Success Stories

Success Story: Dry Hills Distillery
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“It was a leap of faith. Thankfully we had help from the Montana WBC to help us evaluate the business idea, finish our business plan and financial projections, and secure the Growth Through Agriculture grant.” ~ Jeff Droge, Dry Hills Distillery

The Droge family homesteaded the Dry Hills area of Gallatin County in 1905. Today, this fifth-generation farming family continues to operate the same farm, as well as the London Hills Farm near Harrison, MT. Between the two, the Droges raise several hundred acres of certified seed potatoes and several thousand acres of mixed cereal grains. The idea for a distillery started after realizing that about 5 to 8 percent of their seed potato harvest was being thrown away every year for cosmetic reasons.

In the spring of 2015 Jeff and Erica Droge, the managing members of Dry Hills Distillery, began working with the Montana Women’s Business Center (WBC) at Prospera. They had recently completed Moonshine University in Kentucky, the premier distilling school in the nation. Jeff’s 19 years of farming experience gave him a thorough understanding of their base products and a solid skillset in building and maintaining equipment. To complement that expertise, Erica’s nine years of marketing and office management experience provided a strong set of business operations skills. However, Jeff and Erica still faced some challenges. They needed help refining their draft business plan, establishing the financial aspects of their startup and evaluating tasting room locations.

After many rounds of review and revisions, Jeff and Erica finalized the Dry Hills Distillery business plan. They then continued working with the Montana WBC to secure a $48,000 Montana Department of Agriculture Growth Through Agriculture grant to purchase processing equipment.

Now, Dry Hills Distillery operates a continuous flow distillation system that was built by Headframe Spirits Manufacturing in Butte, MT. Their custom-built, food-grade processing line uses whole potatoes as a base for their gin and vodka, unlike the lower-quality potato flakes or potato powder used by other potato-based spirit producers. Every base product created at Dry Hills Distillery is made from their farm’s potatoes and cereal grains, so that the products are truly, “Montana Farm to Bottle”. The creation of value-added products not only reduces waste while diversifying the farm’s income, it also elevates the production and marketability of the farm’s commodities.

Located in Four Corners, the Dry Hills Distillery tasting room opened in the spring of 2016 offering unique cocktails, family-friendly seating and an on-site food truck run by Grille 406. Jeff and Erica now have two full-time employees, a tasting room supervisor and a production assistant, as well as six part-time employees including 5 mixologists and 1 person helping with production.

“We did a lot of research to figure out what would work best for our operation…the most valuable thing we got from our business counselor at the Montana Women’s Business Center was unbiased feedback. She also encouraged us to include a contingency plan, which was something we hadn’t considered but which was essential while we were opening the business.” ~ Erica Droge, Dry Hills Distillery

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Success Story: Helio & Company
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“[Prospera is] a huge part of the change in our business...if it wasn’t for Amanda I probably would have given up...She really empowered me...More than just the loan, it was having those inspiring conversations and giving us the ability to push through and make it happen.” ~ Chris Murphy, Creative Director & President, Helio & Company

Helio & Company, a digital creative agency established in 2009, focuses on digital storytelling, content strategy, brand identification and integrated campaigns. While evaluating their options for growing the company, Chris Murphy and Kina Pickett encountered a roadblock. They needed to purchase more production equipment and obtain capital to finish construction work in a new office space. However, Chris and Kina had already fully leveraged the financing available to them through their partners at Stockman Bank, and the only other option for acquiring equipment would be to lease it at very high interest rates. That is when Stockman Bank referred Chris and Kina to the Bozeman Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) financing available through Prospera Business Network. Chris and Kina had already been accessing free business counseling services with Amanda Schultz through Prospera’s Montana Women’s Business Center program, strengthening their business plan and cash flow projections with Amanda’s assistance. They were therefore able to seamlessly work with the rest of the Prospera team to prepare their loan application. By December of 2014, the Bozeman RLF loan committee approved a five-year loan to Helio & Company for leasehold improvements and equipment purchases.  

A few months later, Helio & Company was settled into their hip and spacious new headquarters within a renovated building on South Wallace. Because of the Bozeman RLF loan, the company was able to take on new work without encountering equipment constraints or exhausting their working capital. They brought one designer back to their team and began the process of selectively filling four more positions. The increased functionality of the new office space, including a temperature controlled server room and a soundproof edit bay, immediately fostered an improved workplace dynamic. As Chris put it, “With better meeting spaces, smoother workflow and a more productive environment, the culture has gotten better. We are putting our employees first, we built this space for them.”

