In its 12th iteration, the ‘Fire Within‘ awards, organized by the Great Falls Development Authority (GFDA), celebrated 26 female entrepreneurs for their contributions to local businesses. The ceremony divided the honors into two categories: the Inspire and Aspire Awards, designed to acknowledge business owners at different stages of their entrepreneurial journey.

Award Background: A Community Initiative

Originating twelve years ago, ‘The Fire Within’ awards were instituted by the GFDA as part of an initiative to provide recognition and support to female entrepreneurs in Great Falls. The award recipients are decided through community nominations and a voting process, emphasizing the role of local engagement.

Award Categories: Inspire and Aspire

The ceremony features two distinct categories:

  1. Inspire Award: This award is aimed at women who have owned a business for more than five years. Criteria include significant personal contributions to business success, growth, or expansion. A focus is also placed on mentoring emerging entrepreneurs.
  2. Aspire Award: This award recognizes women who have owned their businesses for 1-5 years and have demonstrated early success, creativity, and drive in their new ventures.
Jolene Schalper
Jolene Schalper

A Perspective from the Organizers: GFDA’s Role

GFDA Vice President Jolene Schalper articulated the organization’s motivations behind the annual event: “We instituted these awards to address a recognized disparity between male and female business owners. Our goal is to highlight and support female entrepreneurs within the local economy.”

Morgan Tweet
Morgan Tweet
Shirstie Gaylord
Shirstie Gaylord

Voices of the Award Recipients: Trials and Triumphs

Morgan Tweet, co-founder of IND HEMP in Fort Benton, expressed gratitude for the community support. “The award is not just an individual achievement; it’s a reflection of team efforts and consistent dedication,” she said.

Similarly, Shirstie Gaylord of Hometana shared her thoughts on the everyday challenges of running a business. “The relentless efforts required to manage a small enterprise should not be underestimated. Recognition from institutions like the GFDA holds significant value,” Gaylord remarked.

Increasing Number of Honorees: A Growing Trend

When ‘The Fire Within’ awards were first launched, they only presented one Inspire and one Aspire award. The expansion to 26 awardees this year indicates a growing acceptance and fostering of female entrepreneurship in Great Falls. GFDA Vice President Jolene Schalper noted, “The increase in award recipients is indicative of the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem for women here.”

Significance and Future Outlook

The ‘Fire Within’ awards, now in their twelfth year, serve as more than just an annual ceremony. They reflect a community’s commitment to acknowledging and fostering female entrepreneurship. The increasing number of awardees and community participation in the nomination and voting process suggests a positive trajectory for women in business in Great Falls.