Partner spotlight: Innovate Montana

Partner spotlight: Innovate Montana to host 2019 Symposium in Butte

Butte, Montana holds a hub of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit and is an ideal location for Innovate Montana’s 2019 symposium. Innovate Montana is a program from the Montana Governor’s Office of Economic Development to help tech companies start, grow, or move to Montana. From pairing entrepreneurs with mentors to planning advice, and even being a beacon of encouragement for businesses who decide to relocate to Montana, this organization is an amazing resource. 

The Innovate Montana Symposium 2019 will take place this October 14-16 at the Copper King Hotel and Convention Center and we encourage you to go! This is their “flagship” event for investors, advisors, and entrepreneurs to connect. The focus of the symposium is growth through investment, new markets, and more. Speakers and panelists will talk about “actionable steps” for creating a sustainable company culture. Coming from exciting and impressive backgrounds are the three keynote speakers: Fritz Lanman, CEO of ClassPass, Padded Murphy, VP of Global Marketing at WeWork, and Deano Roberts, VP of Global Workplace at Slack.

Innovate Montana invites you to two days of “incredible speakers, captivating buzz sessions, and opportunities to network across all sectors.” Fritz will kickstart the event with an inspiring discussion on removing barriers to growth and then have a chat with Governor Steve Bullock. Day two of the symposium will be led by Padden and Deano sharing insight of their trades and the “entrepreneurial ecosystem in Montana.” To keep things fun and exciting there will be a giveaway modeled by the infamous TV show, Shark Tank. A panel of “sharks” will judge 5 lucky businesses willing to get on stage and sell their idea. Winner will take home $10,000 worth of prizes. Anyone can apply for free before September 20th. 

To register for the Symposium click here.

For more about Innovate Montana visit

MTIP receives 2020 FAST Grant!

MTIP receives 2020 FAST Grant!

MTIP is pleased to announce that we have been awarded a $125,000 Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program grant to evolve our support for Montana’s technology-related businesses for the seventh time. The grant was awarded by the U.S. Small Business Administration for the 2020 year. Only 24 out of 50 states receive FAST funding after a competitive application that includes proposal review by the SBA, NASA, the Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research, and the NIH. 

MSU’s TechLink Center collaborates to advance Montana’s innovation economy and stimulate economic development. The executive director of TechLink, Brett Cusker, comments that “FAST funding will help more Montana companies focused on high-risk technology successfully compete for important seed capital through the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.”Montana’s most promising sector of the economy is small technology firms. Due to the scenic beauty and other amenities, Montana has attracted technology entrepreneurs and spawned numerous startup companies. One of the state’s challenges is growing the technology sector outside the traditional university hubs. MTIP is proud to be a part of this outreach noting that 27 Montana towns have had at lease one SBIR/STTR awardee to date. 

Stay tuned this year as we expand services by rolling-out additional SBIR/STTR resources for Montana high-tech companies. This year we will:Provide training, outreach, proposal development tools and expert technical assistance to Montana tech startups such asa new workshop on preparing SBIR/STTR cost proposals project management and proposal templates to jump-start proposal writing more webinars/seminars with SBIR Program ManagersFAST Micro-Grants for small technology businesses working on SBIR/STTR proposalsCollaborate with other organizations in our mentor network to identify and engage with as many early-stage technology companies as possible through support for accelerator, alliance and economic development partners regional seminars across the state live-stream workshops and recorded webinars to enable rural innovators and partner organizations to access our program content.

Read more here.

Partner Spotlight: Congratulations to MSU, 406 Labs, and Early Stage Montana

Partner Spotlight: Congratulations to MSU, 406 Labs, and Early Stage Montana

Shelby Morris, MTIP Program Specialist

Montana State University isn’t just located in a beautiful part of the country, it’s also situated in an ecosystem with the potential for high tech companies to reach commercial success. Shelby Morris, MTIP’s program specialist, had a chance to sit down with Daniel Juliano about the i6 Challenge and what this means for Montana. Juliano, head of MSU’s Technology Transfer Office, recognized Montana’s regional capabilities and sought out an impressive grant that would coalesce inventors, the university, and commercial interests, to give this region a jump start. The i6 Challenge competition is part of the U.S. Economic Development Administration Regional Innovation Strategies Program. The goal is to leverage private and public funding to streamline the growth of innovative high-tech companies.

