By Sean Leslie
Founder, Cascade Cadence
The annual Bend Outdoor Worx (BOW) Breakout event started with free beer and ended with a live punk band rattling the foundation of downtown’s Tower Theatre. Between the beer and the music, BOW awarded more than $15,000 to young outdoor product companies, helping them to continue their growth while at the same time giving them an opportunity to pitch their businesses to an audience of hundreds, many of whom were of potential investors.
“Tonight, the road to success runs right through Bend, OR,” cheered emcee Gary Bracelin to an energized crowd as he kicked off the event, 10 Barrel beer in hand.
The three early stage outdoor companies, finalists chosen by a panel of BOW judges, then vied for the $5,000 BreakOut Award, pitching the audience on their businesses and products. Local companies Sew Go, a lightweight, low-profile trail gaiter manufacturer founded by Lindsay Brisko; and Lacuda Swim, a local manufacturer of resistance training swimsuits founded by Claire Oester; went up against Denver’s Mystic Devices, an outdoor lighting equipment company co-founded by Chris Slaughter.
After an intermission—during which a trials rider jumped his bike over each of the early stage contestants as they lay prostrate on stage—Camber Outdoors’ Deanne Buck introduced Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a surprise speaker who nearly didn’t make the event after enduring a root canal procedure earlier in the day.
“(Events like this are) the proof that recreation is a key economic driver in the west,” Wyden told the audience.
Companies contending for the Ready to Roll Award then took the stage, with Seattle’s Ombraz Sunglasses, Alaska’s Heather’s Choice lightweight backing food, and Australia’s Bluey Merino wool clothing brand each pitching the audience and a panel of BOW judges. The winner? Heather’s Choice, with founder Heather Kelly taking home a check for $10,000.
Lindsay Brisko’s Sew Go took home the $5,000 BreakOut Award, as voted on by the audience.
“This is verification that the brand can work, and that there’s need for this product,” said Lindsay, who dreamed up her handcrafted, customizable, low-profile gaiters while hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Continental Divide Trail. In fact, it was while hiking the PCT that Lindsay first came to Bend.
“I’ve had such a warm welcome here, including from the outdoor industry. There’s so much willingness to collaborate and share knowledge, and so much passion,” she said. “I think that culture and community is totally unique to Bend.”
Writer’s note: As a long-time member of the outdoor industry, I was heartened to experience the energy, and collaborative and supportive environment at the BOW Breakout event. It was also great to see that nearly every presenter made some kind of pledge to support environmental or social causes, either directly or via partnerships with charitable organizations. Passionate people doing great things in a selfless, friendly, sometimes boisterous environment? Sign me up.
By David Welton
Bend has a promising startup landscape, but like many other things in town, it’s “under construction.” One advantage we have is that we can learn from the mistakes that other towns have made. One problem that many other places with successful tech industries face is that housing supply has not kept pace with the number of people who want to live there. This drives up prices, with some ugly consequences for the people forced out, as well as the broader community. For an area that has yet to fully cement its position as a local tech hub, there are also some direct costs to businesses:
Knowledge businesses, which include most startups, depend on their employees: without the right employees, even the best of ideas will go nowhere. And good employees, like everyone else, are interested in being well-compensated for what they do. Bend’s a great place to live, but being able to live in a place with so many opportunities for outdoor recreation only goes so far, and spending power still counts for a lot.
Most people spend something like ⅓ of their income on housing – it’s their single largest expense. Since 2012, the price of housing in Bend has nearly doubled. This means that if you run a business, or are investing in a company, your would have to spend twice what you would have for the people in your company – or local portfolio companies if you’re an investor – to occupy the same housing. In other words, your ability to attract and retain talented new workers in Bend, has taken a big hit, because of rapidly appreciating house prices. To be fair, 2012 was at the bottom of the trough, so we can debate the exact numbers, but the point stands: keeping house prices under control would make it easier to hire new employees who do not already own a house in Bend, or if you’re self funded, give you a longer runway.
The direct effects on local companies are obvious, but there are knock-on effects of the housing crisis as well. Do you have kids in school, or plan to one day, and want them to have good teachers? Ever needed a nurse, firefighters or the police? These are all hard working people our community needs, who may one day be priced out if Bend’s housing prices continue to climb. This is not hypothetical – look at the California Bay Area as an example of how badly things can go wrong. Not to mention all the people who work in service industries that pay even less.
As with any other good, housing is governed by the laws of supply and demand: building enough housing causes prices to drop. And as this article explains, there are a wide variety of ways to add housing, ranging from pure sprawl to tall towers, and everything in between.
