UO Entrepreneurship Club

OMBA takes the Bend Venture Conference

The numbers have been crunched, the presentation decks prepared, and nerves are on high. Your carefully thought out idea is about to become reality…but only if you win. Welcome to the Bend Venture Conference.

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As an MBA student in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship track, I expected to be provided with insights into the start-up world within a classroom context. But when I found myself, only three-weeks into my MBA program, traveling to Bend, Oregon for my first venture conference I realized that the Oregon MBA exceeds expectations.

A venture conference is an event where ideas turn into actions. A little research on the Bend Venture Conference (BVC) website led me to expect a multi-day entrepreneurship-focused event and close to $1 million in prize money. The start-up companies were broken into three categories of competition: Social Impact, Early Stage, and Growth Stage. 15 founders were going to pitch their start-up ideas to groups of investors. And I was going to be part of it.

After arriving at the Tower Theater in Bend, my classmates and I got settled in for the first round of competition: Social Impact. Here, companies were formed around the idea of helping others. We saw presentations centered around water conservation, fighting human sex trafficking, and blood-borne disease diagnostic tools. To round out this philanthropic group, Rebekah Bastian, the Vice President of Product at Zillow took the stage as the key note speaker. Bastian discussed how she is leveraging her role at the United States’ leading online real estate marketplace to help end homelessness.

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The Early Stage competition kicked off Day Two. Here we saw six founders pitch their hopeful companies for three minutes each. Again, the company focuses varied. Anything from inner-tire suspension to rainwater collection systems to crowdsourcing apps could be found onstage. These new companies were competing for $15,000 and the vote was decided by the audience. I was amazed to know that my ballet could help the company I most believed in launch.

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The Growth Stage competition rounded out the conference. The five companies were seeking seeding funding, typically in the amount of 1 million dollars. These companies – like Cartogram, Hubb, and Outdoor Project – have all been around for a few years and the founders were practiced presenters. The keynote speaker for Day Two was Loni Stark, the Senior Director of Strategy and Product Marketing at Adobe and the co-founder of Stark Insider, a West Coast media brand. Stark shared her thoughts on the significance of digital on customer experience and marketing.

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As a future entrepreneur and hopeful starter-upper like myself, the face value of attending the BVC was obvious. It was a chance to see how entrepreneurs and investors were going to come together to bring the next big thing to market. I was able to learn impactful tips, like what to wear on stage, at what pace to speak, and how to stand while presenting. I was able to apply the business terms I have been learning in my MBA classes to a real-world application. But the most valuable lesson I learned at the BVC that it is always possible to turn your passion into your career.

There is little scarier than introducing yourself as a Master’s student specializing in innovation and entrepreneurship to a room of innovative entrepreneurs. There is a pressure to have that next million-dollar idea researched and ready. So when you don’t have it all figured out, it is easy to feel apprehensive. But the BVC showed me how to discover that million-dollar idea… Or at least where to start. Despite how varied the ideas presented on stage were, the theme was all the same: do what you love. Discover your passion and work within that space. And if no one is doing exactly what you want to, go out and build that company from the bottom up.

I had high expectations for the MBA program at the University of Oregon. But looking back at the connections made, ideas inspired, and knowledge grasped while attending the BVC with the classmates, I realize that the Oregon MBA is already exceeding expectations.

 

Written by Tess Meyer

Tess is a 2018 MBA in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship track. With a background in Psychology and experience managing extensive teams, she is passionate about driving human potential. Tess' aim is to enter career services where she can encourage sustainable career passion for clients and businesses alike. When she is not writing or studying, Tess can be found hiking, reading, or trying a new restaurant. Learn more on www.frombrowneyes.com.

In Portland, Unconventional Business Makes Sense

From Portlandia to Grimm, Portland has become known for its unique yet endearing quirks through pop culture. The shows feature handmade artisanal foods, communities of enthusiastic outdoorsmen, and few fairy tale creatures. Reality was not so distant from fiction when the UO Entrepreneurship Club went to the Rose City this past weekend to hear from different businesses about the keys of their success.

