Billings, Montana: An Unlikely Mecca for Female Entrepreneurs|
According to the Big Sky Economic Development website, Montana was ranked #1 for entrepreneurship and innovation by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2011, and Billings was named the #1 small city in which to launch a business by Fortune Small Business magazine in 2009. That's good news but old news. What many people do not know is that Billings landed in the top 100 cities—not just small cites but all cities—for women entrepreneurs in a study conducted by GoodCall in 2015. (For access to the entire study, click here.) This study took into account female educational levels, year-to-year changes in gross domestic product, unemployment rate, and percentage of women-owned businesses, among other factors.
As a patent attorney and someone who works with clients from the germination of an idea to a full-fledged business, this study was not surprising to me. My husband and I elected to move to Billings in 1995 over other, trendier parts of the state in large part because of the economic opportunities Billings has afforded us. With close proximity to Bozeman and the western parts of the state, Billings also provides easy access to Wyoming, eastern Montana and North Dakota.
I feel privileged to have worked with a number of female inventors and entrepreneurs. Kim Ormsby is founder and CEO of GroVia, a Bozeman company that sells innovative cloth diapers and other natural baby products. Ormsby is the sole inventor on U.S. Patent No. 8,734,419 entitled "Cloth Training Diaper" and U.S. Patent No. 8,863,950 entitled "Hanging Diaper Pail." She is also the first named inventor on U.S. Patent No. 8,115,050 entitled "Soaker Pad for Cloth Diaper." It should come as no surprise that Ormsby was named 2010 Montana Small Business Award Person of the Year.
Jeri McFarlane is another of our successful female clients. McFarlane, a resident of Riverton, Wyoming, has a patent (U.S. Patent Nos. 8,333,275) for her "Portable Jar Holder" invention, which is now licensed
and distributed internationally. Staci Roberts of Sheridan, Wyoming, has a design patent (U.S. Patent No. D647,727) and a utility patent (U.S. Patent No. 8,109,476) for her baggie holder, which is sold online at www.thebagwell.com.
Enell, Inc. of Havre, Montana, is a female-owned business that specializes in sports bras for well-endowed women. Renelle Braaten, founder and President, grew up in Havre, and her bras have been featured on Oprah and earned numerous awards. Braaten herself was honored earlier this year by Governor Bullock as recipient of the Montana Ambassadors Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The company blog includes articles with titles as tantalizing as "Things Only Well Endowed Women Will Understand" and "Goal Tattoos Mark Your Biggest Wellness Milestones." We have worked with Enell in building its worldwide trademark portfolio.
As much as I consider myself a supporter of other people who are entrepreneurs, an expansive definition of the term might include me. After gaining tremendous experience and contacts at the Crowley law firm and in-house with a software company in Billings, I decided to hang my shingle. After building my practice at home for nearly a decade, I moved into offices in the Wells Fargo Center in downtown Billings. The firm now represents clients in connection with patent, trademark and copyright matters throughout the world.
I think often of Evelyn Cameron, who-like me-did not grow up in Montana but who moved here for love and threw her heart and soul into developing a professional career in eastern Montana. As a professional photographer at the beginning of the 20th century, Cameron often rode her horse alone for miles throughout the Badlands to photograph people, scenery and wildlife. As she put it, "For a woman with outdoor propensities and a taste for roughing it, there is no life more congenial than that of the saddle and rifle." Her can-do attitude and sense of wonder is evident today in the women who have chosen to start businesses in Billings and other parts of the state.