This Friday marks my three-month anniversary at OEN, and I’ve been blown away by people I’ve met in Oregon’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in the last 90 days. Entrepreneurs are flexing their genius across the state in a million innovative ways, and there’s an incredible network of professionals working to support them. Just in the last few weeks, OEN has been invited into some exciting new partnerships and the future feels bright.
However, it’s clear that we’re going to have to cross some tenuous bridges to reach that future. In mid-January, it became clear that OEN did not have sufficient funds to cover operations in 2020. The nonprofit had restricted grant and program funds to execute specific programs, but not operating capital.
In a series of meetings over the last week, the OEN board considered two stark alternatives: shut down all operations, or take draconian steps to reduce expenses, seek the support of its community, and give the 28-year old organization a chance to find its footing under new leadership.
I’m proud to work with a board that doesn’t give up when the chips are down, even way down. Together we decided to keep the doors open, ask our community for help, and spend this year delivering on our most meaningful events while working on a plan to turn the organization around.
Sadly, some very difficult decisions were made to facilitate going forward. Most notably, we’ll be saying goodbye to beloved staff members. Julie Brown, who has been at the heart of OEN for 17 years and who provided continuity through the leadership transitions following longtime executive director Linda Weston’s retirement, will be leaving next Friday. For those that have worked closely with Julie Brown all these years, we’ll let you know when a date is set for her send-off party!
Also leaving are Miles Shattuck and Justin Mohle, our marketing team, video-editors, and dear friends. Please come out and see Justin next Wednesday at the PubTalk in Portland, or the following week in Beaverton! In addition, we are working hard to shore up support for each of the Venture Catalysts in their respective regions, and will share news on that progress as it becomes available.
As we recover from saying goodbye and dramatically streamlining OEN’s operations, the show will go on. The OEN Entrepreneurship Awards are confirmed for October 29, 2020 at the new Hyatt Regency near the Portland Convention Center. Oregon Angel Food will happen in September, exact date to be announced. Our signature monthly PubTalks will continue, including the February events in the next two weeks for which tickets are available now. Both panels look amazing, and it would be an honor to our team members to see you there!
The OEN board and key supporters and friends will be hosting a gathering to rally around the organization in early March. To be invited to that event, or to offer other support, please register here.
And finally, regarding HB4033, OEN is committed to executing the study described in the proposed Access to Capital legislation currently under consideration by the Oregon Legislature (you can read details in an earlier blog post). Contract support will be expanded as necessary to deliver the research requested by the State of Oregon, pending final confirmation and scope of work. OEN believes this is a vital program for supporting capital access by Oregon entrepreneurs, and welcomes the opportunity to partner more closely with women, rural, veteran and POC founders.
Obviously this is not what I thought 2020 would look like for OEN. I’m sad to say goodbye to my teammates, and more than a little daunted to tackle this year without them. If there is a silver lining however, it’s that this situation is galvanizing OEN’s community and making us realize how vital and necessary OEN’s role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem really is. We’re more focused than ever on our mission of building economic prosperity in Oregon via innovation and entrepreneurship, and I can see right now that I’m going to learn a lot about what it’s like to be a scrappy entrepreneur!
I welcome your thoughts, your ideas, and your partnership, and I’ll beg your forgiveness if I’m slow to respond. You can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.