The $750,000 award will be spread out over three years with the intention of creating a self-sufficient environment by the end of the term. Juliano remarks that Montana is in a prime position to receive the award as MSU is a premier technical university focused on science and engineering stationed close to Next Frontier Capital, Montana’s largest venture capital fund, surrounded by the efforts of non-profit mentorship for high tech startups kindled by Early Stage Montana. The opportunity for job creation across the state will be completely supported by the efforts of this grant.

Currently, there’s a disconnect between promising technologies developed by Montana companies in the lab and venture capital investment. Often times prototypes don’t exist yet or there is no workable business plan. Dollars from the grant will ultimately create a machine to support ideas through the life-cycle; from conception to commercialization.

For MTIP this is very exciting as the SBIR/STTR program works with the end goal of commercialization. MTIP will be a part of the collaboration to help Montana innovators connect to this growth machine.

Read more here.

Trademark basics

Trademark basics

Guest post from MTIP senior advisor, Christie Bell

It’s common for entrepreneurs to be overwhelmed and intimidated by the complexities of intellectual property concerns. The term intellectual property, often referred to as “IP,” includes patents, trademarks, service marks, copyrights, trade secrets, and more. Today, we offer a brief breakdown of the general aspects of trademarks and service marks. Read more on this subject in MTIP’s recently updated Trademark Guide.Trademarks and service marks distinguish a company’s goods and services from others. The protection extends from brand names such as Nike®; stylized logos like the Boar’s Head® meat products logo, and to words in well-known catch phrases as in, “Hasta la Vista Baby®” from the movie The Terminator.

There are two types of enforceable trademarks that can be created bybusinesses or individuals; the TM symbol, “TM” or circle-r, “®.” Both are applied using a superscript font to the immediate right of the protectable brand words or images. When protecting a service offering, such as an electrician, the superscript “SM” can be applied.

When a company applies for and is awarded trademark or service mark rights from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), they can use the circle-r (®) symbol. The circle-r affords a company of a registered brand official documentation that presumes national ownership of a trademark, national protection and a stronger case against infringement, and certain international assurances.

With the assistance of an IP attorney, USPTO registrations start at about $1,700. A private attorney can provide legal advice, respond to requests or a refusal from the USPTO, and help in conducting a thorough patent search reducing the risk of infringement. Contact the State Bar of Montana for a list of local IP legal counselors.

Congratulations to Bee Alert Technology on their successful Kickstarter campaign!

Congratulations to Bee Alert Technology on their successful Kickstarter campaign!

by Ann Peterson, MTIP Program Manager

Bee Alert Technology’s Bee Health Guru citizen science project Kickstarter campaign received over 653 backers in 30 days and exceeded their goal!  Bee Alert Technology of Missoula received SBIR funding from the Department of Defense and USDA which supported the development of an innovative mobile app to monitor the health of bees. Since its original SBIR funding in 2004, Bee Alert has evolved their technology to incorporate specially developed artificial intelligence programming into a smartphone app that will listen to your bees and reference a proprietary database of sounds that will tell you in seconds if there is anything wrong with your bees.  Check out the video on their Kickstarter page and follow their forum for announcements about when the app is ready for public release.

Online Platforms to Assist in Conducting Your Patent Search

Online Platforms to Assist in Conducting Your Patent Search

by Christie Bell, President Christie Bell, Inc., Certified Licensing Professional, and MTIP SBIR Consultant

You discovered a unique solution to a problem. It might even be the next big thing! While it’s tempting to jump head first into realizing your idea, take a step back before making a potentially costly mistake. If you plan to make, use, or sell your invention, according to Title 35 U.S. Code § 271, you could be liable for infringement if there is “prior art” or evidence that the idea is already in existence. Research into prior art isn’t straight forward, but you can get a preliminary idea before deciding to hire a patent attorney to conduct a professional patent search. 

A thorough patent investigation starts with a search by you, the inventor. It’s not enough that Walmart doesn’t sell a version of your solution, or that a Google search revealed no similar products.  In his Patent Search 101 Tutorial, Gene Quinn, founder of IP Watch Dog®, clarifies two critical reasons to search for patents that correlate with your idea., You will: 1) familiarize yourself with prior art; and 2) become informed on prior art so you can focus on what makes your invention unique. 

