The first company to take up residence in BendTECH’s first-ever Startup Founder’s Office is Rupie, a platform that connects game developer talent with game studios. CEO Austin Anderson, previously a lead software engineer at LinkedIn, founded the company in late 2017 as a way to help small to mid-sized game studios find and engage developer talent.
“Without an early source of non-dilutive capital, promising companies cannot live up to their full potential. Early public investment in these innovative companies will support the ability to scale up in Oregon, creating new technologies, products, and jobs,” according to the RFP.
The grants target startups with science or research in the following industries: active lifestyle, advanced manufacturing, natural resources, life science applications, advanced materials, and clean tech/impact investing.
To ensure that applicants have or are receiving adequate wrap-around services, “eligible companies should have existing relationships with service providers like Signature Research Centers, University Tech Transfer Offices and related incubators or accelerators, awardees of Oregon Growth Board funding, or Business Oregon innovation partner organizations.”
The list includes 80 different organizations, including our very own OSU-Cascades Co-Lab. The applications are due Feb. 1. If you’d like more information, here is the RFP and there’s also more information at the Business Oregon website.
The founder of Talkoot expressed a similar sentiment upon winning more than a $1 million in investment Friday. “I didn’t know this even existed,” Brian Hennessy said, referring to Bend’s startup and venture community and thanking the crowd and people that make BVC happen.
Because I’m a recovering lit minor, I always like to find an overall theme in things I write about. This year after talking to numerous people about BVC, the prevailing notion was one of everything moving “upstream,” as one investor described it. The early stage seems less early and increasingly polished. The growth stage seems mature and ready for more dollars. Even the unConference pitches earlier in the week were just all around strong. Basically: it’s no one’s first rodeo. Perhaps after 15 years of BVC, this is expected. However, especially when it comes to Central Oregon founders and pitches, this overall elevation also speaks to the hard work that ecosystem players have been doing to build a larger, stronger entrepreneurial pool.
More on that in a moment. But first, let’s talk about the winners, the keynote, Seven Peaks endowing a CS Scholar at OSU Cascades, and more. It’s a good old-fashioned recap. Here we go:
The early stage
This is the first year that the early stage included companies from outside of Bend. The prizes included a $2,500 cash award from PrideStaff and $20,000 investment from Portland Seed Fund. As mentioned, the pitches were impressive, and also exceptionally varied.
Plover, a Portland-based startup that makes a carwash machine that uses only steam and water and no chemicals, won the stage, earning the five-figure Portland Seed Fund investment. LuDela, whose founder recently moved to Bend, won the audience vote and $2,500 cash prize. That company makes remote-control, real-flame candles. Literally every time founder Jamie Bianchini turns on one of his candles, you can hear the crowd say “whoooooaaaaa.” Because it’s a remote-control, real-fire candle.
The impact track
Now in its third year, the social impact track kicked off the BVC on Thursday afternoon. The four companies tackled everything from reducing carbon dioxide to creating more affordable housing to finding new sources of fresh water.
The OCO Corporation, out of Vida, Ore., won the $100,000 investment. The company converts carbon dioxide generated by industrial and fossil fuel burning power plants into a value-added platform chemical, formic acid.
The growth track
The BVC hands out lots of big checks and this year was no exception. Seven companies overall received some sort of cash or investment. But there was a clear winner and that was Talkoot. Brian, the founder who pitched, has created cloud-based software that helps brands create and organize high-volumes of product copy. Several people noted that he did a fantastic job of illustrating the problem: giant brands like Adidas or Old Navy have hundreds of thousands of product descriptions that they create and manage and there’s no good way for doing so. Brian also seems like the right person to solve this, hailing from the industry and previously running a content agency that creates product copy for companies that are now Talkoot clients.
So the audience got it. Investors did too, because Talkoot won the following:
- $135,000 from the BVC Fund as the Growth Stage winner.
- $500,000 investment from Seven Peaks Ventures.
- $200,000 from Cascade Angels.
- $300,000 Elevate Capital.
It was definitely a big check party for the Hood River-based startup. The other growth stage awards included:
- $100,000 to CommLoan, a commercial real estate finance marketplace company, from the BVC Fund as the runner-up in the growth stage competition.