Bend is growing out, some, thanks to the UGB process, but also needs to better utilize the existing space by building in and up – which also adds needed variety in our housing. The first step is to remove legal barriers to that development. Currently, zoning laws forbid most of Bend from being developed for anything but expensive single family homes, and as this article states, “density is how the working poor outbid the rich for urban land.”
How can you help?
- Sign up for the Bend YIMBY group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BendYIMBY or if you’re busy, sign up for the low volume announcement mailing list: https://bendyimby.com/join-us/ – fixing this problem is an ongoing, collaborative effort.
- Email your city councilors at [email protected] – one of the advantages of being in a town that’s not too big is that they do read and even respond to their email. Ask them to enact rule changes that favor more housing, and a larger variety of housing in Bend. A current example is aligning the “comp plan” with the zoning map. Another idea would be allowing up to 4-plexes “by right” in all areas of the city zoned for housing. Favoring the construction of proposed apartments in all of the city – not just on the east side – would also bring a lot of supply on line.
- If you’d like to learn more about the housing crisis and housing policy, we have a reading list here: https://bendyimby.com/2017/06/12/yimby-reading/
When it comes to diversity in the workplace, both Teri Hockett, with the Technology Association of Oregon, and myself have heard several commonly asked questions, including: What does inclusion really mean? Why do we need to pursue diversity when Central Oregon isn’t really that diverse? Are we forcing the matter in a region that doesn’t need it? What does this equal pay law mean for a small business? What is really considered sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace today? Does that stuff really happen in Central Oregon companies? And “Oh my, I had a woman come to me about what she was experiencing at work I and I had no idea what to say or how to advise her. What should I do?”
So Teri approached me and asked if I would help develop a equity, diversity and leadership workshop series targeted at startups and small businesses that would offer practical knowledge on these topics at an affordable price? As the former principal research director for Microsoft, I focused on diversity and specifically bring more underrepresented groups into computing, so this was in my wheelhouse. I opened the Ranemaker Institute and began developing the TAO workshop series, researching, and working with the City of Bend and the Bend Chamber on how we could better support our City’s equity needs.
As a result, TAO launched the Diversity Leadership Series a few months ago. These workshops, which I lead, are for all industry sectors not just technology and provide hands on learning for our businesses, non-profits and government agencies at an affordable price. The workshops will help employees, managers and senior leaders determine how to deal with unconscious biases, harassment, recruitment, retention and advancement of a diverse workforce, managing across generations and a number of other topics to help businesses better serve their customers and increase employee satisfaction.
There’s been other progress as well. The City of Bend passed a unanimous resolution on March 7th to aspire to be the most inclusive city in Oregon and in America. Bend also wants to be proactive in supporting our growing community. Most of our population in Central Oregon works for businesses with less than 100 people. These businesses create goods and services that must meet the needs of a diverse population that either visits the region or is distributed globally. I launched the Inclusive Innovation Initiative to provide a committee to tackle difficult equity and inclusion issues facing our city, the workshop series and free advising.
I’ve also been offering advising hours to start-ups and small businesses via the SBDC at COCC. I’ll be advising businesses on issues such as diversity, inclusion and equity. I’ll also provide support for under-represented groups considering starting a new business. You can schedule a meeting today.
When we suggest we need to expand organizational diversity it doesn’t mean ‘affirmative action’ per se. Instead it often means looking at the broader definition. Asking ourselves, do we have members on our team that are adding value because of their different race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, veteran status, abilities, age, skill set, knowledge, culture, education, and training? Do these members push us to think, approach problems, and create solutions in different ways.
Bend is growing at an exceptionally fast rate, and our region’s diversity is growing. Inclusion helps us recognize that everyone’s voice and opinion matter and there are different strategies we should take to ensure each voice has the same level of importance. In speaking with organizations, I explain that, “Most people have good intentions and with a little education, such as utilizing strategies to better connect, we can work more effectively with each other and remove a lot of misunderstandings.
Especially in the technology community, we have a lot of equity and inclusion issues. And while we are driving so hard to innovate before the next person, we forget the time we need to invest in our innovative teams to ensure they are performing at their best.” We understand the importance of technical training but often forget the soft skills is what is necessary to really drive innovative teams and successful companies utilizing the full potential of all their employees.
Check out the next course in the diversity series workshop. You can also catch me at the next City Club forum on June 21. I’ll be moderating a panel on Gender Partnerships in the Workplace: Where We Have Been, Where We Can Be.
