Let the journey begin…

By Thao Do, Vietnam

One week has passed since I first arrived in Missoula. As the days go by, I am starting to realize that this small beautiful town has so much more to offer than it seems on the outside. After the first week of getting ourselves familiar with the weather, time zone and food, as well as indulging in many exciting workshops to gain a better understanding of the U.S society, systems and economic issues, and the objectives and expectations of the Economic Empowerment Fellows Program, we all moved out of the hotel yesterday to depart for our home stay and officially began our two-week fellowship. Some of the participants left for other towns in the State of Montana while some of us continue our stay in Missoula. I find myself fortunate enough to have another two weeks to keep exploring what this city has to offer me in terms of both professional development and personal development.

On the first day of the fellowship, I had the opportunity to talk with my fellowship coordinator, Dr. Joe Fanguy about the schedule he has planned for my fellowship and how it would fit with my expectations and action plan. As I am interested in learning the whole spectrum of entrepreneurship which ranges from business competitions, business models, to business incubation, coaching and mentoring, and so on, Joe has laid out the schedule for the first week that is packed with lots of exciting activities and meetings. The discussion was then followed by a tour around Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTec), a business incubator that hosts a range of small companies, and an interesting conversation about how the MonTec works to support the business community in Montana and build up the entrepreneurship scene in this area. I was amazed to learn about the operational and business model that MonTec applies and so far has been quite successful with it as well as the active role that every small company hosted here plays to help develop a stronger start-up network and contribute to the economic development of Missoula particularly and Montana generally.

The second day went on as exciting as the first day when I had a chance to attend a business project presentation at UM Business School that concerns the commercialization of pharmaceutical products. In my opinion, this is a great learning opportunity for students when they are given a real business case to work on and apply their business knowledge and skills as well as better understand about entrepreneurship when they are able to work closely with small companies or start-ups that are trying to build their products and bring them to the market. Afterwards, I was off to a meeting with Ecological Project International (EPI) and learned about their work and their business model. It was fascinating to see how a non-profit organization utilizes entrepreneurship to accomplish their mission and how they transition from a grant-based model to a more sustainable model where they can self generate the income to invest in running their programs and gradually diminish their reliance on donor funding. To me, exploring different aspects of entrepreneurship, which, in this particular case, come from the non-profit perspectives, has truly been inspiring. I am really looking forward to what waits for me ahead on this exciting journey of learning and experiencing.

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