- $250,000 from Seven Peaks Ventures to Caligoo, a mobile journey software platform providing predictive and personalized experiences that sense, learn, reason, and react in real-time to target customers and reach applications goals. The founder of this startup recently moved to Bend.
- $200,000 from Cascade Angels Fund to Stabilitas, an AI engine designed for security teams that allows them to do the work of 1,000 human analysts in real-time.
Friday’s keynote: Tech is a Brotopia
Friday’s keynote featured Emily Chang, the author of Brotopia, and host of Bloomberg Technology, interviewed by Corey Schmid, a partner at Seven Peaks Ventures. Corey asked great questions and the resulting conversation was illuminating, wide-reaching and perhaps, if you’re a woman or just a general human who has been paying attention to any news for the past year, infuriating. Emily offered her well-reported take on the evolution of the brotopia in Silicon Valley and why tech jobs, tech founders and tech investors remain primarily men.
“If we can build self-driving cars, send rockets to the moon and connect the world, we can hire more women and pay them fairly,” Emily noted early in the talk. And you do wonder, why is it so hard? Yet, the ensuing conversation between Emily and Corey revealed how deeply engrained the gender disparity is in the industry.
Emily recalled prominent tech founders who lamented not having any women on their founding teams and the notion of some LPs in VC funds that investing in women and making money are somehow mutually exclusive. Turns out, they’re not. Emily said, and in fact research shows, that founding teams that include women are more profitable. She dug into the trouble with the concept of “meritocracy” and how it allows men in tech to sidestep the acknowledgement of their own privilege to focus, instead, on why they’re so deserving of their success.
She had some heartening reports—tech companies committed to hiring women into leadership positions, the founding of All Raise, a collaborative effort by women in VC to address gender disparity in the VC world, and the success reported by companies who do prioritize diversity. One audience member asked whether it would take an entire generation to get the industry to a place of equality. Emily noted that’s she optimistic it could be sooner.
I certainly hope so. Even when it seems like everyone is discussing gender inequality and in agreement that it should be remedied, the progress is exhaustingly slow. Consider that the five growth stage presenters immediately following Emily’s presentation were all men (Talkoot does have a woman cofounder who wasn’t on stage). Most of their decks featured all-male or nearly all-male leadership teams. I think I counted the photos/names of three or four women in total featured in the growth stage slides. It’s important to note that EDCO, the organization that puts on the BVC, does a phenomenal job of prioritizing diverse emcees, panelists, and keynotes for the conference, and doesn’t select the finalists.
At the Elevate Inclusion Summit in Portland a few weeks ago, one woman in VC noted that even as she pays attention to every female founder who asks for her time, she still sees exponentially more male founders. So there’s a pipeline problem. The pool of female founders needs to be larger to start so that more filter up to the VC level. There’s an entire brotopia to dismantle and rebuild. It’s a complicated, long-standing, multi-layered issue that won’t be solved overnight. And even so, as Emily pointed out, we can send rockets to the moon. Rockets to the moon.
The big announcement from OSU and Seven Peaks Ventures
Finally, there was an exciting announcement to round out the BVC and put Central Oregon on a faster path to building our pipeline of tech talent. Dino Vendetti, founder of Seven Peaks, announced that the firm’s partners have established and funded the Oregon State Cascades Faculty Scholar in Computer Science. The first recipient is Yong Bakos, a CS instructor there, and awesome supporter of Bend’s tech community, CS students and student entrepreneurs, and startups all around.
The Bulletin notes that the gift supports “classroom activities, rather than the faculty member’s salary,” and that Yong will use “the money is to pay stipends to students working on software projects for community organizations.”
A heartfelt thanks to Seven Peaks for their support of the CS program, and a hearty congratulations to Yong, who has been working so hard since he arrived to build a CS program here in Bend. Your work is appreciated, noticed and now more funded 🙂
The 15th Annual Bend Venture Conference is a wrap. Congratulations to all who pitched and participated. There was likely a lot of celebrating last night. And then – it’s back to work.
Founder and Managing Director Dino Vendetti noted via a news release:
“Over the past five years, we’ve worked hard to claim a spot for Oregon on the map as a viable hub for capital and a great place to start a business. In that time, we’ve expanded our team, advisors and events portfolio to provide the highest level of coaching and support to entrepreneurs in the Northwest and beyond in other dynamic Western U.S. markets.”
