After being founded as a one-day regional conference that provided companies with exposure rather than money in 2004, the 13th Bend Venture Conference awarded more than $3.9 million to 12 companies across three days of events at the Tower Theatre.
The figure, which includes investments and awards from various venture groups as well as contributions to the Bend Venture Conference fund, is nearly four times as large as any amount the conference has ever given out, and makes it the largest venture conference in the Pacific Northwest by a significant margin.
“A few years ago, we were handing out $200,000 at the whole event,” said Evan Dickens, CPA at Jones & Roth, an event sponsor.
The beneficiary of the largest of those checks was Hubb, a growth-stage finalist that built a software-as-a-service platform designed to help event and meeting planners. The Vancouver, Washington-based startup came away with $2,515,000, primarily from the Oregon Angels Fund, a Portland-based fund that provided a check for $1.75 million.
“I have a lot of awe and gratitude for the investors in the fund for believing in us, and believing in what we’re doing for people,” said Hubb founder Allison Magyar.
Magyar added that the money would primarily go toward sales and marketing efforts that raise awareness about the platform.
The other growth-stage finalists to receive funding were RFPIO Inc., which provides software designed to streamline requests for proposal, and Outdoor Project, which provides a media platform aimed at outdoor recreation and travel. The two Portland-based companies received $250,000 and $150,000, respectively.
“It’s cool to see Bend evolve and mature as a town,” said Tyson Gillard, co-founder of Outdoor Project. Gillard said he grew up in Bend and attended Mountain View High School.
For the newly created Social Impact Competition, which was held Thursday, OpConnect, Hemex Health and Sudara each received money. Sudara, a Bend-based clothing company that offers jobs and job training for victims of the sex trade in India, led the way with $250,000 in investment.
The early-stage award of $15,000 went to CushCore, a Bend company that manufactures an inner-tire suspension system to improve the performance of mountain bike tires. Cascade Wellness Technologies and Scout Military Discounts each received investment from separate venture funds during the ceremony despite being eliminated from the Bend Venture Conference during the semifinal round.
The Bend Venture Conference has grown in bursts since it began awarding money to companies in 2006. In 2014, the total amount of money awarded jumped from $250,000 to $1,063,300. And this year, the total quadrupled again, thanks to contributions from the Bend-based group Cascade Angels Fund, as well as funding from venture funds and other groups from across the state, including Elevate Capital, Craft3 and Business Oregon.
As it’s grown, the conference has slowly shifted away from having a single winner picked from a collection of finalists, beginning with the introduction of the Early Stage Competition — then known as the Concept Stage — in 2011. The Social Impact Competition began this year, and the Venture Out Festival, a venture conference specifically for outdoor-product companies, was also part of the event.
Brian Vierra, venture catalyst for Economic Development for Central Oregon, which hosted the event, said expanding the scope of the conference has attracted stronger companies and larger investors as it has grown.
“It becomes a cycle when you end up attracting better companies, which attracts better investors, if you’re able to deploy capital more broadly and deeply,” Vierra said. “It feeds on itself.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, firstname.lastname@example.org