By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

Oregon State University-Cascades Campus is seeking a major federal grant to create a center for local startups to develop with the help of students and professors on its planned four-year campus.

The university is seeking $2 million from the Economic Development Administration to build a 10,000-square-foot “Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship.” The center will be co-located with the Bend-based FoundersPad, a program that trains entrepreneurs in business skills and pairs them with mentors. Some of FoundersPad’s past businesses include droplr, an image and document sharing service, and Signalfy, which connects fans to electronic dance music events. Seven Peaks Ventures, led by FoundersPad co-founder Dino Vendetti, has partnered with OSU-Cascades to fund successful projects that would emerge from the center.

If awarded the grant, OSU-Cascades will have to match the award, but the majority of its contribution will come from improvements necessitated by the university’s expansion on a 10-acre site on Bend’s west side. The university plans to locate the building along Southwest Chandler Avenue on the plot’s far west side. According to a report by Economic Development for Central Oregon, based on the experience of FoundersPad, the center could create 200 jobs by 2018.

“Bend is known more and more for its high tech and startups,” said Becky Johnson, an OSU vice president and the highest ranking administrator in Bend. “But we need a catalyst, a place where people can come together and help, whether with business skills or something else. Right now, I believe, FoundersPad is basically in one office, so we’ll be able to help more businesses than are currently being served.”

Johnson said the center will not only allow FoundersPad to increase the size of its startup “boot camps,” but will also provide space for startups to occupy for extended periods of time. Businesses won’t have a free ride in the center, as Johnson said startups will be expected to pay rent, but “hopefully less than on the open market.”

“The other new thing is, we’ll have students who can come in as interns,” Johnson said. “They’ll get a reality check on what it’s like to start a business, or maybe even have the chance to run their own. We will also have an MBA program that’s likely to be involved, and we could even bring in law students from UO or Willamette.”

Johnson pointed to similar projects at other universities, including Portland State University’s business accelerator and a new project in Corvallis on OSU’s main campus.

“People can really feed off each other’s creativity and collective knowledge even if they’re not working for the same firm,” said Roger Lee, executive director of EDCO. “And being at a university, it provides a connection to the research going on. It’s been so successful in other places; I can’t understand why this would be different.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

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