Written by Maggie Finnerty
Oregon’s most valuable natural resource is its people. The energy that created some of the world’s most iconic brands is thriving among startups, fast-growth companies, and a strong ecosystem of entrepreneurs who are taking ideas to reality for the benefit of our economy.
The Oregon Entrepreneurs Network has always known that a thriving network of entrepreneurs makes Oregon stronger. Entrepreneurs drive our economy through job and wealth creation. For 27 years, OEN has been connecting entrepreneurs statewide with the people they need to know, the programs and education they need to grow, and the capital they need to scale, helping to support and celebrate businesses as they evolve.
Since assuming the role of president and executive director at OEN in 2017, I’ve learned valuable lessons about the evolving needs of the entrepreneurial communities across our state. Entrepreneurs have expressed that our state’s maturing startup ecosystem can no longer rely on general connections and programming to help buoy startups. Founders have told us that while they still need access to people, programs, and capital, they also need specialized support in their industry.
I’ve learned that far more than being generalists, service providers such as attorneys, marketing experts and accountants, have become specialists in their industries. Investor preferences have also evolved. While many investors still look to tech to be sure, others prefer companies they can touch and feel or even taste. And over the past decade, as many nonprofits and technical assistance providers have emerged, many entrepreneurs have told us they want industry-specific programming to connect the dots across these resources, especially when those resources are outside their region.
We’ve answered that call by organizing our work along industry clusters, creating the infrastructure that supports this type of interchange of ideas and brings people together. By connecting companies ranging from early-stage firms to Fortune 500 entities with distribution channels, educational programs and other vital support we intend to help them meet and exceed their growth ambitions.
OEN will continue to offer programming that all entrepreneurs need to know, regardless of industry, such as our Startup Series and our Coaching Program and, of course, PubTalks. Other programs we run will focus on specific industries. But more important than our own programs is our interest in partnering with and promoting other organizations already providing support to those industries.
The rapidly expanding food and beverage industry is a great example. We have amazing, world-class resources for food companies in Oregon. Places like the Food Innovation Center at Oregon State University and Food Northwest are at the ready to assist food and beverage companies. The Portland-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine has a strong food and beverage law practice, and investors such as Meriwether Group and many individual angels are constantly on the lookout for food and beverage companies to invest in. By leveraging our growing network of Venture Catalysts across the state, OEN is in a unique position to bring these statewide resources together.
Partnering with groups that already support various industries is critical to the cluster initiative’s success. For example, we are partnering with VertueLab to bring a Cleantech Showcase to their VertueLab Impact Summit (formerly known as BestFest) on Sept. 26. We are also partnering with Built Oregon to launch our first ever statewide F&B Showcase as part of the Built Up Festival on Oct. 2. We are partnering with the Nu Leaf Project, an initiative to increase success outcomes for cannabis businesses owned by people of color, and will be launching a “Cannabis Business Basics” class in January.
As we prepare for our 25th annual Tom Holce Entrepreneurship Awards Oct. 24, we see companies from every corner of the state and Southwest Washington who comprise the best and brightest local entrepreneurs. As we get ready to honor them, we can’t think of a more powerful gesture to support the collective prosperity of Oregonians.