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The first group of angel investors looking to back local projects will host a meeting on May 3 to hear pitches from technology companies that believe they have a winning idea. 

The process has been formalized as Early Stage MT, a competition, and grew out of efforts earlier this year to launch a successful angel investor network in Billings and around southeastern Montana. 

The competition will narrow down eight companies that are in the early stages of development. Early stage companies are those that have a full-time leader and typically one part-time employee.

"They need to be solving a problem in the marketplace," said Dena Johnson, regional director of the Small Business Development Center in Billings. 

The SBDC, which operates in southeastern Montana under the direction of Big Sky Economic Development, is one of the groups partnering on the Early Stage MT project. 

It was spearheaded by Chris Dimock at Elation in Billings and Pat LaPointe, managing director of Frontier Angels, a Montana-based group of specialized financial risk-takers known as angel investors — individuals who invest significant amounts of money in startups and ideas that are typically still on the drawing board.

Of the eight finalists who present in Billings on May 3, one will be selected to move on to a statewide competition. The Billings competition is one of three across the state. 

Also partnering in the project are Missoula Economic Partnership, Prospera, Blackstone Launchpads at MSU and UM, 406 Labs, Montech, Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, and Next Frontier Capital.

Also involved are Montana High Tech Business Alliance and the Governor's Office of Economic Development and several corporate sponsors.

Judges for the contest will come from those organizations. The regional winners will receive bootcamp-style training on how to launch new technology and close mentorship from the companies supporting the program.

Bozeman and Missoula have had similar programs. This will be a first for Billings and the surrounding region. Dimock and the other players involved have long argued Billings ought to be the home for innovation in areas like agriculture, petrochemical and health care.

Dimock's hopes the May 3 event will spotlight those small, regional businesses trying to do just that. 

"I think we're very well positioned (to compete)," he said. 

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.