On Friday, May 29th, a group of Spokane entrepreneurial ecosystem stakeholders traveled to Bend Oregon to learn from America’s most entrepreneurial community. It was a packed day of meetings with Economic Development of Central Oregon (EDCO), incubators, coworking spaces, higher education, government, and investment groups. The trip was both validating and insightful. Bend has a very strong brand, which enables them to create energy within their region as well as to attract people from outside of the area. EDCO created a venture catalyst position about 5 years ago. This individual is responsible for many of the same things that GSI’s Entrepreneurship Program Director is responsible (i.e. connecting, convening, and facilitating entrepreneurs with support resources). Bend has a small business focus across “traded sectors”. Traded sectors are industry agnostic, but are companies that have growth potential, scalability, export their products and services outside of the Bend region, and are not capital intensive. Bend has created a “stable of experts” from which entrepreneurs and business can obtain mentors and/or necessary support.
The Bend Venture Conference is their annual anchor event that catalyzes the high tech community and is a significant public relations and outreach strategy for Bend. Every year, there are 70-80 applicants, which are narrowed to 5 finalists who pitch during the two-day event. In 2015, BVC hopes to raise $1M in their fund to invest into the winning companies.
As our group reflected on our discussions with the Bend entrepreneurial community, we came away realizing that the Spokane region is on the right course. Some interesting comparisons between our communities include the following:
– Population – 150,000 – Population – 500,000
– 1 community college, 1 university – 8 regional colleges/universities
– Outdoor “Mecca” – Outdoor “Mecca” with 15 more lakes and
4 more ski resorts than Bend
– 26 regional breweries – 30 regional breweries and over 25 wineries
So what is the Spokane region missing? Actually, we are on the same successful path as Bend. While Bend has been an entrepreneurial hotbed for more than a decade, the Spokane region has only really been focusing on entrepreneurship for the past 3-4 years. Spokane needs to continue working on enhancing our startup culture and telling our story. We are on the cusp of becoming a truly successful startup community, one where native entrepreneurs are encouraged and supported, where individuals are recruited to start and grow their businesses in our region, and where existing businesses are provided support to help them scale, grow and remain resilient. You can do your part by spreading the word about all that our incredible region has to offer in the realm of working, learning, living, and playing — “near nature, near perfect”.