What is AMRII?

Accelerate Montana's Rural Innovation Initiative

Started in 2018 to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship in rural and tribal communities across Montana.

Program Focus

The University of Montana's EDA University Center grant program is managed by Accelerate Montana's Rural Innovation Initiative (AMRII). Our initiative is one that envisions a Montana in which rural innovators have the support, training, and access to networks and resources they need to create innovative, high-growth startup businesses, helping to solve the world's most difficult rural problems.

The initiative is targeting innovation and high growth entrepreneurship across rural Montana. Innovation and high growth entrepreneurship are not strictly defined but we are interpreting them to indicate businesses that would have some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Products and services that leverage innovation in terms of new product or service capabilities or innovative business models. Typically that could result from scientific or technological advances but might also relate to specialized expertise or resources, or creative/artistic skills.
  •   Products and services that have potential beyond local and regional markets, i.e. have potential for sales in national or global markets.

  • The opportunity to scale in terms of revenues and jobs, and typically be able to pay higher wages and bring economic wealth into a community rather than simply circulating existing wealth.

  • A need for risk capital to help validate or scale the business.

  • A different startup and growth process to more traditional “main street” businesses.

    Accordingly AMRII is not intended to address the full spectrum of economic development needs in rural and tribal communities or duplicate existing programming and services.

Program Hypothesis:

There is a broad hypothesis underpinning the program as follows: Ten years ago many would likely have questioned whether it was possible for high growth business to start and grow in rural cities like Missoula and Bozeman. We now see that it is very much possible, but it has taken the work and collaboration of many and the intersection of various trends and initiatives for this phenomena to emerge. The question is can a simialr transition take place in or across rural and tribal communities outside of the urban centers? We don't know if it can, but we're going to try and find out, to the extent that rural and tribal comunities believe that is worthwhile. 

How We Can Help:

We develop, support, and deliver programming to rural and tribal communities. This programming adapts or uses many of the practices that have shown to be successful in high growth situations, including:

  • Activities for idea generation and stimulation. Open to all interested community members (e.g. Pitch nights, Startup Weekends, networking events, workshops and webinars).
  • Direct coaching using Lean Startup tools and access to expertise and mentoring (e.g. legal, investor readiness). Focusing on customer engagement, rather than building a business and seeing who shows up.
  • Community-to-community networking to connect talent and resources to ideas
  • Scaling - in terms of revenues and jobs - and typically be able to pay higher wages, while bringing economic wealth into a community, rather than simply circulating money within the local community.
  • Equity investment to help further develop the idea (perhaps through prototyping or pilot activities), validate market interest or scale the business.
  • Opportunity for non-traditional funding, e.g. not having to rely on sources such as bank loans.

Ready to solve real world problems? Let us help you and your innovative idea or business. If you match any of the following criteria, book a consulation! Consulations are available by phone or in person. 

Program Funding and Overview

The AMRII program is being funded by the EDA's University Center program following a successful application that UM submitted in response to their 2018 NOFO


The University Center (UC) program is specifically designed to marshal the resource located within colleges and universities to support regional economic development strategies in regions of chronic and acute economic distress. As the EDA notes, "Institutions of higher education have extensive resource, including specialized research, outreach, technology transfer, and commercialization capabilities, as well as recognized faculty expertise and sophisticated laboratories."


We have several in-kind partners in the program including Goodworks Ventures, and Frontier Angels and the law firms Conradi Anderson, Crowley Fleck and Worden Thane.

Economic Development Portfolio at UM

UM's primary economic development capabilities, gathered under the Accelerate Montana brand, include:

  • Missoula Regional SBDC
  • Missoula Regional PTAC
  • Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars
  • Montana World Trade Center
  • MonTEC
  • Montana Code School

Accelerate Montana's programs have considerable experience working with many of Montana's early stage high tech and high growth businesses such as Submittable, LumenAd, TOMIS, GeoFli, ATG, Reflex Protect, Inimmune, PatientOne. 

Collaborative & Longterm Approach

With all that said, we certainly do not come at this with a "we know the answers" mindset. We do have some capabilities and experiences that may be of value in stimulating high growth rural and tribal economic development but we want to work with those actively engaged in rural and tribal economic development across the State to determine if, where and how those capabilities might be adapted or deployed to stimulate positive outcomes. However, experience in growing startup ecosystems across the county suggests that such a process should be undertaken with a long-term view (often cosidered to be at least 20 years) so we know these efforts will not deliver immediate success but, rather, something we will have to culitvate and work towards. 


Karl Unterschuetz                                                    
Outreach and Engagement Manager