The sleek office fittingly showcases Helio & Company and Montana to their clients and prospective employees, who do not expect a business that would typically be based in New York or L.A. to be located in Bozeman. Best of all, Chris and Kina are now fully equipped to keep blazing new trails in their industry, which they do by uniquely housing both full creative agency capabilities and a skilled production arm to execute creative strategy. As true entrepreneurs, Chris and Kina’s are constantly reinventing the company to capitalize on new opportunities, shifting the industry norm in the process. And with Prospera on their team, the story is just beginning.

“The impact of the [new] space is monumental...It has brought a sense of pride to the whole company.” ~ Kina Pickett, Executive Producer, Helio & Company

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Photo courtesy of Sunrift Studios

Success Story: Injection Molding Industry Training
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In early 2014 Prospera brought together leaders from four manufacturing companies in the Gallatin Valley: ATK BLACKHAWK!, Plastic Design & Manufacturing, Quake Industries and West Paw Design. Combined, these companies employ over 300 people and each operates plastic injection molding machines to a varying extent. While very different in terms of product lines and establishment size, they all had a common need: training for their injection molding teams. The goal: address the specialized training needs of these companies by leveraging federal funding awarded to Prospera for providing specialized business technical assistance. The outcome? Two customized training programs delivered over the course of eight weeks—one to address problem identification and problem solving systems and one to provide a range of technical training for the injection molding machine operators.

Local manufacturing expert Mark Shyne from the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC) delivered Team Based Problem Solving with Root Cause Analysis training for 21 production staff from three of the four companies. Each company team created charters and problem statements, assigned roles and responsibilities, completed their root cause analysis process, and made tangible progress toward tracking key data and solving the problems identified. The problems addressed included: long changeover times, not meeting efficiency goals, isolating contamination problems and addressing processes resulting in excessive scrap which lowered production output. By the end of their work with Shyne, each company was well on their way to resolving their issues and committed to implementing the team based problem solving methods on an ongoing basis. Participant feedback about Shyne’s training included the following, “Great training!  Very informative training that gave our team a solid base to move forward with problem solving methodology.”

Simultaneously, a national plastic injection consulting firm provided two training programs to three of the participating companies. Umberto Catignani, President of Orbital Plastics Consulting, first conducted two five-day Scientific Molder I Certification trainings for 14 production staff from two companies. As a result eight participants passed a test to achieve their formal SMI Certification. This was followed by a four-day Fundamentals of Scientific Molding session with Catignani for a team of four production staff at West Paw Design. Catignani, who regularly works with firms such as IBM and Honda, delivered highly relevant and fully customized in-depth technical training for the machine operators.

In all, Prospera was able to cover roughly half of the total costs for these training programs and to more efficiently deliver the training by coordinating the group’s needs. For an industry with complex operations and highly specialized workforce needs, it was a significant step forward in achieving production goals and strengthening their collaborative community. As described by Mike Groff, President of Plastic Design & Manufacturing, “This [training] was of significant benefit to the molding community.”

Learn More About Prospera Trainings & Events >>   

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Success Story: Matt's Old Fashioned Butcher Shop & Deli
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In 1996 Matt and Heidi Feldtman established Matt’s Old Fashioned Butcher Shop & Deli, affectionately known as “Matt’s Meats” in Livingston. Along with being known for their great homemade lunch choices, they also meet a wide range of customers’ butchering needs and operate a specialty meat shop. When Matt first opened Matt’s Old Fashioned Butcher Shop, the business occupied a portion of a building on 8th Street. While this location worked out well in the beginning, the Feldmans quickly determined that they were outgrowing their current space. After thorough planning, the Feldtmans found a fantastic new location for the business on Rogers Lane; however they knew that they needed additional square feet beyond what the existing building had to offer. So Matt and Heidi approached First Interstate Bank with their plans, and their banker quickly put together a team including Montana Community Finance Corp. (an SBA 504 Lender), Prospera Business Network, and the First Interstate Bank lending group. 