Start your search at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO is the U.S. Department of Commerce agency that issues patents to inventors, and trademark registrations for product and intellectual property identification. Begin your USPTO patent search process by reviewing the office’s help section or viewing a comprehensive video presentation on how to conduct a patent search.

In addition to USPTO, try Free Patents Online (FPO) which was developed to make patent research faster, easier, and more accessible. The FPO database is funded by advertisers so expect to tolerate sideline product pitches. Paid subscriptions are available for advanced services such as AcclaimIP, FPO’s patent landscape and analysis tool. You can customize search criteria for US Patents, US Patent Applications, European Patents (EP), as well as abstracts of Japanese, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and German patents. FPO’s search engine is driven by keywords and patent hits are provided in the form of an easy-to-read table with clickable links to patent summaries including the patent and application number, abstract, inventors, filing and publication date, assignee, patent images and more.

Google Patents, another free resource, allows for the search of patents from around the world, plus technical papers and books. Results include images, downloadable PDFs and citations. The Google Patents database includes full-text documents for the United States, 21 additional countries and WIPO. The search input options include entering a patent publication or application number, freeform text, and inventor or assignee names. Rare among free patent search services, Google Patents allows for the entry of large text blocks to run their Prior Art Finder keyword extractor which will render suggested search terms. 

After you’ve completed a comprehensive online search, it’s tempting to stop there and move directly into the patent application process. Not yet. No matter how online savvy you are, you need to protect yourself from potential costly mistakes by hiring an IP attorney to perform a professional patent search.  Your intellectual property (IP) may well comprise the backbone of your business. It’s vitally important that you take the necessary precautions to ensure your IP is protected from others making, using or selling your creations. Conducting a preliminary search on your own is an essential first step and will provide a solid basis for any IP attorney you might hire. Contact the Montana Bar Association for information on IP lawyer referrals to ensure the help of a legitimate and knowledgeable professional. This approach will not only protect you from infringing on other inventors but also provide the needed information to tease out why your invention is truly unique. Knowing exactly what sets your idea apart from related inventions and expertly illuminating its distinctive qualities will increase your chances of filing a successful patent application.

Download MTIP’s Innovator’s Guide to learn more about how you can protect your inventions.

Should you hire a grant writer?

Should you hire a grant writer?

by Ann Peterson, MTIP Program Manager

In our recent SBIR/STTR proposal workshops, a question about hiring grant writers came up. Our initial cringe at hearing this question resulted from one too many prospective applicants who think that hiring a grant writer will allow them to off-load the hard work of writing a compelling SBIR/STTR proposal.

It just doesn’t work that way.

However, a professional grant-writer can be an important member of your SBIR/STTR proposal preparation team and I had a chance to meet a few great writers on my visit to Missoula.

MTIP’s no cost services for you include a full proposal review. We do not provide grant-writing assistance. We will help you with developing and writing your commercialization plans required for most phase I and all phase II proposals.  Keep the following in mind:

1) SBIR/STTR reviewers and program managers are looking for sufficient details in your technical proposal to convince them that you understand their needs, have an innovative approach with compelling technical and scientific merit and that your team is the right team to fund. No amount of good writing will compensate for a weak technical proposal.

2) Develop a strong proposal preparation schedule and assign tasks to each member of your team.  Refer to our resources page for links to help you with a proposal preparation schedule, required registrations, and talking with SBIR topic authors.

3) The best professional grant writers act as the project manager for your proposal development team. Heed their recommendations. Your principal investigator and key technical team members will write the technical proposal. Your grant writer will co-write, ensure it reads well and addresses the required components outlined in the solicitation and the topic.

Questions or thoughts? Reach out to discuss more.

Technical and Business Assistance

What is TABA?

by Jim Greenwood, Greenwood Consulting Group, MTIP consultant and guest columnist

The goal of an SBIR or STTR project is to commercialize the results of the R&D so that agency or private sector customers benefit. To assist in this transition effort, some SBIR/STTR agencies provide small amounts of funding to hire someone to conduct market research or otherwise help with the commercialization activities for the project. Formerly known as Direct Technical Assistance or Discretionary Technical Assistance (DTA), the new term for this is Technical and Business Assistance (TABA)*.

