If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic, then yesterday’s BendTECH’s unConference is a great place to start. The first-come, first-serve group of entrepreneurs was certainly one of the strongest cohorts we’ve seen pitch at the event. The pitches were polished and in most cases, the founders had already launched.

The Big Board of people pitching.

The audience turned out. We counted nearly 130 people, ready to ring cowbells, drink some beer and ask thoughtful questions. They then voted on this year’s winners. The pitches that took the prizes were:

  • First place ($2,500) went to Mandala Mission, an anxiety and depression management app pitched by founder McKenna Dempsey.
  • Second place ($1,500) went to LuDela, a remote-controlled, real-flame candle, pitched by founder Jamie Bianchini.
  • Third place ($500) went to Lacuda Swim, resistance training swimwear pitched by founder Claire Oester.
Past winners, current winners, unConference founders, BendTECH board members.

The winners also received memberships to BendTECH coworking. In addition to the winners, there were a few other items that I believe are worthy of noting. First up, our startup community has been working so very hard to support local entrepreneurs via programming, inexpensive coworking space, resources, mentorship, funding and more.

The fruits of those efforts were definitely on display yesterday. Consider that nine of the 16 founders pitching hail from the OSU CoLab, the BendX Entrepreneurial Women’s Bootcamp, or BendTECH. It’s gratifying to see those organizations, many of which are run on a shoestring and/or supported by volunteers, lift up founders, and in turn, see those founders truly progress.

McKenna Dempsey, founder of Mandala Mission, winner of the 2018 unConference.

Another observation: Seven of the 16 founders pitching were women. Having female founders represent nearly half the field was inspiring, and notable because that hasn’t always been the case for the unConference — or other pitch competitions as well. Women founders comprise 17% of venture-backed companies. Yes, the unConference founders are early stage, and many not seek investment. However, part of remedying the founder gender gap (and the funding gender gap) is increasing the ranks of women founders, and creating a bigger pipeline of potentially fundable companies.


Lastly, congratulations to everyone who pitched yesterday. Reiterating the earlier sentiments, every entrepreneur really brought their best, from startups creating Choose Your Adventure style films (Upickflix) to gluten-free granola (Bird Seed Food Co.) to software to reduce subscription cancellations (Raaft) and many more.

Of course, the unConference couldn’t happen without our sponsors, who continue to step up and support our startup community. A heartfelt thanks to Business Oregon, Bendbroadband Business, Get Benefits and the Associated Technologies Council, Price/Fronk, St. Charles Health System, City of Bend, and the 1001 Tech Center.

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