Money, Brains and Broadband: Tools to Thrive in a 21st Century Economy

Across America, small business innovators are harnessing the tools of 21st Century economic growth: money, brains, and broadband. From the Silicon Prairie to the Southern Gulf to my back yard in northwest Montana, we are seeing start-ups grow successfully in unlikely places -- creating jobs, innovating and attracting investment. That's why I'm excited to join a recent Webinar hosted by Mobile Future to discuss the accelerating business formation and surprisingly swift progress being made across rural America.

When I founded a ground-breaking tech company in northwest Montana, I was asked repeatedly, "How will you ever be able to grow a tech business from a small town in a flyover state?" The answer was easy: wireless technology would make it possible. And it did. My background was in telecom so I had seen firsthand the kinds of opportunities for business, healthcare, and education that the Internet was making possible. I believed that I could create a small business and support my family just about anywhere that had fast, reliable communications connectivity.

Combining my business skills with a young entrepreneur's idea for a revolutionary tech company, we started a business in Kalispell, Montana that today is known as Vubiquity, the largest global provider of multi-platform video services. In fact, still today, some of the most cutting-edge video compression and distribution technologies in the world are being developed in Kalispell by a team of brilliant tech pioneers who work with colleagues and customers located all around the world.

In less than four years, we had raised over $30 million for this company, launched in a coffee shop with wireless internet. So many people and businesses in Montana supported us that some days we felt like a statewide effort rather than a start-up struggling to pay our tab at the coffee house. I don't believe we would have had nearly such swift success had we been located in a more populated community or state.

Over the past several years, The Frontier Fund, a Montana angel investor fund I belong to, has reviewed all kinds of deals for Pacific Northwest companies. These companies continue to remind me that I was right to bet on the power of technology when I started my own small business in Kalispell nearly ten years ago.

Entrepreneurship is crucial for our nation and for our individual communities. Why? Because new companies - those less than five years old - create most new jobs in the United States. We often hear that small businesses create jobs. But not all small businesses are new businesses. Young, entrepreneurial companies grow jobs far more dramatically than older small businesses. That's where technology comes in.

One hundred years ago, a thriving community likely had fertile land, extractable resources or a railroad. Today, thriving communities of all sizes and locations need entrepreneurs. They need their dynamism, their vitality, their sense of risk and possibility. To get off the ground, entrepreneurs need money, brains and broadband.

Money is the lifeblood of entrepreneurship for obvious reasons. Brains (or intellectual capital, as the money-folks like to call it) combined with money allow an entrepreneur to go beyond her own area of expertise to build the teams that make great commercial innovation happen. Broadband makes all of this possible - these days from just about anywhere. Fully 98% of U.S. counties had at least one high-tech business establishment in 2011, and it becomes pretty clear that mobile broadband is as vital a tool for entrepreneurs as money and brains. Investment in those wireless networks from the private sector, to connect small business owners together and to their customers, is critical and none of this is possible without it.

Entrepreneurs with courageous vision and the right tools - money, brains, and broadband chief among them - represent our nation's arsenal to create jobs in every county and grow a robust 21st-century economy.

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Diane Smith serves on the board of Mobile Future ( and was co-founder and chief executive officer of a ground-breaking IPTV and advanced media services company in Kalispell, Montana.