Walking into Evo Sportswear, the first thing you notice is how unlike a sportswear company the location looks. A fake pink storefront sits in the middle of the store with the name of Uncle Jacks Bakery; the building itself is a renovated Salvation Army; and the second floor has walls painted with faux stained-glass windows. All in all, a little quirky for a place that’s known for selling skis and snowboards. But as our guide—general manager Kevin—explained, all of these elements are play a part in staying true to the Evo brand. Started 14 years ago by Bryce Phillips, Evo began in Seattle as an online retailer selling skis and snowboards. Eventually the first brick-and-mortar store opened and the product line now includes everything from yoga mats to surf boards. Phillips used the location as not only a store front, a place where people could buy something and leave, but as a community gathering place where local winter sports enthusiasts could discuss their favorite pastime, create an event space, art gallery, provide giveaways, have launch parties, organize trips to mountains, hold training courses, and use the space for fundraisers and clubs as well as meetings.

With online sales booming (the company sells 25 percent of all European winter sportswear through Evo.com) the second Evo location opened its doors in Southeast Portland this past October. So when so many mom-and-pop-style sports stores are closing their doors for good, why would Evo choose to invest so much in a new location? The simple answer is that shopping online, though cheaper, has cost the industry a lot. As Kevin talked about his last trip to the mountain for a day on the slopes he saw tons of people with their skis on the wrong side, grips not properly installed, and frustrated in general because their online purchases failed to live up to their expectations. By having a brick-and-mortar location near their target market, Evo is able to provide the community with an immense amount of support through customer service and by allowing people to handle the products before they spend hundreds of dollars. Even if someone can’t find the perfect piece of equipment they’re looking for (only 5-10 percent of Evo’s total inventory can be found in the 11,000 square foot retail location), there are multiple iPads throughout the store so an employee can help you search through the company website. This click-and-mortar approach has been the determining factor in Evo’s success balancing tech and face-to-face customer service.

The next stop of the day was Salt and Straw, nationally recognized gourmet ice cream makers. Just a few days before our tour, cofounder and head chef Tyler Malek was recognized by Forbes magazine as one of their 30 under 30 for changing the way Americans eat. Known for creating ice-cream flavor combinations such as sea urchin and mint, and mashed potatoes and gravy, Tyler has shaped Salt and Straw to become an iconic part of Portland. Kim Malek, Tyler’s cousin and cofounder and president of the company, provided a tour of the manufacturing facilities where all the ice cream Salt and Straw sells in Oregon is made. Club members saw the R&D facilities where all the unconventional flavors are concocted, the actual process of how they produce hundreds of gallons of ice cream, and the administrative side that keeps everything running smoothly. Amazingly, three small ice cream machines are responsible for churning out more than 20 flavors. As a fresh batch of the almond brittle with salted ganache came straight out of a machine, members were treated to a taste of the incredible ice cream and learned that the milk used to make the delicious concoction was as close to butter in consistency as you could get.

Malek explained how the core principle of her business idea—creating a neighborhood gathering spot—is still felt in the manufacturing process through terroir, a French word that means “taste of place.” By partnering with other local companies for ingredients, Salt and Straw keeps their flavors local both in Portland and in their newest scoop shop in Los Angeles, California. Throughout this rapid growth (the company began four years ago as a food cart), staying true to their identity as community minded foodies has been the key to Malek’s success.

Our takeaway: in Portland, community matters. Treating customers as neighbors rather than profit margins means a lot in gaining loyalty. Finding a way to make that experience more than just a transaction can be a game-changer for not only customers, but for an entire industry. Knowing how this community approach has created such success, Portland’s reputation as a hub for the unorthodox will likely outlast any cable TV series.

Written by Jordan Johnson

Senior at the UO, majoring in business administration, minoring in art. Current President of the UO Entrepreneurship Club.

Entrepreneurship Club Hits the 2014 Bend Venture Conference

The entrepreneurial community of Bend Oregon proved itself to be alive and thriving the weekend of October 16 and 17 as business professionals flocked to the Bend Venture Conference (BVC). Between visiting highly successful local companies like Hydro Flask, Kialoa Paddles, Deschutes Brewery, and seeing the amazing startup companies competing for capital at the BVC, Chad Wiley and I (we’re the VP and president of the UO Entrepreneurship Club, respectively) got to see a fully supportive and connected community that values the determination and innovation of their entrepreneurs.

