Building a Startup Ecosystem
Our startup community has a few people working behind the scenes to keep it moving forward. One of them is Jim Schell, a long time advocate for entrepreneurship and doer of things. In the following guest blog post, Jim provides a ‘state of the union’ for our local ecosystem and as usual, it is a good read.

Our startup community has more than a few people working behind the scenes to keep it moving forward. One of them is Jim Schell, a long time advocate for entrepreneurship in Bend and Oregon. In the following guest blog post, Jim provides a ‘state of the union’ for our local ecosystem. 

In the year 2000 the State of Oregon hired me to start nine “peer advisory board” organizations for small business owners in various communities around our state. Over the course of the following two years I coaxed 60,000 miles out of my trusty Jeep, met a lot of interesting folks, and did what I was hired to do. (Check out Opportunity Knocks to understand the Bend-based organization that I was asked to replicate.)

Jim Schell
Jim Schell

I quickly learned that there were varying degrees of entrepreneurial ecosystem development within those communities, ranging from minimal in some to none in others. Here in Bend, for instance, our entrepreneurial ecosystem was pretty much non-existent in 2000, today it is advanced. (I think so anyway, though I could be a tad biased.) As a result, we have spawned literally hundreds of vibrant entrepreneurial businesses in tech, bio-science, outdoor, food, micro-brewery and UAV industries.

I started thinking about what we’ve done here in Bend and wondering what the rest of the state is doing to be more friendly to business owners and especially to  entrepreneurs who are building the kind of businesses that create jobs.

Lots of entrepreneurial activity at the 1001.
Lots of entrepreneurial activity at the 1001.

From my time spent in those communities I know that some of them have the necessary enthusiasm and passion to develop a successful ecosystem; I have learned however, that a “bias to action” culture is what is usually missing when a community’s infrastructure fails to keep up with its needs. (Since “bias to action” is a key entrepreneurial ingredient, it’s no surprise that this trait transfers into the developing of a vibrant entrepreneurial-friendly culture.)

In order to explain what we’ve done in Bend, we must first define the phrase “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” There are really two parts to Bend’s ecosystem. The first part is the ecosystem that includes our “Traditional Business” sector;  those mature community businesses that created and developed here in the 90s and earlier. These include Bend’s developers, auto dealers, attorneys, CPAs, retail merchants and utility businesses. The service providers that support this Traditional Ecosystem include the Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center, the Rotary Clubs, Opportunity Knocks, the Economic Development folks, and the City of Bend’s Economic Development Advisory Board.

The second part is the ecosystem that includes what we call our “New Economy” business sector. These are those businesses whose customers are located somewhere other than Bend; in economic development jargon they’re known as “traded-sector” businesses. For example, the tech, bio-science, outdoor, and micro-brewery businesses in Bend are burgeoning New Economy industries.

In the past 15 years, Bend has significantly enhanced its entrepreneurial ecosystem to support this New Economy. Additions to our ecosystem — none which existed in 2000, with the exception of Opportunity Knocks — include:

  • Bend Venture Conference: The largest angel conference in Oregon and the Pacific NW.
  • Cascade Angels: An organized and active alliance of angel investors.
  • Seven Peaks Ventures: Bend’s home-based venture fund.
  • Stable of Experts: 125 current and past business experts offering free advice.
  • Bend Venture Catalyst: An EDCO position that supports and fosters our new economy ecosystem.
  • EDCO PubTalks: A monthly community-wide meetup that includes a keynote speaker, funding pitches, and super-serious networking, to oftentimes a SRO crowd of 300.
  • Opportunity Knocks (OK): OK features 20 teams of “Peer Advisory Board” members assisting 175 business owners & entrepreneurs.
  • Key Industry Coordinator: A funded position to helps organize and coordinate the New Economy businesses in four of Bend’s emerging active business clusters; Tech, Bio-Science, Outdoor and Specialty Food Products.
  • Tech Alliance of Central Oregon: A Bend-based organization formed to serve the region’s Bend’s tech entrepreneurs.
  • Oregon Outdoor Alliance: An organization formed to serve Bend’s outdoor-industry businesses.

And that’s not all. There’s also the Bend Bio-Science Consortium, Central Oregon Research Coalition, StartupBend, Founders Pad, Bend Outdoor Worx (outdoor accelerator), BendPoly, Looking Forward, HiDec, Bend Economic Development Advisory Board (BEDAB), BendTECH, and more.

Startup founders pitching at PubTalk.
Startup founders pitching at PubTalk.

So, how does a community go about creating its own bias-to-action culture with the hopes of developing a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem? In Bend the catalyst was our super-active Economic Development of Central Oregon organization (EDCO, a 501 (c) 6), which in turn flourished because it had visionary management and a high level of community-wide support; support which came from local citizens, businesses and governments getting behind the ecosystem-development concept.

Jim and Shannon Sbarra. co-founders of Volcano Veggies, showing off their giant checks from 2014 BVC. Photo by Marissa Chappell Hossick.
Jim and Shannon Sbarra, of Volcano Veggies, with giant checks from 2014 BVC. Photo by Marissa Chappell Hossick.

“Getting behind”, in this case, can be defined as volunteering time and writing fat checks. EDCO also has an entrepreneurial culture itself; a culture that allows them to launch new support organizations, but, at the same time, maintain their autonomy, as evidenced by a lack of need to control what they create.

In your community it could be an independent (non-government) economic development organization like EDCO, it could be a group of current or retired entrepreneurs who are looking for an opportunity to get their juices flowing again or it could be an organic group of citizens who simply want to better their community by enhancing their business ecosystem.

Or, it could be one visionary zealot, someone who is moved to make a difference and has a large dose of bias-to-action energy in his or her DNA. (In Bend, that person was EDCO Director Roger Lee).

If you’re interested in creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem in your own community, one of Bend’s local entrepreneurs (and co-founder of this very blog) James Gentes, has created an online template to help his clients replicate some of what Bend has done. Check out his for a framework for building and measuring your own startup community.

Jim Schell is a transplanted small business and entrepreneurial junkie who has watched Bend’s business ecosystem grow over the last 20 years. Reach him at [email protected]

James Gentes

CEO at
James is a huge fan of Bend's startup scene. He is responsible for creating the BendTech coworking space at 1001 SW Emkay during his many years as board member and president of the Tech Alliance of Central Oregon.

He loves to write code, is passionate about design, and runs as a side hobby. He sold his previous company that he started in Bend, 'The Social Business' to Innovation Garden in New York.

You can reach James by email at [email protected].