The Bootstrap Montana program was funded and founded by the our family foundation in 2008 to provide a helping hand to Montana businesses, where zero-interest micro-loans of $2,000 to $20,000 are provided to help rural Montana entrepreneurs grow their businesses.  The program is jointly run with the MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and has provided dozens of loans to  Montana entrepreneurs.

These loans help businesses at a crucial time in their growth.  They are meant to move the company to a new level where it can then generate enough income to be sustainable.

Meet Melanie Nelson of 5 Sparrows LLC in Kalispell.  A fifth generation Montana native, she started 5 Sparrows five years ago.  It is her second entrepreneurial venture, her first one being a drive through espresso business.  During the startup process of the business, 5 Sparrows received a Bootstrap Montana loan.  Melanie shared with me about her company and how the loan has helped her.

Q: What does your company do?  During the time I was running my espresso stand, I developed a first-to-market product.  Customers were asking me for a sugar free flavors that did not contain artificial sweeteners, so I made them.  5 Sparrows manufactures sugar free chocolate, white chocolate, chai and frappe powders that are naturally sweetened with stevia and xylitol.  We also have a regular, cane sugar product line.  The products are essentially cocoa powders that mix with hot milk.  They do not contain any coffee.  We sell to coffee shops and chains mostly in the Northwest but all over the nation and even to an upscale coffee franchise in Dubai.  We sell our products to a retail market nationwide through our website:

Q: Why did you want to start your company?  I’m not good at following rules and I like to make things better.  I like to be creative and innovative.  My family is top priority and having my own company is a huge responsibility but it allows me to control my environment and schedule.

Q: How did a Bootstrap loan help your company? Having a first-to-market product is very hard because you have to educate the marketplace.  The Bootstrap loans have been essential to help us identify the best way to market to our customers.  We hired experts in social media, PR and exhibited at a specialty coffee trade show.  A lot of the things we tried failed.  Having the loan at zero percent interest for a year made it possible for us to try a lot of new things.  Having an entire year to pay it back made it possible for us to regroup and focus on the things that were working.

5 Sparrows’ revenue has doubled three of the five years they have been in business.  They have been in numerous blog posts and magazines and recognized and endorsed by local diabetes clinics.

Bootstrap Montana loans have empowered many small businesses in Montana to grow, creating better livelihoods for themselves and their employees. MSU continues to seek out likely clients for the loans.  Apply for a loan at or, to support the program financially, write a tax-deductible check to the MSU Foundation with “Bootstrap Loan Program” on the memo line.