I spent last night at McMenamins in downtown Bend, Oregon for the June edition of EDCO’s PubTalk. This monthly event brings together entrepreneurs, investors and professionals to learn about exciting new companies and how to collaborate better to improve the “startup ecosystem” in Central Oregon.
For those of you who couldn’t make it, here are some highlights:
First off, they moved the food buffet across the hall and set up a live-stream of the event in that room. I think this move was brilliant. It lets more people into the main room for the event, and sets up an “overflow” room where even more people can get in on all the fun.
Brad Baker from Works Electric showed off the new electric scooters he’s been hand-building over in Portland. He calls it the Rover, and it looks like kind of like a beefed-up version of those Razor scooters that you see kids riding around on.
The Rover appears to be a solid machine capable of accomplishing its main goals of being a cheap, fast, reliable method of urban transportation that you can fold up and store in your apartment. I could see someone in a two-car family with a short commute ditching one car for a Rover.
The main drawback, from my point of view, is that the Rover looks like it was designed by a mechanical engineer. Yes, I understand the irony of an accountant criticising the aesthetic qualities of pretty much anything (Hello kettle? This is the pot. You’re black!). That being said, I’ve seen huge improvements in automobile design pay off big for certain brands (like Kia).
We also got an update from the founders of Humm Kombucha (formerly known as Kombucha Momma). They recently re-branded as they seek to go national with their product. It’s not official, but I’m pretty certain that they chose the name “Humm” because it’s the first sound that comes out of your mouth when someone asks you what kombucha is.
Humm is in growth mode. They’ve got a new kombucha brewery and tasting room in Bend, and they’re looking to add even more capacity. They said that they’ve sold out all their tea (again), but it looks like all the proceeds are being reinvested to scale up production. Good luck to them, it seems like it will be tricky to manage that growth and the need for working capital.
Amplion Research was represented by Adam Carroll, Ph.D. I don’t know about anyone else, but I thought his talk was a little light on the subject of biomarkers. You know, what they are, how they can be useful, which ones are most significant, etc.
His company does stuff that involves lots of really fancy-sounding words that I can’t spell. Basically, they make a software product that helps drug companies match up their potential new drugs with the people that are most likely to benefit from that drug.
Amplion seems to have the backing of some of the local heavy-hitters. They’ve got that scalable, capital-efficient business model that guys like Dino Vendetti over at Seven Peaks Ventures are so focused in on. I’m guessing we’ll hear more from Amplion in the future.
The keynote speaker last night was Jim Huston from the Portland Seed Fund. Don’t let the name fool you. PSF doesn’t just invest in Portland-based companies. They seem pretty open to investing all over the Northwest. In fact, they just made a recent investment in Droplr, whose office is about a block away from mine.
I find it interesting how collaborative the different early-stage funds are in Oregon, but it makes sense to spread out the risk by getting multiple funds involved. For example, PSF might work with Cascade Angels, Seven Peaks Ventures, and/or individual investors when they make an investment.
One thing that stood out to me was when Jim said that Portland’s startup ecosystem was really founder-lead, and that the collaboration has to occur organically. As much as we might like to, we can’t legislate Bend into being an amazing startup-tech-hub. Even with all the work that EDCO does to promote Central Oregon, it’s just “pushing on a string” if people aren’t working together and getting out of their own little bubbles.
So there you have it. This accountant’s take on the June PubTalk. I’m already looking forward to the next one!