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A trio of Montana-based nonprofits have received nearly $2.4 million in grant money intended to spur small business growth from banking giant Wells Fargo.

The Women’s Business Center at Prospera Network and the Women’s Entrepreneurship & Leadership Lab received $240,000 and $125,000 respectively during an award announcement held at the Element Hotel in Bozeman on Wednesday. MoFi, a nonprofit lender, received a grant of $2.1 million earlier in the year.

Wells Fargo has given nearly $5 million in grant money to nonprofits in Montana over the past three years.

The money given to the Women’s Business Center is planned for the creation of a mentoring program, which could be available in every county in the state, Paul Reichert, the executive director of the Prospera Business Network, said.

The Women’s Entrepreneurship & Leadership Lab works with the University of Montana in Missoula, and is run by director Morgan Slemberger. Slemberger said the money would go to help address issues women face when starting a business. She added that money could be used to create a publication to help educate people on how to be an advocate for women and others who hope to start a small business.

MoFi already received grant money from Wells Fargo, and has put it toward lending for businesses affected by the pandemic.

“Every single one of us is here today because we have a common purpose,” said MoFi President Dave Glaser. “That common purpose is to make opportunities more available to Montanans and beyond, and we do that working together.”

MoFi’s grant money came from the Open for Business Fund created by Wells Fargo in July 2020, which set aside roughly $420 million in grants to help nonprofit lenders and small businesses combat the economic effects of the pandemic.

The grant money went to the nonprofit’s Thrive loan program, which small businesses in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming most affected by the pandemic can apply for to spark financial recovery.

Brian Menges, the owner of the Murray Bar and Second Street Bistro in Livingston, used a Thrive loan to keep his doors open. In March 2020, Menges’ businesses that he owns under the Slainte Mhath Inc. restaurant group were extremely successful.

But then the pandemic, shutdowns and a drastically changed landscape for the hospitality industry around the country caused his businesses to hemorrhage money. Menges said that during this time his businesses went from almost $25,000 a day in revenue to $800 a day, and a robust staff of 60 to only five.

“We learned how to survive, and it was very weird surviving off crumbs when you still have tenderloins,” Menges said.

Barely any revenue was coming in and the fear of going bankrupt and its ripple effects on local farmers and ranchers who Menges’ restaurants sourced from loomed. A $100,000 loan from the Thrive program kept his doors open.

“I just want to personally thank all of you for being here, and in helping us in making sure that we’re not one of the 110,000 restaurants in America who didn’t make it to this point,” Menges said.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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