Two local companies were recognized Tuesday evening at the first Governor’s Innovative Business Awards on the Montana State University campus.

Bozeman-based Simms Fishing Products and laser technology company Bridger Photonics were among the nine companies honored at MSU’s Strand Union Building. Gov. Brian Schweitzer was on hand to pass out the awards.

“Everybody running for office, they’re talking about change. They’re going to change, change the world. Politicians don’t change the world. Ideas, innovators, engineers change the world,” Schweitzer said at a VIP event before the awards dinner. “We are celebrating innovators and innovation in Montana.”

The event was conceived by Innovate Montana, a public-private partnership led by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Its stated goal is to promote and market business opportunities in Montana. The Innovative Business Awards are a way to highlight growing industries in the Treasure State, ones outside traditional resource- and tourism-based industries, said Jayson O’Neill, communications and policy advisor with the governor’s office.

Businesses across the state were examined for innovative work and outside-the-box tactics, O’Neill said. A few were identified and the governor’s economic development team took a closer look at the businesses before narrowing it down to the handful that were tabbed for recognition Tuesday night.

“It does mean a lot to us,” said Diane Bristol, director of marketing at Simms.

Simms is in the process of finishing construction on a new headquarters, just north of Four Corners. The new location will be larger than its current space, a series of buildings not far from Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply. She expects construction will wrap up this fall and employees will move in.

Getting recognition from the state is important for Simms, affirming what the business is doing, Bristol said.

“Efforts to innovate our product allow us to hire more people that can then create more innovative products,” Bristol said. “It’s a big cycle.”

One idea that was highlighted throughout the day was the importance of education to innovation, and the recent successes of Montana’s higher education system. MSU’s recent success was part of the reason it was chosen to host the event. It’s coming off a record year for research and technologies licensed, with $112 million spent on research and 52 technologies licensed through the Technology Transfer Office, MSU President Waded Cruzado said at a morning panel discussion.

She also said MSU plans to expand its technology park, the Innovation Campus, to three times its current size.

“Engineers change the world. This is the tender hatching area of Montana’s engineers,” Schweitzer said of MSU.

Jason Bacaj may be reached at or 582-2635.


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