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.

Gary Bracelin, BOW co-founder, handing out the big checks.

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.

A cyclist jumps over founders. On a bike.

“(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.

Claire Oester, founder of Lacuda Swim, pitches her startup.

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.

Sean Leslie is a contributor to Startup Bend and president and chief content officer of Cascade Cadence Content Marketing. Contact him at [email protected].