By her own admission, Allie Magyar knew little about raising capital before 2016.
Despite that, Magyar and her team have raised more than $3 million so far this year for Hubb, the software company Magyar founded in Vancouver, Washington. Of that total, more than $2.5 million was announced during the 13th edition of Bend’s signature venture capital event, the Bend Venture Conference.
“We’ve been met with overwhelming support,” Magyar said of the conference.
While Hubb, which provides a software platform to help with meeting and event planning, received the most money of any company at the conference by far, it was not the only company to benefit. A conference-record 10 companies received at least one of the oversized novelty checks, which ranged from $15,000 to $1.75 million, that were passed out at the Liberty Theater during the award ceremony Oct. 14. When the dust settled, more than $3.9 million in investment and awards was given out over a three-day period that began on Oct. 12 in Bend, thanks in part to a couple of Portland-based venture funds that worked with the conference for the first time.
“By most measures, it’s one of the largest venture conferences on the West Coast, if not across the country,” said Jason Moyer, fund manager for the growth stage of the conference.
The Bend Venture Conference has set the pace for investment in Oregon in the past. In 2014, $1.063 million was given out to growth-stage companies during the event, then a record for a venture conferences in Oregon. Earlier this year, the Willamette Angel Conference, which alternates between Eugene and Corvallis, eclipsed that total by investing $1.2 million in May.
However, including the Venture Out Festival, a new venture conference aimed specifically at outdoor-product companies that was included in the Bend Venture Conference’s list of events this year, funding more than quadrupled in Bend from 2015 to 2016.
Out of $3.9 million invested at the conference, $240,000 was invested through the BVC LLC, which has historically funded the winner of the growth stage of the conference. Instead, Moyer said, the conference organizers are working with Oregon-based angel and venture funds that invest in finalists and semifinalists outside the formal growth-stage fund as the conference has grown.
“It’s no longer, why should funds get involved in this,” Moyer said. “Now it’s, why shouldn’t they get involved in this.”
Brian Vierra, venture catalyst for Economic Development of Central Oregon, which organizes the conference, wrote in an email that he typically begins working with funds around six months before the conference each year. This timeline means that the conference organizers attempt to get funds involved before they know which companies will make it to the conference itself.
“We need to convince the funds that we are going to be able to attract a very high-caliber pool of applicants for them to review,” Vierra said.
Moyer added that the conference’s track record helps in this regard. Founded in 2004, the Bend Venture Conference is the oldest such conference in Oregon. None of the companies that have received investment has folded thus far. While Moyer acknowledged that some luck goes into that, he said it shows a track record of success that can be presented to investors.
“It shows we know what we’re doing,” Moyer said.
In 2016, the Oregon Angel Fund and Elevate Capital invested a combined $2.625 million, the most ever invested at the Bend Venture Conference by two funds. Both funds are based in Portland, and both invested at the conference for the first time this year.
Eric Rosenfeld, co-founder of Oregon Angel fund, said the firm had been talking to Hubb since May and was excited about how advanced the company was relative to its peers.
He advised Magyar to go through the Bend Venture Conference process, and suggested that Hubb should expand its funding round to $3 million. While the Oregon Angel Fund agreed to invest $1.75 million in Hubb about a week before the conference, Rosenfeld said he wanted to wait until the Bend Venture Conference to make the announcement, citing the exposure it would provide to Oregon’s community of venture capitalists. Vierra added that working with funds to announce investments at the Bend Venture Conference brings attention to the company, the fund and the conference itself.
This year, the conference added the Social Impact tack, a third category for companies that make a positive social or environmental impact. This helped attract the attention of Elevate Capital, which aims to support women and minority entrepreneurs and the investment scene outside of Portland.
“Elevate Capital’s mission is to invest in underserved regions of Oregon, and underrepresented investors,” said founder Nitin Rai.
Elevate Capital, which was founded in 2016, invested $875,000 in four companies across its two parallel funds during the BVC. OpConnect, a Portland company that installs efficient charging stations for electric vehicles, received $50,000 from the fund during the Social Impact competition.
Like Oregon Angel Fund, Elevate committed to invest in Hubb prior to the Bend Venture Conference. Rai said the announcement fit Elevate’s ethos of supporting the state’s entrepreneurial environment outside of Portland.
“As long as we have money to invest, we’re going to continue to support the Bend Venture Conference,” Rai said.
While the support of Portland-based funds helped, Central Oregon’s own entrepreneurial environment played a role in advancing the conference as well. Cascade Angels Fund, a Bend-based angel fund founded during the 2013 Bend Venture Conference, invested $325,000 in two companies in 2016, up $200,000 from the previous year. Julie Harrelson, Cascade Angels Fund manager, said one of the initial goals of the fund was to support the Bend Venture Conference.
“I think that having a forum for startup companies, for entrepreneurs and investors, is important for the region,” Harrelson said.
Going forward, Moyer said, the conference would have to look outside of Oregon — including as far north as Seattle — for funding if the conference will continue to grow.
“That’s where the competitive side kicks in,” Moyer said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, firstname.lastname@example.org