By Julie Harrelson, fund manager, Cascade Angels
At the 2017 Bend Venture Conference (BVC) just a few weeks ago, LeadMethod, a lead management software platform, received almost $500,000 in investment. We talked with LeadMethod CEO Justin Johnson to find out how the funds will be used to grow the company (hint: more staff, bigger office, fast growth) and we also got some great advice for other startups looking for funding.
1. Tell us about LeadMethod.
Well, first of all, LeadMethod is an awesome group of hard working, friendly, and wicked smart people that are relentless about building a culture that people want to be a part of. As a result of all this hard work and dedication, we have built the world’s first channel revenue optimization software company. LeadMethod helps large businesses that sell through channel partners and distributors better understand channel sales operations, improve engagement, and ultimately increase revenue.
2. During the Bend Venture Conference, LeadMethod was awarded close to $500,000. How will you use these funds to grow the company?
At the time of BVC, we had 12 employees, all of who were crammed into a 1,200 square foot office. We recently moved into a 4,500 square foot office and are in the process of hiring six more people in development, sales, and client success.
The funds will primarily go to hiring employees in order to drive our ‘channel referral’ sales strategy. Our new team members will be proactively working with the 13,000 current users of LeadMethod to generate referrals to future clients.
3. Four different funds, including Cascade Angels, invested in LeadMethod through the conference. In addition to the capital, what other resources do these funds provide?
The Bend Venture Conference investments were part of a larger $1M raise for LeadMethod. We have always valued our investors for more than just the money, but also for adding a unique value to our organization. It’s a team effort here, and we always want to have involved investors that can help us get further, faster. The team at Cascade Angels has always been there for us, to help in any way. (Julie and Robert even helped us build furniture for our new office.) We are also bringing a Cascade Angels investor on as a board observer.
Other investors in this round are helping with strategic partners, clients, and relationships with future acquirers.
4. Where do you see LeadMethod in 3-5 years?
Growth is our core strategy for the next 3-5 years. We have to grow fast and own as much of this market as possible. But, that growth has to maintain the quality that we have always sustained and which has resulted in 100% client renewal. We are also watching our culture and employee well-being to make sure that even in times of rapid growth we are maintaining a strong, healthy culture and strong client service.
5. Any advice for companies looking for funding?
Yes, lots of advice!
- Don’t think about raising outside funding unless you are very serious about building a fast growing company with the goal of an exit in the next 5-7 years. It’s great to have product that people are buying, and you can turn that into a great job and income. But, too many people get caught up on raising money when they should just stay as a small business.
- Don’t waste your time (or anyone else’s) trying to raise money for a product that you haven’t validated yet. You need to build the product (or at least a strong prototype), test it in the market, and even start to generate recurring revenue before you go out and ask for money. If you can’t do those things bootstrapping it, then you likely won’t get much traction with angels or VCs.
- If you do decide to take on money and you have something that angels or VCs want to invest in, then take your time to pick the investors that best fit with your goals and values as an organization.
6. Any book recommendations for startup entrepreneurs?
I wish I had time to read a full book, but it’s just not in the cards right now. I spend my time reading blogs and articles on scaling startups and funding strategies. The ones that I like best are:
Five nonprofits will face off on stage, competing for a grand prize of $10,000. In addition to the grand prize, there will be an audience choice award of $2,500 given to one of the presenters. The five presenting nonprofits are:
- Deschutes Children’s Foundation
- Healthy Beginnings
- High Desert Food and Farm Alliance
- LaPine Community Kitchen
- Treehouse Therapies
These five nonprofits have completed a gauntlet of workshops focused on marketing and messaging, business plan development, fundraising strategy and crafting a pitch — all leading up to this one opportunity to compete for the cash.
Ken Streater will deliver the keynote address. Streater is an international rafting company owner, social entrepreneur, acclaimed author, successful real estate brokerage partner and community growth innovator. The panel of judges include Jodie Barram, of the Tower Theatre Foundation; Betsy Warriner, from Volunteer Connect; Matthew McCoy, from COCC; Ted Schoenborn from the Bend Parks and Rec; and Julie Gregory from Oregon Community Foundation.
So if you want to have a few drinks, eat some good food, all while learning about five unique and excellent organizations, join us. Your inner philanthropist will thank you.
Pitch For a Purpose
What: Five nonprofits will take the stage to compete for a sponsor-supported cash prize and an “audience choice” award.
When: May 10th, 2016 at 5:00 p.m.
Where: The Riverhouse Convention Center
More info: coimpactsummit.com