OEN NewsThe Oregon Community Foundation Partners with Oregon Entrepreneurs Network to Expand Statewide Venture Catalyst Initiative

March 3, 2018 – The Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) and Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN) announced a partnership today to spur economic growth through entrepreneurship by expanding OEN’s Venture Catalyst Initiative to 11 new counties throughout the state, while improving coverage in current regions. The Initiative has proven to be a highly effective economic development tool, creating new companies, jobs, and investment. Since 2016, Venture Catalysts in Central Oregon, Southern Oregon, and the Southern Willamette Valley have served over 500 companies, which have created 346 jobs and brought in over $55 million in revenue.

“OEN has provided critical leadership in Oregon to nurture entrepreneurs and connect them with mentoring, talent, and capital. OCF is pleased to see local support for these Venture Catalyst managers growing across the state,” said Melissa Freeman, OCF Director of Strategic Projects.

The model was developed in Central Oregon in 2009, through support from Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO), local business leaders, and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, with the aim of better connecting local entrepreneurs to the resources they needed to succeed.  Backed by research from Meyer Memorial Trust, the Oregon Capital Scan, and national research, the model increases success rates for entrepreneurs by building a strong ecosystem of capital, technical assistance, mentoring, and community support.

In 2016, OCF funded OEN to replicate the model, providing OCF’s largest economic development grant to date. This grant supported the original Venture Catalyst position in Central Oregon and expanded it to the Southern Willamette Valley through a position at the Oregon Regional Accelerator Innovation Network (RAIN), and in Southern Oregon through a position at Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. (SOREDI).  Because of the success of these positions, The Ford Family Foundation led funding for a similar position on the mid-coast through an Oregon RAIN initiative. All positions have significant financial support from the local communities as well.  OEN convenes the Venture Catalysts monthly to share information, resources, and best practices.

The return on investment for this initiative has been remarkable wherever the model has been deployed, resulting in not only more successful companies and jobs, but also the development of critical entrepreneurial infrastructure. In Central Oregon alone, the Venture Catalyst position at EDCO has been key in the growth of the Bend Venture Conference and local PubTalks, as well as the establishment of the region’s first accelerator, a regional angel fund, and mentor database, to name a few.

“The Venture Catalyst model has helped our small coastal community to recognize that we have entrepreneurs and innovators here building companies with high growth aspirations and creating jobs,” says Erin Reynolds, Florence City Manager. “Knowing we can get connected to other resources around the state and compare best practices as a result of growing the venture catalyst model is incredible.”

In Southern Oregon, the impact of the Venture Catalyst at the local level is seen in many stories of successful start-ups that have benefited from the network.  Shallan Ramsey, founder of MaskIT in Ashland, developed a revolutionary product for the feminine hygiene market.  Ramsey worked intensively with SOREDI’s Venture Catalyst to connect with local angel investors.  She was able to raise the funds they needed from local angels and as a direct result, is today securing contracts with universities, airports, and national and global hospitality and travel corporations.  “SOREDI’s Venture Catalyst and the Southern Oregon Angel Investor Network have made it possible for us to continue on our mission to save lives, save trees, and normalize the period,” says Ms. Ramsey.  “The funds we received from the local angel investors were crucial for our launch into the commercial market and allowed us to begin providing the MaskIT solution for public restroom applications. It has undoubtedly changed our business and we are forever grateful.”

Central Oregon has seen similar results through the Venture Catalyst at EDCO.  Rita Hansen, CEO of Onboard Dynamics, says, “EDCO and the Venture Catalyst Manager played a critical role during the very early days of Onboard Dynamics. We were able to connect with local entrepreneurial talent via EDCO’s Stable of Experts. In 2013, we pitched as part of the Bend Venture Conference’s Early Stage Competition where our newly created team was able to gain traction and validation of its technology. The continuous support over the years has proven very valuable to the company.” Onboard Dynamics seeks to lower fuel costs and carbon emissions by removing infrastructure barriers to driving natural gas-powered vehicles.  Their first commercial product – GoFlo™. a mobile, self-powered system – has been deployed at a school bus yard in Southern California through a program sponsored by Southern California Gas Company.

Similarly, Central Oregon-based SaaS company LeadMethod recently closed a $1 million investment round with VC partners from around the country, including Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and Bend. “We have always valued the support and partners in Bend. Whether it’s our strong relationship with Central Oregon’s Cascade Angels, winning the Bend Venture Conference, or the exposure that we have gained through presentations at EDCO’s PubTalk,” says LeadMethod CEO Justin Johnson. “These experiences and relationships have been invaluable to our success as a business.”

Now, OEN and OCF are expanding the initiative to 11 counties: Washington, Polk, Marion, Yamhill, Linn, Josephine, Douglas, Union, Baker, Umatilla, and Morrow. More than 40 regional partners are participating in this expansion. The Venture Catalysts will play a critical role in organizing regional communities and connecting entrepreneurs to industry-specific resources and expertise across the state. OEN will also work with the network of Venture Catalysts to promote access to the resources along industry clusters.

“Throughout its 27-year history, OEN has been committed to the success of entrepreneurs statewide,” says Maggie Finnerty, President & Executive Director of OEN. “The Venture Catalyst Initiative has enabled us to replicate our high-touch approach in Portland with boots on the ground in other key regions. As we expand the model, we hope to facilitate more communication between regions, particularly within key industry clusters.”

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About The Oregon Community Foundation
The mission of The Oregon Community Foundation is to improve life for all Oregonians through the power of philanthropy. OCF works with individuals, families, businesses and organizations to create charitable funds to support the community causes they care about. Through these funds OCF awarded more than $112 million in grants and scholarships in 2017. For more information about OCF, please visit: www.oregoncf.org.

About OEN
OEN drives economic growth by leveraging the power of community to educate, support, and inspire one another to success. We help entrepreneurs start up and scale up by connecting them to the people they need to know, the skills they need to learn, and the capital they need to succeed.

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