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New West Daily Roundup for Feb. 27, 2017

Today in New West news: 406 Labs at Montana State University fosters startups; audio of Herbert, OIA call released; and UC Boulder researchers debut metamaterial providing “paper-thin air-conditioning.”

We’ve reported regularly on Montana’s efforts to foster a vibrant, resilient, profitable tech industry to rival the likes of California’s Silicon Valley or Utah’s Silicon Slopes. It’s an effort that appears to be paying off, bit by bit. Indeed, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana State University in Bozeman recently hosted a celebration for 406 Labs, it’s in-house business accelerator program, one of the first of its kind in Montana.

In total, six startups gave presentations on their achievements so far, with 406 Labs reps speaking about their future hopes for the accelerator. From the Chronicle:

“It’s not a funding presentation. It’s a celebration of what they’ve done, an overview of their businesses and what they’ve done with the local community,” said program director Trevor Huffmaster. “It doesn’t necessarily stop there. It’s not like demo day (and then) we’re done. It’s ‘What’s the next step?’”

The program was first hatched two years ago by Huffmaster and Blackstone Launchpad Program Director Les Craig under the umbrella of the Launchpad, itself a business incubator based out of the university. But where the Launchpad offers all-encompassing mentorship, 406 Labs focuses on venture coaching tailored to individual startups.

In its first year, the program’s scope was limited by a lack of funding. But following the receipt of a pair of Small Business Administration grants, Craig brought Huffmaster on to direct the program, leading to the creation of the first group — or cohort — of startups last fall.

“We really built off what we’ve done with the Launchpad, specifically focusing on entrepreneur coaching and venture coaching, where we work with a specific cohort of venturers for a 90-day period and it’s much more intensive,” Huffmaster said.

The cohort includes three mobile apps, a biotech company, a video game studio and a microscope imaging venture. Over the 90-day curriculum, the six ventures — spearheaded by a mix of current students, alumni and faculty — received feedback on the viability of their product, as well as help with market research and networking.


The 406 program is based in part on MIT’s Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, a three-month mentorship program where Huffmaster is an alumnus. The Billings native received his undergraduate degree at Boston University and spent more than 15 years in health care and IT — as well as stints in the culinary world — before moving to Bozeman 10 years ago.

With the growth of the Gallatin Valley’s business community, particularly in the realm of self-starters, both he and Craig said they recognized both the desire and the need for some type of accelerator program.

“We have a lot of folks doing great stuff here,” Huffmaster said. “Being able to formalize that process and the data speaks pretty well with other accelerators that when folks come through, they are more successful than they would be on their own. You have this collaboration with people who are having the same issues as you, those conversations and inter-team mentoring and the resources available externally that we can formalize.”

“There is not a lot of community support, especially for these early stage companies,” Craig added. “The culture is pretty stovepiped here, which creates challenges for early stage companies. What they need is to be in an environment where they’re sharing with other people their successes and failures. There’s strength in that and that’s what’s missing in Bozeman.”

406 Labs recently gained international recognition after being named to the Global Accelerator Network, a worldwide community of similar programs.

Down in Utah, we’ve been following developments in the schism wrought between Governor Gary Herbert and the organizers of Outdoor Retailer, a twice-a-year outdoor recreations show that’s been held in the Beehive State for 20 some years. The source of the schism? Utah leadership’s stance toward public lands in the state, specifically their enmity toward the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument.

Last week, we reported that, going ahead, Outdoor Retailer would no longer take place in Utah and would actively seek out a new home for future shows. The Governor decried the move as “offensive,” saying that the decision reflected how “a political agenda, rather than reason or merit” was driving the OIA’s decision. OIA executive director Amy Roberts fired right back, accusing Utah leadership of pursuing a political agenda, rather than weighing reason or merit.

