Julie Harrelson, CEO of the Harrelson Group, Fund Manager of Cascade Angels, has a beloved penchant for taking selfies with entrepreneurs, investors and people of Oregon who support building a strong Oregon through entrepreneurialism. This blog continues a series of selfies + blogs about the amazing people she’s met in the last couple of years. #julieselfie

I first met Pam Stevenson, local startup strategist, pitch coach and founder of Awesome Bend, in 2013 during my first Bend Venture Conference. An astute strategist and accomplished athlete, Pam has contributed much to the Central Oregon Community. I caught up with her and her dog Sprocket one recent September morning for a “board” meeting on an SUP on the Deschutes River.

Julie Harrelson, Pam Stevenson and Sprocket.
Julie Harrelson, Pam Stevenson and Sprocket.

How many years have you been in Bend and what key changes have you seen in the entrepreneurial community?

Sixteen years ago, I quit my dream job to live in my dream place.  There weren’t a lot of job opportunities, so I had to create my own.  I started my own consulting business and my first client was a little startup called Ruffwear.  I became the General Manager and we squeezed eight employees and all our inventory into a 1,500 square foot building in the Old Mill.  I also began teaching entrepreneurship at another little startup called OSU-Cascades.  We had one building on the COCC campus and all six of the graduating business majors took my class because it was the only elective.

Back then, university entrepreneurship programs in general were just starting to come onto the scene and Bend’s entrepreneurial eco-system hardly existed. In 2004, I joined a volunteer board led by Dan Hobin and Karen Fast that launched the Bend Venture Conference.

After that, I became a pitch coach, working with many of the presenting companies at BVC. The BVC has grown to be the largest angel conference in the Pacific Northwest deploying over $1 million in capital. Now Bend has an angel fund, a venture capital fund, several co-working spaces and a thriving entrepreneurial community.  And this year, OSU-Cascades will be launching its new campus and the Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship.

Another major change I have seen is on the river, where I live. When I first moved here, hardly anyone floated the river.  Now, on a hot summer day, we reach flows of 500+ FPH (floaters per hour). The crowds have included unicorns, pizza slices and a ferret on a paddleboard.

What drives you to be involved and give so much back to our community?

The incredible people of Bend are what make this my home. Over the years, I have witnessed several friends become disgruntled with the growth and change and decide to move to the “next Bend.” Fernie, B.C., McCall, ID, Steamboat Springs, CO, even Maui.  Everyone moved back, thankfully.  Bend may not be perfect, but it can still be awesome if we don’t take it for granted and we stay involved.

One and a half years ago, I launched Awesome Bend. Every quarter we hold a Pitch Night where five finalists vie for $1,000 to do something that helps make Bend more awesome. I like to call it “Shark Tank for community good.”  We’ve got 10 generous trustees who chip in the cash and we usually fill the room with people who leave inspired to come up with their own ideas.

As an athlete, what core principles do you think apply to success in business?

Years ago, I started the Bend Adventure Racing Klub (BARK).  There are so many great analogies between adventure racing and business—teamwork, navigation, strategy, preparation, determination.  But this Olympics marked the 20th anniversary of the Golden Shoes, so to answer that question I’ll share my story that I posted recently:


The Golden Shoes

I met my soul mate, at the age of six
Just down the road at the rubber plant.
Floppy blue canvas uppers with gum rubber soles.
PF Flyers!

Scraped my elbows, bruised my knees,
Even got a black front tooth.
But, in my PF Flyers
I ran like the wind, I jumped over the moon.
Run, skip, hop, fly, dream.
“Mom, I’m going to the Olympics!”

PF Flyers were my gateway sneakers.
Converse All Stars
Puma cleats
Waffle Racers…
I’d loiter at the Athlete’s Foot
Just to ogle the aglets and grope the grommets.
And dream Five Ring dreams.

Off to college.
Blew out my knee on the hockey field.
Graduated and sent a letter to Nike.
“No Thanks,” they said.
Went home to visit.
“Mom! Where are my sneakers?”
“Those stinky old things? I threw them out. ”

“You’re not good enough.”
How often do we let those four words
Crush our dreams?

Took a job at General Motors.
Grey business suit and grey business shoes.
Grey cars. Grey weather. Grey people.
At the end of the day, though,
I’d huck those heels
Slip on my sneaks
and run like the wind, jump over the moon.

Eleven years later, I got that job.
Sneaker Engineer.
“Here,” they said, “Design the fastest shoe ever.”
So I did.

And that’s how we made it to the Olympics after all,
My shoes and me.

With a little help from Michael Johnson.

What’s one of your favorite business achievements?

The Golden Shoes are tough to top, but I like to think that the best is always yet to come.  I am just now re-launching my business as a Startup Strategist & Pitch Coach. My tagline is “start something”  Game-changing.  Heart-warming. Thought-provoking. Earth-shattering… it’s up to each person to fill in the blank with whatever drives their purpose.  I am here to inspire and support those dreams.

Favorite place to adventure or vacation or both?

Maui.  I thought our new surf park might change that but to be honest, it’s still not as good as 80-degree saltwater, even with sharks.  I go there whenever there is a good south swell and a cheap plane ticket.  Someday, when we have more time, I’ll tell you about the day I surfed with Laird Hamilton (sort of).

Kelly Kearsley

Kelly Kearsley, the co-founder of StartupBend.com, is passionate about startups, entrepreneurship and Bend. In addition to writing this blog, she creates content and manages content projects for global financial companies, tech firms and startups. She began her career as a newspaper journalist and later worked as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in WSJ.com, Money Magazine, CNNMoney, MSNBC and Runner's World. See her work at kellykearsley.contently.com or kellykearsley.com.

You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].
Kelly Kearsley