Together these lending partners assembled a financing package that allowed the borrowers to pursue their dream. In 2013, the Feldtmans began construction to expand their newly purchased building and purchased new equipment to expand their lunch offerings and improve operational efficiency. Now in the new and improved Matt’s Meats location, customers can more conveniently stop in for a quick lunch, drop off their game to be processed and packaged, or buy what they need for a gourmet dinner.

Reflecting on the process, Heidi stated that “It’s been a great learning experience in business. Prospera was really prompt and timely working with the bank to help us in succeeding at our expansion. A special thanks to all [involved] for helping us make our dreams come true.” Just as Heidi described it, this project was truly a case of resource partners coming together to make a well-planned dream become reality.

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Photo courtesy of Prospera Business Network

Success Story: ERA Landmark
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Prospera's members understand that a healthy business community is vital to our region's continued success. Robyn Erlenbush owns two real estate companies in southwest Montana - one commercial and one residential - and is a founding member of Prospera Business Network. A prominent community leader, she has fervently maintained membership for more than 25 years.

In 2011, she received our Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award, for which the following video was produced. Watch it to meet Robyn and learn how her passion for business has helped bolster our community.

Learn More About Membership>> 

Success Story: BLACKHAWK!
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Say hello to 110 new jobs.

Manufacturing is an important component of our regional economy, so when ATK BLACKHAWK! (a local division of ATK Sporting Group) was slated for expansion, Prospera coordinated with local and state partners to ensure the company could grow right here in southwest Montana. Our collaborative work lead to the company’s decision to remain in our region and build a new 70,000 sq. ft. facility, yielding the retention of 100 jobs and creating over 100 new ones and counting as of mid-year 2014.

Working closely with the Montana Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Gallatin County, and the City of Manhattan, Prospera coordinated and compiled an expansion package that included a tax abatement schedule, an economic impact analysis, and an overview of state incentive programs for the manufacturer. This information was vital to the decision-making process at ATK, whose national headquarters are in Minnesota. Gallatin County competed against Idaho and Minnesota to retain these critical jobs for our local economy. Prospera even assisted with a grand opening event in the summer of 2012 connecting the Manhattan community with the company's local and corporate leadership and including remarks by then-governor Brian Schweitzer.

ATK BLACKHAWK! is a leading U.S. manufacturer of tactical, military, shooting sports and law enforcement equipment. The company was founded by a Navy SEAL and manufactures tactical gear, body armor, law enforcement duty gear, holsters, hydration systems, protective gloves and gear, apparel and footwear, knives, illumination tools, breaching tools and recoil reducing stocks.

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Success Story: Gil's Goods
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Montana ranks first in the nation for entrepreneurial activity. Allow us to introduce you to one of those entrepreneurs.

When it comes to following your dream, entrepreneur and restaurant owner, Brian Menges, has proved there is literally no distance too far. Menges, owner of 2nd Street Bistro in Livingston and the newly renovated Gil's Goods restaurant, adjacent to The Murray Bar, traveled the world to capitalize on the vision he had for his new restaurant.

"My colleagues and I toured hundreds of cafés in Europe studying everything from the architecture, structure, and the menu," said Menges of his travel experiences. "I knew what I was looking for in a restaurant and we used all of these elements until we fell in love with exactly what we wanted."

After coming back to the states, Menges and his design team created a modern yet down-to-earth restaurant experience, or, what Menges refers to as "Cosmopolitan Montana." The look was accomplished by restoring the interior of the existing space using the original walls, floors, and structure, adding unique European café elements such as a welcoming entry with ample patio seating, aesthetically pleasing warm tones and décor, and most importantly, creating a menu that keeps taste buds asking for more.

"The town fell in love with the restaurant and it is a great place to hang out since it is open early and open late," said Menges.

The restaurant business is not a new venture for proclaimed entrepreneur and restaurateur Menges, who has successfully owned and operated the 2nd Street Bistro for the past eight years. Menges was interested in starting a new restaurant, with a very distinct European feel, and approached Prospera Business Network to help his vision become a permanent staple in the town of Livingston.

After acquiring a loan from the Livingston-Park County Revolving Loan Fund, administered and managed through Prospera, Menges was able to fund the project for renovation and restoration of the vacant retail shop. The new restaurant includes garage doors that open and close, perfect for ever-changing Livingston weather, and offers strong curb appeal for locals and travelers alike. The loan from Prospera helped to give Menges and his team the leverage needed for his dream to become a reality.

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