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Plans to develop a business incubator are being explored in Billings in a joint effort between Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) and Zoot Enterprises. A business incubator is a place where start-up business ventures have an economical and supportive environment in which to get a foothold.

Zoot Enterprises, a Bozeman technology firm, recently purchased the former GE Building in Billings from BSED, which will provide ample space for an incubator and foundation from which to encourage technology businesses in the community.

“There is a real need in the community for a place to provide a strong platform for entrepreneurship and leadership… a place for them to collaborate with each other,” said BSED Director Steve Arveschoug. Arveschoug in advancing the idea of collaborating with Zoot Enterprises, saying, “Successful incubators always have a key partnership.”

Zoot would be “a pretty incredible partner,” said Dena Johnson, Regional Director for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC)., who presented a proposal to do a feasibility study to the executive committees of BSED and Big Sky Economic Development Corporation (EDC) at their joint meeting this month.

BSED and Zoot will pool resources, and Zoot will oversee the hiring of a consultant to develop a plan and model. Johnson and Chris Kukuiski of Zoot will work together to oversee the consultant’s research and work. A draft memorandum of understanding was presented to the executive committees. Hiring a consultant is expected to cost about $50,000, the cost for which BSED will pay half and half will be contributed by Zoot and perhaps other partners.

The initial plan is that BSED will manage the incubator and Zoot will be a partner in its development and financial support, involving the provision of space, technology and mentorship. Either party however will be free to utilize the plan that is developed as they see fit.

Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University-Billings (MSU-B) have been identified as key partners in the development of an incubator. They will be contacted and asked to partner in multiple ways. Other partnerships and collaborations are also going to be explored.

Some years ago, BSED and MSU-B operated a business incubator located on the MSU-B campus. The program phased out of existence and exists now only technically, “on paper,” noted Arveschoug.