For the 6th consecutive year, the Entrepreneurship MBAs ventured over the Cascades to attend the 11th annual Bend Venture Conference. This is becoming one of the largest Angel conferences in the region with about $940,000 awarded in cash and prizes. That is no small chunk of change.
Since I attended the conference last year, I had the benefit of having some frame of reference and a comparison. Overall, I enjoyed this year’s conference more than last year. The variety of companies presenting were closer to my interests and I could understand the concepts a lot better. Let’s just say that understanding many software startups is not my forte. Anyway, the companies that won are very deserving and it will be exciting to watch them over the next few years.
In addition to the conference, the MBA students took this opportunity to visit some local Bend companies. This was the first year in a while that we added the company visits and I felt it was very successful. Oregon is such an entrepreneurial state but it is not very visible until you are introduced to that culture. We managed to schedule meetings with Hydroflask, Kialoa Paddles, and Deschutes Brewery. While each company produced a tangible thing, they were all at different stages in their development. Kialoa is still very small and regional and was working on growing sales. Hydroflask is #244 on the Inc. 500 fastest growing companies with over 1800% growth over the past three years. The challenges it faces are more scaling, marketing, and human capital expansion. Finally, Deschutes Brewery was the wrap up and they are the 6th largest independent brewery in North America. The challenges they face include navigating intense competition and maintaining both consistency and culture amongst its large distribution. Rather than expand its reach, Deschutes is looking to reclaim some of the lost market share where they are already present. This is different from both Kialoa and Hydroflask which are looking to extend influence.
No trip is complete, however, without engaging with our wonderful alumni. Before our company visits, John and Bonnie Rosen were very generous in hosting us for pastries in their custom log home in La Pine. The attention to detail and the balance between glitz and functionality clearly demonstrate how they were able to be so successful. It was great for the first year students to hear their story and absorb John’s words of wisdom. In a nutshell: it is okay to fail as long as you learn from it. If you beat your head against a wall and it doesn’t move, find a new way around the wall. Small steps can be more beneficial than giant leaps. Follow your passions. These last words are ones I personally take to heart. What is life without passion?