MAPS Mobile: Entrepreneurship Class Working to Fund Van for New Venture

Olivia Vai of Corvallis and Wyatt Campbell of Darby have been helping to spread the word of MAPS Media Institute’s newest venture to create a mobile version of the innovative program. Fundraising for The MAPS Mobile officially gets underway Thursday.

When the folks at MAPS Media Institute put together their inaugural entrepreneur class last January, they told the first students they were expected to create a working business and then build it into something real.

Then – like always – the instructors stepped back and let the collective creative juices of a room filled with young minds flow.

“They don’t use the ‘no’ word here,” said Olivia Vai, a Corvallis homeschooler who attended that first class. “We just jump in with both feet and go.”

It didn’t take long for an idea to rise to the top.

Everyone in that room loved the opportunity they’d been provided by the innovative MAPS Media Institute to let their creative sides blossom at the Hamilton center, while using state-of-the-art technology and equipment under the guidance of gifted instructors.

It was something they wanted to share with every young person in the state.

“I’ve felt so blessed to have attended MAPS for the last four years,” said Wyatt Campbell, a Darby senior. “I want everyone else in Montana to be able to share that experience.”

And so the class of young entrepreneurs conceived the idea of creating The MAPS Mobile: Media on the Move.

Their idea included acquiring a van and outfitting it with portable equipment required to emulate the MAPS experience. Once mobile, the plan would be to travel the state to share the same skills, creative vision and inspirational opportunities that a growing number of Bitterroot Valley students have already experienced.

MAPS CEO Peter Rosten agreed to have the program’s board raise the funds to purchase a van, said MAPS instructor Clare Ann Harff. The costs of operating the new MAPS Mobile will be incorporated into the MAPS annual operating budget.

All that was left was to find a way to pay for the state-of-the-art media equipment so necessary to the success of the MAPS program.

While digital literacy plays a vital role for success in competing in today’s global society, many communities in Montana have little or no access to the tools necessary to learning those skills.

So instructors and students sat down and made a list of the equipment the new program would need. They decided it would cost about $25,000 to do it right.

As part of their class, the students explored a variety of fundraising possibilities before settling on a crowdfunding platform called Kickstarter. That program allows people from all over the world to donate as little or as much as they want on the Internet to help bring creative projects to life.

Over the last four months, MAPS students collaborated to develop every aspect of the project, including writing business plans, budgets and marketing strategies, as well as

producing an informative video that will be included on MAPS Kickstarter page.

The fundraising project will be launched on Thursday, April 16. It will be open to donations for exactly one month. People can access the site through MAPS’ webpage at

To kickoff their Kickstarter fundraising effort, MAPS Media Institute will host an open house on April 16 from noon to 8 p.m. at its Hamilton location, 515 Madison St. Visitors will be able to tour the facility’s studios, talk with students about their projects, hear live performances and learn more about the MAPS Mobile:Media on the Move.

The open house will also celebrate the Ravalli County Commission’s recent decision to proclaim April 16 as MAPS Day.

While researching the concept of crowd funding, the students learned one vital aspect to a successful campaign was local support.

Vai and Campbell have served as local ambassadors of the program. In addition to joining a team of MAPS students who spoke to the commission, they have also met with a variety of service groups and others around the county.

Some have already stepped forward to help make the dream of a mobile MAPS a reality. Both Ravalli County Beta Sigma Phi chapters have agreed to donate the proceeds from their annual Good Friday tulip sale to the cause.

Developing a presentation on the project and then presenting that information is another skill that Vai and Campbell feel they’ve added to their tool box from their experience through MAPS.

MAPS instructor Tim Kolberg said the program helps young people develop the core skills, like problem solving, that are vital in many different areas of a person’s life. Beyond that, it also gives students the opportunity to put those skills to work to do real world projects and be successful.

“You learn that you can do it,” Vai said. “And then you see that it can be done. It’s really inspiring.”

The MAPS program currently has 85 students.

One aspect Vai particularly likes about the program is that it draws young people from a variety of different backgrounds. Some arrive confident and others not nearly so. Over time, the students develop a bond as they work together on projects and share ideas.

“No one judges you when you share an idea here,” she said. “People listen to you. As you begin to open up and share ideas, it gives you confidence. … Here you can shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you still land in the stars.”