New UM Program to Boost Rural Economic Development

February 21, 2019

MISSOULA – The University of Montana recently was awarded a grant that will fund efforts to help distressed rural and tribal communities develop sustainable, high-growth entrepreneurial ecosystems.    

The University earned a five-year, $730,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s 2018 University Center Economic Development Program Competition.

The new funding creates the UM Center for Rural Economic Development (UMCRED) to broaden the reach of another University program, Accelerate Montana (, which is designed to boost Big Sky businesses from the idea stage all the way to global expansion.

“This award affirms the University of Montana’s strong commitment to economic development and to the type of research, innovation and expertise that fosters high-growth entrepreneurship in the great state of Montana,” UM President Seth Bodnar said.

The key objectives of the new center are:  

  • stimulating entrepreneurial engagement and activity that provides quick wins and momentum.

  • community building by creating local capacity in terms of community leaders, community knowledge, locally organized events, networks and programming that will sustain high-growth business-building ecosystems beyond the duration of UMCRED.

  • boosting new venture creation through programming that encourages individuals and teams in the service region to develop new, innovative value propositions and business models – particularly those focused on rural and tribal challenges and opportunities.

  • identifying potential lucrative business ventures and supporting growth through access to mentoring, growth capital and growth markets.

Paul Gladen, director of Accelerate Montana and the Blackstone LaunchPad at UM, will lead the new center. He will be assisted by Morgan Slemberger, Blackstone LaunchPad assistant director; Brigitta Miranda-Freer, executive director of the Montana World Trade Center; and Jennifer Stephens, regional director of the Missoula Small Business Development Center. The grant also will fund a new outreach and engagement manager.

UMCRED also has received significant commitments of expertise and resources from the following organizations active in Montana’s entrepreneurship ecosystem: Conradi Anderson, Crowley Fleck, Frontier Angels, Goodworks Ventures and Worden Thane.

Gladen said UMCRED will work with economic development partners across the state to perform a needs and assets assessment of service regions.

“This will identify prioritized needs in terms of capability gaps and programming and inform the balance and prioritization across new venture and high growth activity,” he said. “UMCRED will then provide workshops or training and access to online training materials and resources that cover a range of relevant topics.”

 These topics will include ideation and design thinking, value proposition design, business models, financial modeling, seeking investment funding, foreign direct investment, startup legal essentials, intellectual property, accessing public funds and reaching global markets.

“All these topics can assist local economic development professionals and local entrepreneurs to enhance their understanding and application of early stage entrepreneurship or high-growth frameworks and practices,” Gladen said.

The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars is an entrepreneurship program that helps UM students and alumni succeed. Open to all students and alumni in all majors, the campus-based organization enables participants to access mentoring, grow their network and access the resources to accelerate the success of their business. Visit for more information.


Contact: Paul Gladen, director, Accelerate Montana at UM, 406-396-3534,