Erica Mackey MyVillage Portrait

Erica Mackey, CEO and co-founder of MyVillage, poses for a photo with her two kids, Izzy Potter, 3, and Roxanne Potter, 1, on Friday afternoon in the new MyVillage Sandbox.

The MyVillage Sandbox is a school environment that allows the MyVillage team to test out ideas before passing them on to their customers.

Sixty percent of Montanans live in a place without enough licensed childcare providers, according to the Center For American Progress.

That number goes even higher for rural and low-income residents, straining families and local economies.

One Bozeman-based childcare startup hopes to change things.

“If you could imagine starting at the place where you don’t have anywhere safe and nurturing to send your child when you go to work, that means that you don’t go to work,” said Erica Mackey, co-founder of MyVillage.

MyVillage is a business that connects families with home-based childcare options, trains providers and helps license early childhood educators. Offered in Montana and Colorado, the company announced Monday that it raised $5.95 million in its venture capital seed round, the largest in Montana history, according to CrunchBase.

Having a large seed round shows that investors believe in a company and its technology early on, said Christina Henderson, Montana High Tech Business Alliance executive director.

“It just indicates that investors see the potential of the company at a very early stage in its development,” she said

MyVillage’s record round is also particularly significant because it’s women-owned, Henderson said. In 2017, just 2.2% of all venture capital in the U.S. went to companies founded solely by women, according to data from PitchBook.

The fact that the business is led by women also fits the company’s business model and mission to help create resources in places without enough childcare providers, or childcare deserts. Childcare deserts are associated with fewer women in the workforce, according to the Center For American Progress.

Though there are some husband-and-wife teams, most of the childcare providers are women, Mackey said, so the model usually ends up being women helping women and families.

“It’s one woman being able to run a really successful business for their families but also helping six to 12 other families get back to work,” she said.

Home-based care can also help providers and parents save money, Mackey said. It also eliminates a lot of overhead, and home businesses can write off some expenses on their taxes.

MyVillage programs usually range from $600 to $900 a month, and Mackey said MyVillage parents are paying about 20 percent less than state averages for childcare.

Some of the other benefits to home-based care include smaller group sizes and continuity of care, and it allows older children to become role models for younger children and builds empathy with the older child.

With the latest round of funding, Mackey said the company hopes to invest in support tools for educators and work on expanding across Montana and Colorado and into rural communities. Since launching in 2017, she said MyVillage has doubled the number of providers it works with every quarter, and the company eventually plans to expand outside of the two states it already serves.

More than half of the new childcare centers it helps start up are new, so that’s a priority right now, she said. MyVillage helps all potential home childcare owners get licensed, receive education and training, manage their business and market themselves.

Mackey, who has lived and worked for startups across the world, said Montana stood out to her when she visited five different states to find a place to set down roots and start her company with her business partner, Elizabeth Szymanski. Mackey is hoping that Montana can lead the way for MyVillage.

“One of the things that made me really excited about Montana is it’s a really great place that can help prove how it can build out in states across the country,” she said.

Abby Lynes can be reached at alynes@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

Abby Lynes covers business and the economy for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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