U.S. senator hosts small business workshop Wednesday morning

Montana Kaimin

by Heidi Groover

Sen. Jon Tester speaks to a group of community members and business owners during his “Small Business Opportunity Workshop” Wednesday in the UC Theater.

Before a crowd of people wearing suit jackets, flannel shirts and a lone cowboy hat, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., led a workshop for entrepreneurs and small business owners at The University of Montana Wednesday.

Presentations at the workshop, Tester's sixth "Small Business Opportunity Workshop" since 2009, focused on entrepreneurship and small business' use of the Internet and social media.

"The fact that we've got the number of folks that we have here speaks to the Montana can-do spirit and the fact that there's a lot of interest out there about moving your business forward and creating opportunity within the state of Montana," Tester said. "This is a small business state and we know that."

Sean Thompson, a Montana native and now managing director at Microsoft, was the keynote speaker. He told entrepreneurs they have an advantage in what he called "the Montana brand." A 19-year resident of Seattle, Thompson said he often makes connections others can't because he is from Montana and meets other people in the business world with some tie to the state.

"That automatically connected you," Thompson said. "You got over the ego. It didn't matter [about] anything else."

Thompson encouraged the audience to take advantage of what today's dependency on the Internet offers: inexpensive operating costs, higher productivity and communicating with customers. The risks of global competition can't be forgotten in the digital age, Thompson said, urging entrepreneurs to be willing to take risks to stay ahead of their competition.

UM Associate Professor of Management and Marketing, Dr. Michael Braun spoke about the environment and circumstances that make for successful entrepreneurship.
"Entrepreneurs are not just born, but made," Braun said.

While certain character traits might be helpful for successful small business ventures, training, education and mentoring are irreplaceable, Braun said.

The Department of Commerce announced last year that Montana was first in the nation for entrepreneurship, Braun said, attributing that to the "Montana ethic" of doing more with less and appreciating natural resources.

Two panels at the workshop focused on Montana-specific business information: one on resources for local small businesses and one on successful small businesses in the state.