Gary A. Warner
The Bulletin

Bend Venture Conference awards

The Bend Venture Conference gave $488,000 in awards to six companies to aid their startup projects. The winners were in three categories based on their state of business development. A small prize given out by popular vote of attendees of an earlier BVC event was included in the total.

Growth Stage (Advanced)

Companies that have a proven concept and initial revenues.

Observa (Seattle) — $250,000 for an artificial intelligence platform providing e-commerce-style analytics to brick-and-mortar retail.

Belmont (Portland) — $100,000 for providing business and other “break rooms” with fully managed drink and food pantry service.

Impact Stage (Middle)


Riff Cold Brewed Coffee (Bend) – $85,000 for all-natural energy drink made of a coffee-production byproduct

Early Stage (Early)

Companies in the process of testing a new product

FleetNurse Inc. (Eugene) – $25,000 for an on-demand health care staffing service.

Steamchain Corp. (Salem) – $25,000 for a blockchain company to reduce fluctuating currency conversion, shipping and logistics.

Audience Award

By participant vote at a BVC event in September.

TerrAmor (Corvallis) – $3,000 for a low-cost organic solution for soft fruit growers to fight the spotted wing drosophila fruit flies.

An energy drink made of discarded coffee bean pulp created by Riff Cold Brewed Coffee of Bend was among the winners of cash awards at the Bend Venture Conference on Friday.

Riff received $85,000 for its Alter Ego drink during an awards ceremony at the Tower Theatre.

The prizes were the finale of the 16th annual gathering of nearly 600 investors, entrepreneurs and business executives.

More than 100 companies entered the 2019 contest, which was divided into early-, middle- and late-stage startup development. Oregon companies won all but the top prize of $250,000, which went to Observa, a Seattle company developing an artificial intelligence platform to provide online sales-style analytics to brick-and-mortar retail operations.

Riff won the Impact category, which targets middle-sized startups whose product or service includes a significant social or environmental impact. It beat out three other contestants, including Meli Wraps, a Bend company that makes reusable food wrapping from a formula that includes beeswax and tree resin.

The conference hosted by Economic Development for Central Oregon has awarded more than $10 million in the past five years.

Riff’s award went for a drink made of the leftovers from the pulping process to make coffee. Coffee beans are actually the small center of the coffee fruit. The beans are extracted through a process that leaves a large amount of pulp. The pulp is sometimes used for fertilizer or compost, but it is often discarded and can become a pollutant of groundwater. Riff estimates that about 100 billion pounds of pulp is created each year.

Alter Ego takes the dried coffee fruit pulp and uses it as the base for a drink that also includes lemon juice concentrate and four grams of cane sugar. It is pasteurized so it can last on store shelves. The drink has about 105 milligrams of caffeine — a little less than the equivalent amount of coffee. Riff says the purchase of coffee pulp will increase the earnings of small coffee growers around the world by giving them a new source of revenue for something many simply threw away.

— Reporter: 541-383-0350,