The Real Story Behind The Big Sky Business Insight Summit

by William Skink

Do you wake up and smell the opportunity in the morning? Have you recently been quoted as saying investors are BULLISH on Missoula? If you answered yes to either question, then you may have been a virtual participant in the Big Sky Business Insight Summit where the lesson learned about our post-pandemic world is that there will be new opportunities in Montana.

The link is to the most incurious media source in our humble little valley, the Missoula Current, dutifully reporting on the players hoping to ride the pandemic to a biomedical/tech boom without any of the troubling context a real media source might want to include.

But MC did feature this image of the players from their zoom meeting:

The older woman in the middle of the bottom row, Liz Marchi, represents Two Bear Capital. I wrote about Two Bear Capital back in July when MC reported it was helping the biotech start-up, Inimmune, find investors. Inimmune had already been on my radar since June, when I reported that this start-up was launched by former GlaxoSmithKline employees and is now deeply embedded in the “business incubator” at the University of Montana. From the second link (my emphasis):

The University of Montana has received a $5.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help develop a vaccine against bacterial infection.

The principal investigator on the five-year award, titled “Immunization against filamentous bacteriophages to prevent bacterial infection,” is Patrick Secor, assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at UM.

Other investigators on the award include Dr. Jay Evans from UM and Inimmune, a start-up located in UM’s business incubator, MonTEC; David Burkhart and Kendal Ryter from Inimmune; Paul Bollyky and Gina Suh from Stanford University; and Chandan Sen, Sashwati Roy and Valerie Bergdall from Ohio State University. The team’s goal is to develop a vaccine to prevent infections caused by the common bacteria pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

The relationship between biomedical start-ups, like Inimmune, and the University of Montana is incredibly important. These relationships are known as public-private partnerships and one of the big benefits of these relationships is how transparency evaporates when public dollars disappear into the private sector.

If you want to understand how disturbing this can be, just read Whitney Webb’s latest reporting on how Operation Warp Speed is using CIA-linked contractors to keep Covid-19 vaccine contracts secret.

Getting back to the incurious reporting of the MC, check out the last name of the woman to the left of Liz Marchi. Does that look like the same last name of the president of the University of Montana, Seth Bodnar? Why yes it is. But Chelsea Bodnar is her own woman, damn it, and speculating on some imagined conflict of interest is probably just my sexism showing itself:

Despite the challenges that have emerged, the pandemic has brought new urgency and new opportunity to existing practices that weren’t widespread before the virus hit.

Dr. Chelsea Bodnar, the CEO of Montana Pediatrics, said the organization worked to convince doctors in the pre-COVID world that telemedicine was an acceptable practice. When the pandemic hit and the rules changed, telemedicine became essential.

“If you were going to maintain a practice and a connection, you were going to give it a shot,” Bodnar said. “Our community had a leg up because they’d been introduced to this technology and had more advanced tools and were able to comfortably dive into this.”

Bodnar said the pandemic opened the door to telemedicine and brought it farther than it was before. But it also has shown that pivoting during a pandemic isn’t always easy.

“We need better ways of sending emails and connecting and giving people codes. We need to get more sophisticated about what tools we offer at home,” she said. “But we’ve seen a ton of meaningful clinical interactions that reinforces for physicians how important it is to serve patients where they are.”

What an amazing coincidence that DOCTOR Chelsea Bodnar’s organization just so happened to be pushing telemedicine as “an acceptable practice” before this pandemic hit. Good thing she is so well positioned to influence the massive pivot of our entire medical system to an EVEN MORE impersonal doctor/patient experience.

Chelsea Bodnar got some attention from this blog a few years ago because of her close relationship with the political wizard, Jim Messina. Back then she was hoping Messina could help her husband turn around the enrollment crisis he was hired to fix:

Chelsea Elander, the spouse of University of Montana President Seth Bodnar, has been playing a significant role in the flagship’s preparation for a recruitment project with The Messina Group, records show.

CEO Jim Messina, who led former President Barack Obama’s 2012 election to a second term in the White House, is a passionate UM alum and longtime friend of Elander’s who volunteered the data analytics expertise of his firm to help UM recruit students. UM has experienced a nearly 30 percent enrollment drop since 2010.

This semester, Elander has been a liaison between UM and The Messina Group in discussions about providing the firm with student and family records. According to UM legal counsel Lucy France, the campus has not given the firm any data.

This created a bit of controversy when it was reported at the time, considering Chelsea didn’t have any official role with UM, but that was years ago. And who remembers things that happened a few years ago, especially when we are FIGHTING FOR THE SOUL OF AMERICA!!!

If this is a fight, like a war, then I guess it’s a good thing we have a military/corporate guy leading the University of Montana. Bodnar’s pedigree wasn’t enthusiastically accepted by the University community when he was hired, but chalk this up to just another happy coincidence. If you don’t recall Bodnar’s military/corporate pedigree, here is the Kaiman’s reporting from before the selection was made:

Seth Bodnar, one of four candidates for UM’s presidency, has held many titles. He’s a Rhodes and Truman Scholar, a former Army Ranger and Green Beret and a senior executive at the General Electric Company all rolled into one. But he’s never worked in university administration, and now he’s after UM’s most important role.

Since we’ll be in a civil war with our fellow Americans soon, I guess it’s a good thing we have this military/corporate man in charge of our University, and that the old normal of a flagship humanities program will be switched out for a lucrative biomedical emphasis. It’s also good that Seth’s wife, Chelsea, has such strong ties to a Democratic political operative because that could benefit our humble little valley as we become a Montana beachhead for the resistance.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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