MISSOULA — It’s been almost a year since software mogul Greg Gianforte sold his Bozeman-based company RightNow Technologies in a $1.5 billion deal to Oracle Corp.
The megasale made headlines around the world and represented the fifth successful software startup Gianforte has helped launch, although it was his first in Montana.
For Gianforte, who will be honored Thursday with the Montana Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs and the University of Montana School of Business Administration’s 2012 Pioneer in Industry Award, Right Now’s success represents a pioneering moment in his long business career.
Gianforte started the cloud-based customer service and support solutions company in Bozeman in 1997 after relocating there from California’s Silicon Valley.
“The question that emerged in my mind in the mid-90s was, could you build a world-class business in a rural location? We said, ‘We think so. We think the Internet made it possible,’ ” Gianforte said. “What we learned, in fact, is the Internet puts Main Street kind of anywhere it needs to be in the world.”
The deal with Oracle was announced last October, but that was after Right Now grew by more than 1,100 employees across the world. In Bozeman, RightNow’s average salary was $86,000.
The state average is $36,000, Gianforte said.
“We were really proud of the fact that 43 percent of our employees were (Montana State University) or UM graduates. Many had moved away, but we created a world-class option for them to come back to,” Gianforte said.
Now, Gianforte is working overtime to share his wealth of knowledge to create better opportunities for Montana residents. He spends much of his time speaking, lecturing and mentoring budding Montana entrepreneurs to help them build successful businesses here. Recently, he and his wife, Susan, launched a program they feel will improve kindergarten through eighth-grade educational opportunities for Montana kids.
Gianforte’s presentation, “Improving K-12 Education in Montana,” at Thursday’s Pioneer award ceremony will focus on introducing the audience to their ACE program, which provides scholarships to help low- and moderate-income families send their children to private schools of their choice.
“This fall, 500 kids are benefiting because they’re in the best environment for them,” said Gianforte, who gave $4.6 million to launch ACE.
Gianforte thinks that better environments for more students can help increase graduation rates and performance.
“Montana isn’t unlike a lot of other states; only about 80 percent of kids actually graduate from high school. Of the kids who do graduate and take ACT ... only 29 percent are proficient in reading, writing, math and science,” he said. “We have good schools in Montana but ... better is possible.”
Gianforte’s presentation begins at 6:30 p.m. in the George and Jane Dennison Theatre. A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation.
Gianforte will spend much of his day Thursday with UM business students. The focus then will be on entrepreneurship.
Gianforte hopes to give students tips on how they can create similar successful companies in Montana. During one class, Gianforte will offer feedback on business idea pitches from students.
“I’ll roll up my sleeves and get in there with them. What I bring to the table is saying, ‘Hey, you can do this.’ It’s common sense and hard work, but there is a method to it,” Gianforte said. “Nothing would please me more than to see dozens of RightNow Technologies start up in Montana.”
Through the Gianforte Family Foundation, Gianforte and his wife run Bootstrap Montana, which provides 0 percent interest microloans to rural entrepreneurs across the state.