Big Data in the Big Sky Country

When you think of Missoula, Montana, what comes to mind? Perhaps a rugged western landscape under enormous cloud-capped skies? Or the University of Montana, or maybe the Montana Grizzlies college football franchise, or as the site of state’s largest and oldest active breweries? If you’re thinking timber, forget it – that industry died back in the 1990s. Now the university and two hospitals are the city’s biggest employers.

But if local entrepreneurs and investors have their way, all this will change. They see Missoula becoming the technology hub of the Northern Rockies with Big Data leading the way.

A recent article in the Missoulian written by Martin Kidston cites the growth of two local companies involved in Big Data – TerraEchos that uses propritetary software to predict cyber-attacks, and GCS Research, a developer of next-generation Geographnic Information Systems and remote-sensing applications.

They represent the vanguard of what local leaders, the university and investors hope will morph into Missoula’s tech hub. As part of its efforts to support the talent pool needed to realize this initiative, the University of Montana has included a course on IBM’s InfoSphere Streams software, and three departments are looking to launch a new Big Data Program at the university.

In the article, Clyde Neu, chief financial officer at TerraEchos, talks about the growing interest by venture capitalists and other investors in potential Big Data startups in the Rocky Mountain Region, including Missoula.

These are the kind of business that scale very quickly,” Neu said. “If they take root, they’ll be hiring people. Their growth is somewhat global – there’s no limitations. They leverage the Internet as they expand. That’s what excites me about the Missoula area. We also have an awful lot of small, high-tech information firms bubbling underneath the surface here, and some are rising to the top and attracting substantial funding.”

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