Experts from the outdoor industry have created a business incubator to bring more companies that make outdoor products to Central Oregon.
“Central Oregon, especially Bend, really should be a hub for the outdoor industry because it’s all here,” said Gary Bracelin, founder of the newly launched incubator, Bend Outdoor Worx.
“People come here and shoot their catalogs and come here for their sales meetings, but we haven’t had a large amount of successful outdoor companies.”
About 50 outdoor companies have set up shop in the region, according to Economic Development for Central Oregon, including Ruffwear, which makes gear for dogs, Cascadia Vehicle Tents and Hydro Flask. But Bracelin wants to help create even more. Those businesses would then provide jobs for outdoor enthusiasts who move to Bend for the lifestyle.
Bracelin modeled Outdoor Worx after FoundersPad, a Bend-based program for tech startups. He wants Outdoor Worx, which launched last month, to help existing companies grow and foster new ones, he said.
“There are so many of these people that have an idea or product they are working on out of their bedrooms, shipping out of a warehouse or out of their garage,” he said.
“What we’d like to do is provide the pieces so they have the resources they need to become sustainable, rent-paying, salary-paying companies.”
The incubator will complement work being done by the city of Bend.
Carolyn Eagan, the city’s business advocate, said the outdoor-products sector is the next industry the city has targeted for growth.
“How do we turn those people who come in to race for the Cascade Cycling Classic and those people who come in to do the next triathlon into residents, into business owners?” she said Tuesday during a Bend Chamber of Commerce forum about economic growth in outdoor recreation.
Eagan could have been talking about Rob Little, who quit his job in January and moved to Bend for the recreational lifestyle and startup scene.
He also founded Cairn, a Bend company that provides new outdoor- and recreation-related products to enthusiasts/subscribers to try out. The companies that make the gear also get feedback from the users.
Little said he also connected with Outdoor Worx.
“As a young company and without experience in the outdoor space specifically, I think that we bring a lot to the table in terms of new vision and new approach and how to solve a new problem,” he said. “But working with a group like Outdoor Worx, we can leverage experience and lessons learned … to try and accelerate our own learning curve.”
Little hopes the incubator will provide mentoring, connections to other startups and introductions to investors.
Bracelin said Outdoor Worx is a start. But the region has some barriers — shipping costs, access to capital and affordable homes, retail locations and warehouse space. — to building a strong outdoor-products economy.
Still, he said, “We have to diversify. We still need to invest in product companies. We can’t live on tech alone. It will just make it a stronger community.”