Suzanne Roig
The Bulletin

Breaking down the facts

• Women-owned businesses receive less than 5 percent of the total dollars available in conventional small-business loans, according to the 21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship report in 2014 for the U.S. Senate.

• Bend is the 16th-largest metro area for high-tech startup density, according to the 2013 Kauffman Foundation Research Series: Firm Formation and Economic Growth.

• There are an estimated 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, employing nearly 9 million people, and generating more than $1.6 trillion in revenues, according to a 2015 Pew Research study.

the bootcamp:

• BendX will take applications for a four-week bootcamp session in January. This year the cost was $125 per person. The low cost was due to support from nearly 20 sponsors and speakers who volunteered their time. For more information email,

Armed with a germ of an idea, Claire Oester pitched her training swimsuit that helps endurance swimmers by creating more drag to a room full of would-be investors recently.

Early in her entrepreneurial journey, Oester wasn’t necessarily hoping for a financial backer but wanted to hone her skills, find a mentor and development network support. Then, the 35-year-old said she might be ready to take her product before investors.

Setting up a strong foundation of support is vital to increasing the chances that women can tap into business financing.

Women received $1 for every $23 in conventional small-business loans, according to a 2014 U.S. Senate report. Traditionally women start businesses at twice the rate as men, but companies with a woman CEO received only 3 percent of venture capital invested from 2011 to 2013, according to a Babson College report.

That’s why two Bend entrepreneurs formed their own bootcamp program for women only. They called it BendX Bootcamp, which started its first session this fall, and helped about 14 startup businesses go from idea to pitch to exposure to funding. As an early-stage program, the goal was to help the women refine their ideas for future funding.

The two women realized there was a lack of support in Central Oregon for women-owned startups.

Talena Barker, who owns a firm that connects nonprofits to trade locally sourced auction packages for fundraisers called Mission Limelight, and Christine Callahan, who launched an online bridal marketplace for plus-sized women called Ella & Oak, found themselves making the drive to Portland for the kind of support they needed.

“There are plenty of bootcamps and accelerators for women in the Portland area and the Valley, but nothing on this side of the mountains,” Barker said. “Working on my own startup company, Mission Limelight, brought a number of interesting facts about women-led business success, funding and resources to the forefront for me.”

After the help she received at BendX and from the Oregon State University Co-Lab, Oester pitched her idea at multiple events over the past two weeks. An OSU-Cascades student, Oester said she’s looking into switching majors and focusing on her startup. Calling her product line Lacüda Swim, Oester is in the product prototype stage and is working with companies in Los Angeles and Portland to meet her specifications.

“At the BendX they gave us a ton of information on everything from funding to pitching,” Oester said. “I got a lot of support from the community and other entrepreneurs. That support system is pretty valuable here.”

There were 6,486 female-owned businesses in Deschutes County, according to a U.S. Census Bureau 2012 report, the most current numbers available. Women-owned businesses represented 32 percent of all businesses in the county, a smaller share than both the state and national average of around 36 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

“Despite the relatively low share of women-owned businesses and the low share of jobs represented in those women-owned business, women are slowly gaining market share here in Central Oregon,” said Damon Runberg, regional economist for the state Employment Department. “Back in 2007 (the last cycle for this survey) women-owned businesses only accounted for 26 percent of all firms in Deschutes County.”

Women are under-represented on the decision-making panels for angel networks or other venture capital boards, said Katy Brooks, CEO of the Bend Chamber of Commerce. As the second woman to run the 90-year-old organization, Brooks sees getting more startup funding for women as being all about parity.

“It’s a question of having women in positions of power and influence,” Brooks said. “It’s only an obstacle when you don’t have parity in those positions of power.”

At the BendX Bootcamp, it is all about providing a recipe for building success among startup companies, Barker said. The bootcamp also sets up a mentoring network for startup companies to grow and expand.

Adam Krynicki, executive director of the Innovation Co-Lab, a campus-run incubator for students and the community at OSU-Cascades, said he hopes the tide is turning and that women startups will obtain more support.

“We are working to make sure that women are in the room when we hold workshops and pitch competitions,” Krynicki said. “If we make sure that we’re inclusive and diverse at each step of the entrepreneurial journey, then we can be assured of seeing significant change.”

Oester won the Innovation Co-Lab’s PitchFest this year. This month she earned third place at BendTECH’s unConference, an event held by StartupBend, that allows early stage businesses to pitch their products. Oester also was one of the Early Stage finalists at an event that focused on the outdoor industry, Bend Outdoor Worx Breakout (BOW) last week.

Armed with a positive reception and support of her idea, Oester said she is excited about where Lacüda takes her as she waits for the pending patent under the name of Lacüda Strong Suit.

“I feel great about this,” Oester said. “I was super happy with my pitch and presentation. My goal wasn’t to win. I wanted to have an entertaining and purposeful pitch.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2117,