Dino told Geekwire that he was on the front-end of investors who were interested in looking beyond Silicon Valley as place to launch and grow tech companies. Many then were skeptical that startups could thrive outside of major metropolitan areas, and especially outside the hub of startup and tech activity that is the Bay Area. (Indeed I recall interviewing people in 2013 and 2014 for stories and talking to investors who viewed an Oregon zip code, especially a Bend one, as a deterrent).
Fortunately, there’s been some noticeable progress in this area over the past five years, and Seven Peaks has certainly helped lead the charge, highlighting the potential and opportunity found in Oregon startups. “Today my VC friends from Silicon Valley don’t say we are crazy nearly as often — I take that as progress,” Dino says in the Geekwire piece.
While the VC firm has grown its fund size, it has also increased its partner ranks. The team now includes four general partners, DocuSign co-founder Tom Gonser; former Philips executive Corey Schmid; and former Oracle executive Matt Abrams. Former Thomson Reuters Division CEO Tony Abena joined as an operating partner; and five-time founder Dave Parker joined as a venture partner in Seattle. The Seven Peaks investment approach is purpose-built to surround portfolio founders with the help and resources they need at each unique stage of growth and scale, according to the news release.
The firm has already put some of its second fund to work — with more investments to come. Current investments from Seven Peaks II include Trusona, Matcherino, Metricstory, Owl Insights, Cricket Health, Torch 3D and ZAPinfo. The firm plans to invest in about 25 companies total. The fund investors included institutional investors such as the State of Oregon and the OSU Foundation, as well as family offices and returning limited partners.
Congratulations to the Seven Peaks team!
Bend Venture Conference winner RFPIO announced a $25M investment from K1 Investment Management today. The announcement was the largest round yet for the young startup, and represented a nice return for BVC investors.
- Locals Compass, a marketplace that connects travelers with locals for personalized itineraries.
- Kidcareshare, an app lets you instantly schedule and trade childcare with friends and family.
- BladeRunner Energy, a micro-hydro technology based on biomimicry that harnesses renewable energy from the natural flow of water.
- Olitis, the creator of iiShakers, which are salt and pepper shakers with an integrated, smart lighting technology.
- Life Exec, a life management resource dedicated to ensuring communication between you and your loved ones in any situation.
- Investipro, a cloud-based platform that guides HR professionals through workplace investigations.
These Bend-based founders will pitch their startup on Thursday. The judges, which include representatives from many NW venture and angel funds, will then select 5 startups to present to the entire conference on Friday. The winner will receive a package of prizes that has yet to be announced, exposure to investors and general bragging rights for life.
PitchFestNW is just one part of TechFestNW. The two-day conference also includes speakers, workshops and many exhibitors. If that sounds like your jam, then get your tickets and head over the mountain.
Project Entrepreneur aims to provide “women access to the tools, training and networks needed to build scalable, economically impactful companies.” The national initiative was started by the Rent the Runway founders and is supported by UBS. Project Entrepreneur hosts multi-city events, a venture competition, and a 5-week accelerator program.
Jen’s two day program in NYC will include:
… hands-on workshops and problem solving sessions to help you move your company forward and overcome current challenges. You’ll be joined by top female entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders from across industries who are there to teach, mentor and motivate. Special guest Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global, Founder of Huffington Post and author will join us for a keynote conversation on Friday!
To refresh your memory, Kidscareshare is a childcare app that allows people to find trusted care providers and also exchange care with people in their social networks. Jen launched the startup last fall, spurred on her own experiences scrambling to find affordable childcare on a regular basis.
For the New York program, Project Entrepreneur will next select 10 finalists to participate in the Live Pitch Competition to win one of five $10,000 grants and a spot in the 5-week Accelerator at Rent the Runway HQ. Good luck Jen! Central Oregon is cheering you on.
If you’re not familiar with the Guardian Group, take some time to learn about their work. The Bend-based organization is “made up of former special operations military, law enforcement and intelligence community professionals, all working to end sex trafficking in the United States.”
The Bulletin covered the event, noting that:
The Guardian Group searches the websites looking for ads and information. Team members then manually use publicly available search engines and programs online to connect information on the victims and send reports to law enforcement. On Saturday, the students worked to make the process less time consuming by compiling all the different search engines and programs into one location.