CCDHS grads behind device to extend cell phone service areas

Have you gotten disgruntled with your cell phone service when in remote areas of Montana?

 If so, Michael Monaghan, a 1993 graduate of Custer County District High School (CCDHS) in Miles City, has a device for you.

It’s a feature of Beartooth Radio, Inc. that Monaghan, the founder and CEO of the Bozeman-based company, is sure you’ll appreciate it.

“Beartooth allows your smartphone to connect in areas with no cell service, a super handy tool for ranch folks where cell service is lacking,” the Montana State graduate said.

Growing up in Montana and returning after 10 years on Wall Street in New York, Monaghan knows of the cell phone limitations in many areas.

“I left Wall Street to start a high-tech business on Main Street (in Bozeman),” he said on a recent trip to his hometown. “We are the first-ever consumer electronics company based in Montana. Our product is live and shipping.”

He added that he is involved with “Montana’s most high tech business, founded by a Miles City native.”

The company said that unlike handheld radios that are cumbersome and difficult to use, Beartooth uses the familiar intuitive graphical user interface of the smartphone to quickly and simply connect with other Beartooth users within its range.

Andrew Wade, another CCDHS and Montana State graduate, is the company’s lead firmware engineer. He writes all the code on the semiconductors of the product. He also leads the company’s manufacturing efforts, including frequent travel to its factory outside Shanghai, China.

“He’s a workhorse,” Monaghan said of the 28-year-old Wade. “He was working for us full-time and taking 20 hours of engineering classes. He’s an animal.”

Beartooth, the flagship product, can keep people in contact with each other for a few miles. Skiers, fishermen, four-wheel and snowmobile enthusiasts, and motorcycle riders are among those who have become customers of the wireless communication system that mkes it simple to use even if the cellular network is unavailable, failed or congested..

The company CEO said a crowd-funding presale in February 2016 resulted in sales of almost 20,000 devices to 5,000 customers, generating more than than $1 million in revenue. It weighs about one-fourth pound and the battery can last about a week.

“If your phone runs out of battery, it can recharge your phone, too,” said Monaghan, a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and track) during his high school days.

Other key members of the Beartooth staff include lead product engineer Jeff Jones, who is from Billings, and director of marketing Ellie Van Dyke of Bozeman.

“It’s an all-eastern Montana effort,” Monaghan said with pride.

So far, so good.

“I’m very happy, but it’s been three straight years of 120-week hours,” he said, adding that he works by day with U.S. personnel and by night with the manufacturing plant personnel in Suzhou.

When traveling to the factory, he and/or Wade require three plane rides starting at Bozeman, landing at Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Shanghai before taking a one-hour train ride to Suzhou.

It’s been quite a journey for Monaghan, who had to go through technical and regulatory issues galore, plus negotiate about 100 different parts from suppliers all over the world, including the U.S., Netherlands, Malaysia, Taiwan and China.

Right now it’s a one-product company, which can be seen and purchased for $240 per pair at www.Beartooth.com.

“We’re totally focused on this product,” Monaghan said. “We can keep upgrading it just by pushing out free software updates (via iTunes or Google Play). The smartphones control everything.”

(Contact Abe Winter at starcity@midrivers.com or 406-234-0450.)