By Annie Pentilla
The Montana Standard, Butte
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A group of economic development advocates in Butte is taking a grassroots approach to raising capital for entrepreneurs. A new USDA-backed crowdfunding platform called “The Local Crowd”, will help organizations and individuals harness the power of the internet to raise money for projects.
The Montana Standard, Butte
Entrepreneurs, inventors and artists can sometimes seem worlds apart in the spheres of art, science and business, but what these folks often have in common is a passion for the things they create: for their businesses, gadgets and creative works.
But passion can only take a person so far, as it often takes capital to transform an idea into a fully-fledged reality.
A group of economic development advocates in Butte is taking a grassroots approach to capital through a new USDA-backed crowdfunding platform called The Local Crowd.
In case you don’t have your finger on the pulse of everything tech, crowdfunding is an internet-based fundraising technique that’s gained popularity in recent years.
Sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter have led the way in the concept, and they work like this: instead of applying for grants or getting a bank loan, businesses, organizations, or individuals can harness the power of the internet by submitting fundraising campaigns to websites where users can donate to projects of their choice.
In November Julie Jaksha, director of the Small Business Development Center for Headwaters RC&D in Butte, announced that Headwaters had been chosen as a test site to study the effectiveness of the platform, which is designed as an economic development tool for individual communities, rather than a broad public platform.
Headwaters was one among more than 20 test sites selected to take part in The Local Crowd study, whose founders Kim Vincent and Diane Wolverton of Wyoming received a $500,000 grant from the USDA for the research project.
To take part in The Local Crowd, Headwaters set up a team of four coaches, which includes Jaksha, Adam Benson, Ronda Coguill — a research scientist at Montana Tech and faculty advisor for the Tech’s E-club — and Jené Matzkanin of the Butte Local Development Corp.
The four coaches went through an eight-week online training program to introduce them to the crowdfunding software and, once versed, sent out a call for projects applications.
The four coaches appeared during an unveiling event last week in the Thornton Building on Broadway Street in Uptown Butte, where they said they received 10 applications in all.
The projects the coaches ultimately selected was a book called “Butte’s Bygone Ballrooms: A Social History” by Butte resident and former Montana Standard reporter Renata Birkenbuel, and Phoenix Fabrication Studios, a multi-genre fabrication studio to be built in a warehouse behind the south side of the Phoenix Building on Park Street. Both projects have 40 days to reach their campaign goals.
Phoenix Fabrication Studios
Phoenix Fabrication Studios lists a fundraising goal of $10,000 on its campaign page on The Local Crowd.
Former Oregon resident BT Livermore — who previously served as an artist in residence at the Imagine Butte Resource Center and moved to Butte permanently in September of last year — is spearheading the project.
Livermore said the studio will reside in a 15,000 square-foot warehouse behind the Phoenix Building, where he and others involved in the project plan to move the current IBRC printmaking studio and add studios in ceramics, woodworking and metal fabrication. Plans also include private studio spaces for rent, a large multi-use room and a retail gallery.
Funds from The Local Crowd campaign are to be used on the initial buildout of the new studio, Livermore said, and will include installing interior walls and updating the wiring and lighting in the building.
Work on the facility is anticipated to begin later this summer, Livermore said, and parts of the facility should be open for members by late fall.
An educator and artist, Livermore said he helped two similar projects get off the ground in Portland, an illustration and comic studio and another fabrication studio.
Currently Livermore is an IBRC volunteer and a steward of the IBRC print-making studio. Once the fabrication studio is up and running, he’ll serve as studio manager.
“This is sort of the culmination of all of my experience, in teaching and the arts and everything,” said Livermore.
Aside from being a space for artists, Livermore also sees the fabrication studio as a business incubator, noting that people interested in woodworking or ceramics often can’t afford their own space and equipment. But with a space like the fabrication studio, he said, they can get their hands wet, and possibly even translate a hobby into a business.
He added that at some point he’d like to start offering business counseling or classes so that members of the studio can learn how to sell their work.
“We would like to offer services, or at lease help in collaboration with things like logo design and marketing,” said Livermore. “A lot of people, they start a business because they have an idea for a product they want to make but they have no idea how to make that look pretty. They don’t know about packaging (or) they don’t have an idea about putting it out into the world. They just know that they have this amazing product.”
“Butte’s Bygone Ballrooms: A Social History”
“Butte, Montana is home to several hidden, mostly forgotten ballrooms that rollicked with the joy of life back in the Mining City’s heyday of the 1920s through the 1960s and beyond,”
Birkenbuel writes on her campaign page. “My book, ‘Butte’s Bygone Ballrooms: A Social History,” will bring to life the formal dance clubs and their elegant, historically and architecturally significant ballrooms, where folks congregated regularly for dances — often to big-time national swing bands such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra.”
Birkenbuel told audience members that she first thought of writing about Butte’s ballrooms through her experience as a reporter for The Montana Standard, during which time she explored historic buildings in Butte’s Uptown district, including the Copper King Mansion and Clark Chateau.
“My first thought was, ‘look at these ballrooms. This is crazy,’ said Birkenbuel. “My mom would have loved it. I always think of it from my mom’s perspective, how she would have loved this project.”
From that initial curiosity grew an article published in January 2017 in The Montana Standard, and from there an idea for a book.
Birkenbuel said that one of the motivations behind her book is to help older generations remember the past, while opening up a new world to younger generations “who may be inspired to revive the dancing culture,” she said.
Birkenbuel is trying to raise $4,000 for the book project, which donors can submit to on The Local Crowd’s website. What’s more, donors to both projects can receive rewards for their donations.
“You can spend an evening with Renata, have dinner with Renata, learn to dance with Renata,” said Jaksha. “You can also get a copy of her book ahead of time.”
Jaksha added that “Butte’s Bygone Ballrooms: A Social History” was chosen to take part in The Local Crowd because it’s community-centered in nature.”
“My parents are both gone, so I don’t get to have those conversations about how things were in Butte back in the heyday. I have to rely on people to write great books that I can find interesting and read and that I can share with my kids so that things don’t die out in our community,” said Jaksha “These are why these projects were selected.”