By Moira Blazi
Last Thursday, the Montana office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance (CSI) held a meeting at the Venture Inn about investing in Montana.
The meeting room was packed with Libby and Troy business owners. An opening presentation by Linda Egan outlined ways the commissioner’s office helps keep investors’ money safe by using anti-fraud and full disclosure laws. She also discussed “crowdfunding,” the money-making strategy offering the public various ways to donate and invest in Montana businesses. Egan said that up to one million dollars could be raised in 12 months this way using the Equity Crowdfunding Program. Egan shared examples of successful businesses helped by crowdfunding including a distillery, small manufacturers, a radio station, and an entomophagyy (the practice of eating insects) business. She even passed around a sample chocolate chip cookie made with cricket protein which attendees seemed to find delicious.
Tips she offered included “never go it alone,” always seek legal help, and avoid large numbers of very small investors. She reminded the group that some have tried to steal investors’ money through Ponzi and pyramid schemes, churning stocks and other methods.
After lunch, Mr. Wayne Gardella of the Montana Small Business Association (SBA) took the floor. He told the crowd that SBA works with three core products; capital, counseling, and contracts. Through over 200 loans, SBA, delivers $210-230 million to small businesses in Montana every year. He said that Lincoln County is actually a very busy hub of activity for SBA, and that Glacier Bank is one of the largest lenders. “Generally, if you have good credit and a good idea, you can probably get it financed,” Gardella said. And although over 90% of loans are financed through banks, there are other options too. One local option is the Lincoln County Port Authority. Port Authority Director and meeting attendee, Tina Oliphant told the group that they have a loan fund administered as a single program which is funded from many sources. She said the Port Authority works with banks, but they are not bound by the same regulations and can sometimes assume a higher level of risk, even though their loans must be thoroughly vetted and secured.
With a counseling staff of only seven, the SBA does refer clients to “resource partners” like women’s business centers, veteran’s groups and others. Gardella said, “What is great about working in Montana is that we all work together.”