Alumni stories: ‘Entrepreneurship is the best way to have an impact’

20 Nov 2018
Tabitha Whiting

Montana Butsch read Education Research Methodology at St Edmund Hall, Oxford from 2002 to 2004. In 2006 he founded Chicago Training Center (CTC), a non-profit organisation offering free rowing mentorship to teens from low-income families in the South and West sides of Chicago. CTC aimed to provide these teenagers with a healthy after-school activity and a chance to build their confidence, make new friends, and learn skills and life-lessons to prepare them for higher education.

This year Montana has been working on a new project: a platform to help youth from any background find safe, organised and interesting after-school activities, called spotivity - the slogan is ‘Spot your activity. Develop your passion.’

So, Montana, you've made a career as an entrepreneur: how did that happen?

Montana ButschBig and impactful ideas have always grabbed my attention, and backing myself to pursue outlandish goals has always felt natural.  Entrepreneurship for me was both a voluntary choice and a decision made out of necessity. I have always been good with self-motivation and I have never fit into a traditional employee model. 

Coming out of Oxford I was tasked with the responsibility to make it in the real world and no traditional roadmap was afforded or provided for me.  Corporate entities couldn’t place me, and personal goals and a sense of a ticking clock all eventually led to founding CTC.  That experience gave me confidence that entrepreneurism was a good fit for me, and the further education I received while obtaining my MBA at the joint executive program at Brown University and the IE Business School armed me with the ability to ratchet up the impact I could have. Spotivity is the result of natural progression from CTC.

 

What do you think makes a great entrepreneur?

Most founders are generally intelligent people, but great ones are not blind to their own weaknesses. I think great entrepreneurs have both a high self-awareness and access to networks they can engage.  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a key success trait and building an organization that maximizes those strengths and minimizes the weaknesses should be a priority.  In my case, I’m not an expert at finance so I leveraged every available resource to fill that gap.  I’m also not a technical founder so I secured a technical partnership with Algoworks Solutions Inc, a global full service tech development agency, to help build the spotivity platform. 

Additionally, relationships are a requirement and I’ve purposely engaged my alumni networks (University of Pennsylvania, Oxford, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and IE / Brown) with requests for introductions, media support, and guidance.

Your work so far has centred around supporting teenagers from low-income families in Chicago. Why did you choose to work on this problem?

I’ve always been involved in some level of service work and that interest magnified at school as a teen.  Then, as a 15 year old city kid, picking up an oar showed me the role that luck, intuition, and curiosity plays in the development of self.  Up until that point I had no direct understanding of the role that higher education played in future life prospects.  I knew that education was important, but not until I became a recruited athlete did I start to learn about laddering up opportunities and the strategies that could be employed to maximize outcomes.  That experience, coupled with the direct knowledge that inner city underserved youths could not hope to share in that same luck (at least as it pertains to rowing), naturally led to founding CTC.  Spotivity is a natural continuation of this focus and would not have been possible if it not were for the time spent stewarding CTC. 

The personal motivation to continue with this line of focus is rather simple – I want to be remembered for doing good work.  If I can help others with the insights I’ve gained and tools I’ve learned then I feel I am obligated to do that. 

Montana coaching as part of the Chicago Training Center

Many start-ups of today seem to have social impact at the heart: what do you think the relationship between entrepreneurship and social impact is?

I think that the two can, and arguably should be, intractably linked.  Creating social good should not be considered an afterthought or a by-product.   For an enterprise to last and matter it must have core values that resonate with people.  Some of these enterprises can be tied to life’s necessities – such as food, shelter, safety, and health – but many can be more esoteric – such as efficient transactions processes, alternative energy pathways, and social networks. The advent of triple bottom line and the creation of the B-Corp all point to this purpose built relationship.  Though all firms need to generate revenue and profit to be successful, this does not lessen, in my eyes, the need for them to matter on an intrinsic level to the population served.  

Spotivity is a traditional C-Corp and baked into our model is socially relevant engagement and guidance (spearheaded by our partnership with Utah State University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies).  We look to generate both sustainable revenue streams while, at the same time, providing actionable knowledge to each engaged user.  I feel that spotivity’s model of dual value propositions ought not be considered unique – and we will work hard to show how this dual focus creates long-term value.

How did your MSc at Oxford University impact your career?

The main thing I learned from my time reading Education Research Methodology was the need to be diligent, thoughtful, and creative when tacking subject matter.  Research methods clearly align well with quantitative measures but the world is messy and often qualitative inquiries are needed to better understand and contextualize.  The ability to oscillate between these two disciplines have proved invaluable.Montana in 2004, as part of the ISIS boat race crew

Do you have any favourite memories of your time in Oxford?

My classmates were fantastic (we had a small group of about 9 if I remember correctly) and I still stay in touch with a few.  My time as a rower was unparalleled and winning the Boat Race in the 2004 ISIS boat was a seminal moment for me.  Additionally, I was able to pursue a personal hobby as a radio DJ for Altered FM between 2003 and 2004.  I miss Oxford dearly and I’ve been back many times since.  Hopefully my twins (currently 7 – Bella and Theo) will look to Oxford when they are old enough – I’ll be the first to buy them a pint at the King’s Arms as they roll their eyes at their overly excited father!

In one sentence: what does Oxford mean to you?

Oxford was the most challenging, rewarding, and impactful institution I’ve ever been a part of and anyone that gets the chance to embark on their own Oxford journey should jump at the chance.

Do you have any advice for any aspiring entrepreneurs in the Oxford alumni community?

Back yourself. No successful entrepreneur lacks a reasonable amount of self-confidence. That said, you need to be aware of your shortcomings and know that there is much you don’t know. With that – seek help and advice and always remain mentally flexible but with a defined end goal in mind.  These traits foster a positive mind-set, allow you grow an army of supporters, and help you backfill areas where you are not the expert.  Just like raising kids – its takes a village to make a product or bring an idea to life.  The entrepreneur’s goal should be to set the actionable strategy with an excitable vision so that that village is focused, supportive, and action oriented.  Best of luck!

The spotivity team

Montana Butsch read Education Research Methodology at St Edmund Hall, Oxford between 2002 and 2004. He’s now an entrepreneur: he founded Chicago Training Center (CTC) in 2006 and is currently working on a new app, spotivity.

You can find out more about his work by watching his TEDx Talk on ‘The power of alternative sports for undeserved youth’ or by reading his interview for 1871.

Follow Montana on Twitter @MontanaButsch, and keep up to date with spotivity @SpotivityApp.

Photo credit: Montana Butsch.

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