneurship for students, alumni, faculty and staff. The organization offers free services to assist entrepreneurs in turning their ideas, skills and passions into real-world businesses and nonprofit organizations through individualized coaching and venture creation support.
For more information about the program and other opportunities at the Blackstone LaunchPad, email Jenny Lind, Blackstone LaunchPad at UM Montana Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA, at firstname.lastname@example.org.