Most agencies providing TABA have contracted with a private firm to work with their SBIR/STTR recipients on commercialization planning. However, agencies now have the ability to provide you (but are not required to do so), the SBIR/STTR Phase I awardee, no more than $6,500 supplemental funds so you can hire your own commercialization assistance providers. To request TABA supplemental funds, you will need to include the TABA request in your SBIR/STTR cost proposal as an amount above and beyond the agency’s normal funding limit. For example, if the agency typically caps Phase I awards at $150,000, you will submit a proposal for not more than $156,500. You also will need to explain, in the budget justification, who you will be hiring and what their qualifications are to assist with your commercialization efforts.

There are several important considerations here: 

  1. You must include a request for TABA funds at the time you submit your proposal.
  2. You must specify a third-party provider of the TABA—you cannot get TABA if you plan to do all the commercialization efforts with internal company resources/personnel.
  3. You cannot tack onto a $5,000 request your indirect rate or fee/profit—it is $5,000 and $5,000 only.
  4. If you decide to select a commercialization assistance provider other than the firm contracted by the agency, the agency can decide whether or not it believes your plan for the TABA, and the qualifications of the third-party provider, are adequate and appropriate. In other words, just asking for TABA to fund your own commercialization assistance provider isn’t a guarantee the agency will approve it. 
  5. Research the types of services that the agency’s contracted firm can provide – $6,500 isn’t likely enough to fund a third-party to do very much commercialization assistance for you. This latter point, by the way, is often overlooked. The firm hired by an SBIR/STTR agency to provide TABA to its many SBIR/STTR winners will benefit from economies of scale that it can pass onto its many small business clients (e.g., volume discounts on market databases and reports). You may require very specific assistance that warrants selecting your own commercialization assistance providers.
  6. TABA supplemental funds for Phase II awardees range between $5,000 and $50,000 depending on the agency.
  7. Not all agencies provide TABA. Some only provide TABA for Phase II awardees.

To determine if an SBIR/STTR agency provides TABA, review their latest solicitation. Because TABA has been known under various names, be prepared to look for text that describes the supplemental funding/assistance described in this article regardless of what name might be tacked onto it. If you don’t find text describing such assistance, then you can always contact the agency’s SBIR/STTR office to determine if they provide TABA or not.  

*The full text of the of section 9(q) of the Small Business Act that describes the Discretionary Technical and Business Assistance, can be found here:
15 U.S.C. 638(q)

News! MSU TechLink Receives Federal Grant to Help Montana High-tech Companies

News! MSU TechLink Receives Federal Grant to Help Montana High-tech Companies

MSU TechLink receives federal grant to help high-tech companies
Troy Carter, TechLink Staff Writer via the MSU News Service
SEPTEMBER 10, 2018
BOZEMAN – Montana State University’s TechLink Center has been awarded a federal grant to expand its assistance to technology-related businesses across Montana.

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced on Aug. 29 that it had awarded a Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program grant for $125,000 to fund the Montana Innovation Partnership (MTIP) program managed by TechLink.

Montana is one of just 24 states to receive a FAST grant for the upcoming federal fiscal year. Grants are awarded through a competitive application process. Montana has received this grant in six of the past eight years.

“This program helps entrepreneurs and small tech companies compete for vital early-stage seed capital for innovative technologies with commercial potential,” said Will Swearingen, executive director of TechLink. “Simply put, this grant will help us grow Montana’s technology sector.”

The MTIP program was established in 1999 by the Montana Department of Commerce to support technology-based economic development. The department transitioned MTIP to TechLink in August, though TechLink has collaborated with MTIP since its creation.

MTIP helps qualified businesses and entrepreneurs secure funding for research and development through the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

TechLink will use the FAST grant to increase MTIP’s outreach, training, mentoring and technical assistance throughout the state, with particular emphasis on women-owned, rural-based and businesses owned by socially or economically disadvantaged people. Some of the funding will be used to help Montana businesses pay costs associated with SBIR applications.

The MSU TechLink Center is integrated with MSU’s land-grant mission and economic development outreach. In addition to its SBIR outreach program, TechLink is the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary for technology transfer. The center also manages MSU’s Technology Transfer Office and a software engineering and analysis laboratory. As well, it oversees the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which helps small businesses in Montana compete for federal government contracts.

To learn more about the Montana Innovation Partnership or to request services, please visit: or email MTIP program manager Ann Peterson at

Press contact: Troy Carter at 406-994-7798 or


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