On Thursday, the day before the final competition, Chad and I accompanied 12 Oregon MBA students from the entrepreneurship track and Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship program manager Nathan Lillegard as they went on several site visits.

Bend’s outdoor recreational activities—kayaking, mountain climbing, skiing, running, biking, and more—play a huge role in the direction and environment of local business. At all three companies, a culture of sustainability and taking time to enjoy the outdoors was present and fully encouraged amongst employees. When the group arrived at Hydro Flask, our host had just gotten back from a run. Deschutes Brewery invests $20,000 every year in the Deschutes River watershed to make sure that the river is fit for water sports during the summer months, and Kialoa Paddles are designed to be the best possible paddles for specific types of boat racers and are tested thoroughly by employees before ever hitting the market.

At Hydro Flask, Lucas the marketing director discussed how the six-year-old company became successful by determining their target customers and building a brand focused on fulfilling the values of those customers. By refusing to compromise their brand through cutting costs in production or selling to retailers with unaligned values, Hydro Flask has proven their authenticity to core customers and created an evangelical following.

After an evening touring the production facility of Deschutes Brewery and sampling some of the newest additions and seasonal offerings off the brew list, the UO cohort prepared to attend the conference and see a day’s worth of pitches, speeches, networking, and awards. Starting at early check-in, the feeling at the conference was full of excitement. Professionals from all over the state of Oregon gathered to view new ideas and create a stronger network to promote business innovation.

During the first round of pitches, where concept-stage startups displayed a promising future of a diversified economy being built locally, attendees heard from individuals like the winning team Shannon & Jimmy Sbarra of Volcano Veggies. The venture promises to create hyper-localized organic produce across the country. By streamlining aquaponic technology, in which fish production fertilizes vegetable production in a closed loop ecosystem, Volcano Veggies wants to cut production costs and CO2 emissions of produce for anyone using their system. With the $10,000 prize, Shannon and Jimmy want to validate their business model by expanding current operations.

By the launch-stage round of pitches, the entire conference was buzzing. BVC had yet to really get started and still the audience had already seen six amazing concepts with enormous potential. Attendees had also heard from an inspirational keynote speaker. Steve Silwa, the former CEO of Insitu, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) company located in The Gorge.  A literal rocket scientist, Silwa unexpectedly provided not only a logical approach to business but hilarious anecdotal evidence about how a little dash of luck is key to the success of any venture. He described how a team member created a code that stabilized aerial video by chance, just a couple of days before a surprise test from the US military that made Insitu’s UAV perform significantly better than the military’s own favorite, the Predator drone. This happenstance was instrumental in the success of the company and Silwa fully admitted that luck was on his side.

The first launch-stage pitch of the day competing for a grand prize of more than $250.000, Amplion Research, aims provides an easily navigable database to pharmaceutical companies to increase the success of their new product testing based on genetic biomarkers. The science and potential market of their product, is impressive, over $500,000,000 in annual revenue impressive. Another medical company, Bright.md, the second pitch of the day, presented a solution to combat a problem that everyone faces, long waits for professional medical care. Bright.md allows patients to interact with their care providers through a survey of typical symptoms to diagnose everything from earaches to stomach flu without the days of waiting in discomfort.

Third in line, Crowd Street, democratizes industrial real estate projects through crowdfunding and makes investment in those projects easier than ever for accredited investors. Currently, only 3 percent of accredited investors have real estate in their portfolio despite it currently being one of the most desirable securities on the market. Fourth, Homeschool, a winter sports apparel company from Portland, proved that they were nothing more than dead serious about disrupting the current market. Over the last year the company experienced 100% growth and have produced apparel rated far above their larger counterparts like North Face, Columbia, and Volcom. Last up to the stage was Poached. The website aims to ease the pain of over 80 percent employee turnover in the restaurant industry. By filling in the gap between professional hiring websites like Monster.com and more general sites like Craigslist, Poachedjobs.com has already become a favorite tool for HR in the Portland restaurant industry and is being used by heavy hitters like Panera Bread and Starbucks.

