The 2015 Bend Venture Conference is a wrap. The big checks have been handed out, the free food is gone and the happily funded startups are probably back to work (hopefully after a lil’ celebrating). So first the big winners, and then some big takeaways.
The PNW’s largest angel conference doled out $620,000 in investments and prizes today. Six early stage and five growth stage companies pitched on stage. And the winners were:
- Odysys This Bend-based startup took home the BVC first prize, a $205,000 investment. Founded last year by Kent Schnepp, the startup provides a digital marketing platform for independent hotels. Now, not that we’re biased (we kind of are) but damn do we love it when investment dollars go to Bend startups. Schnepp started Odysys here. He has about a dozen employees downtown and as is expected, is growing. Congrats!
- The Perfect Company This Vancouver, Wash.-based startup makes smart kitchen scales and connected apps that are changing how people cook. They snagged a $125,000 runner up investment from the BVC LLC as well as the $50,000 Mandala Firestarter prize. Need a tip for a winning pitch? Founder Mike Wallace started his presentation by playing a paper guitar and ended it by blending up a lychee martini for the panelists. And the fact that his company already has $4.1 million in revenue likely made it that much sweeter.
- Scratch-It This Portland-based company came over the mountains and cleaned house. They’re the biggest winners of the day — but everyone is a winner in our book — taking home a $125,000 investment from Cascade Angels and $100,000 from Seven Peaks Ventures. The company specializes in interactive “reveal” marketing content. What is that? Well founder Robert Haydock sent the BVC crowd a scratch-it message to their phones — you use your finger to “scratch” away the surface message ala a lottery ticket to reveal the prize underneath. The prize was free drinks from the conference. I’d definitely scratch another.
- SnoPlanks Co-founders James Nicol and Ryan Holmes won the $15,000 Bendbroadband Early Stage prize. These guys are making hand-crafted, bamboo skis and snowboards right here in Bend. They’ve even planted a bamboo forest on the west side of the state to source their materials. They wanted to create a product that was made for powder (now, let’s get some snow in here) and they already have $50k of sales. Keep your eyes on them.
Congratulations to everyone who presented. To a one, the pitches were polished, the ideas innovative and the progress inspiring. This was a strong crop, and it makes me proud to be an Oregonian. Now a few takeaways …
- You can do tech outside of Silicon Valley. Even just three years ago, this was a big question. Can you do tech in Portland? Can you do tech in Bend? What if you’re not in California? Will you just shrivel up and die? The resounding message from the growth stage companies pitching today (4 Oregon and 1 with a toe into Washington) was you can survive and thrive outside of the Golden State. These companies have revenue. They have insanely talented teams and investors and they’re making it happen in the places they live and love. In a Q&A following his keynote address, Darren Pleasance, Google’s Managing Director of Global Customer Acquisitions, was asked a question about creating startup and tech ecosystems outside of Silicon Valley. He noted that Silicon Valley specializes in a unique type of rocket ship growth, but that success can also come from a steady, upward climb — even if it’s not a straight hockey stick. And he said, “You shouldn’t have to be in Silicon Valley to be have those successes.” Creating an ecosystem here that supports and grows our own startups has been a driving motivator of BVC and its many supporters.
- Bend’s outdoor products industry is on fire. On the Wednesday before BVC, Bend Outdoor Worx sponsored its own pitch day. I heard from many that they anticipated 100ish people to show up. There was a standing room only crowd of at least 300. The Robert Axle project won $10,000 at that event. Then SnoPlanks shows up at BVC two days later and wins $15,000. The energy around outdoor gear startups right now in Bend is palpable. Companies seem to be sprouting up everyday. We’re excited to report on more them.
- Give a founder a hug. In one of the best parts of the BVC, Sam Blackman, CEO of Elemental, came back to the stage to report on the happenings of his startup, which as you know, was recently acquired by Amazon Web Services for a reported $500 million. Elemental’s acquisition represented the first exit for BVC investors and a victory for especially Portland’s tech scene, which has been waiting awhile for a big exit (see takeaway #1 re: Can Oregon do tech? Yes we can). In an awesomely honest conversation with the crowd, Blackman showed the original slides he used to present to BVC in 2007. He joked that he wasn’t sure if he would have invested in Elemental back then. And when asked about grit, he said that even today he “feels like he’s always fighting something.” Entrepreneurship is no easy road.Our hats off to all the founders who presented today and who will likely go back to work tomorrow, even though it’s Saturday. You’re working your asses off to follow a dream. And we hope you get there.
You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].