Governor Herbert and OIA reps (along with reps from some of Outdoor Retailer’s largest companies, including Patagonia and The North Face) spoke for over an hour via phone February 16, which was where the matter came to a head. The Salt Lake Tribune recently acquired a recording of the conference call through a public-records request:

Herbert asked the retailers to keep their show in Salt Lake City, lauded their contributions to remaking cities like Moab and Ogden, but made clear he and the GOP-led Utah Legislature were sincere in their criticism of President Barack Obama’s designation of Bears Ears National Monument and wanted that move rescinded.

The executives from brands that included Patagonia, The North Face and REI told the governor if he wasn’t prepared to at least make a public statement in support of the new layer of protection for the 1.35 million-acre monument, which Obama created under the Antiquities Act in December, the show and the economic bonanza it brought to Utah was prepared to sever ties with the state.

“What’s happened in the last few weeks has put us in the position where, frankly, you probably have a week or two to come up with a strong statement and get support for whatever statement you’re willing to make in order for Utah to be included in the [bidding] process for where the show ultimately ends up,” said Gordon Seabury, chairman of the Outdoor Industry Association.

“You’re looking at 60 to 90 days before we make a decision,” Seabury added, “and significant additional action must happen.”

Herbert said elected leaders in Utah shared the same overarching goals of protecting public lands and that he signed the resolution at the behest of some who live near the new monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument who detest the management of federal lands.

“Some of those deep feelings about a monument still reside, particularly with a lot of the local people in the rural parts of our state who are struggling economically,” the Republican governor said. “Probably they’re just angry because of that and this [monument] gets kind of caught up in it.”

Herbert also told the executives past presidents had been “cavalier” with their application of the 1906 Antiquities Act. He said the act was intended to grant power to protect the “smallest area necessary to protect the objects that we’re trying to preserve.”

“If you look at the Grand Staircase,” he said, “that’s clearly not what happened.”

The call highlights how the governor’s office and outdoor groups differed on the process of protecting Bears Ears.

Herbert repeatedly said he wanted the monument rescinded so Congress could pass legislation protecting the area and giving local Indian tribes a bigger role in managing the land.

The executives asked why the governor and legislators preferred stripping the existing protection before replacing it with a different layer of federal protection.

“Never really in our history of working in conservation … has a state sought to rescind a national monument, let alone two,” said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario.

The Tribune notes that the very same day, Herbert signed HCR12, a resolution asking Congress to pass legislation shrinking the border of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

If you’re curious, Utah Business has a feature with Scott Beck, president/CEO of Visit Salt Lake, about how the state will “fill the hole” left by Outdoor Retailer’s departure.

Finally, down in Colorado, according to the Denver Post, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a new “metamaterial” that could provide air-conditioning for thermoelectric power plants with zero energy input and no water consumption. It is, in the words of the Post, “kind of a big deal.” But don’t take their word for it, let researcher Ronggui Yang explain it. From the Post:

What is this cutting-edge technology?

Yang and other researchers created a film that reflects incoming solar rays while simultaneously allowing the object it covers to release heat, effectively cooling the object by up to 25 degrees in a lab setting. It’s basically a super-thin air conditioner.

Give us the tech specs.

The “metamaterial,” another way of saying engineered material with properties not found in nature, consists of two layers. The bottom layer is a silver lining that reflects sunlight. The top layer has scattered glass microspheres that are infrared radiant. Both layers together are only slightly thicker than aluminum foil.

What makes this so freakin’ cool?

It drastically cools objects without expending any energy or consuming any water. How is that possible? Science!

Your science basics:

“No, really, how is that possible?” you ask. It’s due to a little thing called passive radiative cooling, the process by which objects naturally shed heat without consuming energy. Objects do this when they cool at night. The problem has been that solar energy negates the cooling process. By reflecting sunlight, this film allows the radiative cooling process to occur during the day.

Yang notes that while the metamaterial wouldn’t work so well at the residential level (at least during winter), its benefits could be found in your energy bill. Deployed successfully, the metamaterial could cut down on plants’ water consumption and supplant existing dry cooling systems, which are expensive and inefficient. The Post also notes that the material could be used to boost efficiency for solar panels.

You can read more about the metamaterial in an article published in Science earlier this month. According to the Post, researchers are rolling ahead with more study and testing.

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