Amplion proved to be the champion of the day winning $250,000 and Poached followed with a check of $100,000. Overall, every business proved to be well chosen to pitch in front of the crowd and looked to have plenty of opportunity in the near future. Before the awards ceremony, no one could pick a guaranteed front runner. Besides the official BVC prizes, over $550,000 in venture capital was awarded to both concept and launch stage ventures. The conference this year blew previous Oregon venture competitions records out of the water with near $1,000,000 given to entrepreneurs from the community.

At the end of the day, I sat convinced that Oregon’s commitment to new ventures and the community behind that commitment is stronger than ever. The Bend Venture Conference shows only a sliver of the small businesses around today but displays the larger more diversified economy in the state’s future.

— Jordan G. Johnson ’15

 

Written by UO Business

The UO Lundquist College of Business empowers an engaged community of students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders who create, apply, and disseminate knowledge that contributes significantly to their professions, communities, and society. The college delivers a dynamic learning environment where world-class professors engage and get to know students, where students work on real projects for real companies, and where alumni go on to high-powered jobs worldwide.

Exploring Social Entrepreneurship

On Tuesday April 10th the Entrepreneurship Club celebrated social entrepreneurship and TOMS “day without shoes” by inviting a TOMS campus rep, Ashley Evert, to share her insights about the company and social entrepreneurship as a whole. The meeting included watching a fifteen-minute video, “Start Something That Matters,” that followed various companies, for profit and not-for-profit, as they embarked on their social mission while giving the students key pieces of advice about starting a business throughout. Some of the advice included: having a story, facing your fears, keeping it simple, being resourceful without resources, and having a transparent business. Companies highlighted were Zappos, VeeV, Feed, and many other companies that followed Tom’s founder Blake Mycoskie’s vision of one-for-one.

After the video members participated in an exercise designed by Mycoskies to find their own personal social entrepreneurship dream. Once they had their individual ideas they split into two groups to collaborate and come up with a single team mission. Representatives from each team presented the two ideas.  The first team came up with a bike rental program that gives discounts to those who pick up recyclables while they are cycling and then uses the proceeds from recycling to feed hungry children, while the second team decided on creating awareness about healthy eating and lifestyles to children in Lane County by visiting schools and becoming role models. At the end of the night students had a better understanding of what social entrepreneurship is and were equipped with good advice for starting their own one-for-one businesses. Attendees were rewarded with TOMS t-shirts and tote bags, and the night ended with networking and socializing over food.

Lauren Berkema
President, Entrepreneurship Club

Written by UO Business

The UO Lundquist College of Business empowers an engaged community of students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders who create, apply, and disseminate knowledge that contributes significantly to their professions, communities, and society. The college delivers a dynamic learning environment where world-class professors engage and get to know students, where students work on real projects for real companies, and where alumni go on to high-powered jobs worldwide.

An Insightful Day in Portland with the UO Entrepreneurship Club

The UO Entrepreneurship Club recently took a group of 16 students up to Portland for a day to visit with entrepreneurs and gain insight about starting a business. Our first stop was at Lachelle’s Frozen Yogurt, owned by former Entrepreneurship Club President Kawika Hunt. Kawika welcomed us with yogurt and we talked about life after graduation and how he ended up where he is now. Kawika not only owns Lachelle’s frozen yogurt, but he also owns a Hawaiian Time location, a restaurant chain his father started. Kawika offered insights about lease negotiations and gave us advice on starting up our own business.

After visiting Lachelle’s, we headed to the Rose Garden Arena to get a behind the scenes look at the entrepreneurial side of the Portland Trailblazers. We visited the TrailBlazers’ conference room and talked to Ashley O’Hollaren, another former UO graduate, about how a professional sports franchise innovates to stay competitive and keep attendance numbers up. We also talked about life after graduation and the importance of networking. After our meeting, we kicked back and enjoyed a Trailblazer win! The trip was not only a great learning experience, but it allowed us to bond, network, and develop lasting relationships.

Lauren Berkema
President, UO Entrepreneurship Club

Written by UO Business

The UO Lundquist College of Business empowers an engaged community of students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders who create, apply, and disseminate knowledge that contributes significantly to their professions, communities, and society. The college delivers a dynamic learning environment where world-class professors engage and get to know students, where students work on real projects for real companies, and where alumni go on to high-powered jobs worldwide.