Gary A. Warner
The Bulletin

The finalists

The Bend Venture Conference will be held Thursday and Friday. Award winners will be announced Friday evening at the Tower Theater. Startups compete in three categories depending on their state of business development.

Growth Stage finalists

Belmont (Portland) — Providing break rooms with fully managed pantry service using proprietary technology.

Candid Wholesale (Portland) — Tools for small and midsize wholesalers to take orders and manage clients.

Observa (Seattle) — An AI platform bringing ecommerce-style analytics to brick-and-mortar retail.

SendSmart (Portland) — Automates web lead follow up connecting salespeople with potential customers.

ThingLogix (Belmont, Calif.) — Providing companies with the expertise and tools for applications on the cloud.

Impact Stage finalists

Meli Wraps (Bend) — Reusable beeswax wraps for food storage.

Riff Cold Brewed Coffee (Bend) — All-natural energy drink from coffee byproducts.

Beta Hatch (Seattle) — Farming for the future by industrializing insects.

Sironix Renewables (Seattle) — Environment-friendly ingredients for cleaning products.

Early stage finalists

FleetNurse Inc. (Eugene) — An app-based staffing service for healthcare facilities.

Lisi Global, Inc. (Richland, Wash.) — Eco-friendly electronics technology that eradicates soil pests and pathogens.

Speak Technologies (Portland) — Productivity tool using artificial intelligence to follow up meetings by automatically capturing notes and key decisions.

Steamchain Corp (Salem) — Platform using processes including smart contracts and blockchain technology to simplify international business-to-business payments.

TerrAmor (Corvallis) — Low-cost organic solution for soft fruit growers to address the spotted wing drosophila problem.

Converting discarded coffee bean pulp into an energy drink and formulating beeswax and tree resin into reusable food wraps are two Central Oregon business creations in the Bend Venture Conference finals.

The 16th annual gathering of more than 500 investors, entrepreneurs and business executives will hear finalists pitch their ideas Thursday and Friday to compete for up to $500,000. The conference hosted by Economic Development for Central Oregon has awarded more than $10 million to 38 companies in the past five years. While applicants are accepted from across the country, the majority of entrants and winners have been from the Pacific Northwest. More than 100 companies entered the 2019 contest, which is divided into early, middle and late stage startup development. A total of 14 companies are in the finals.

Riff Cold Brewed Coffee and Meli Wraps from Bend are among the four finalists for the middle group, also known as the impact stage. The pool of prize money for 2019 won’t be known until later this week, said EDCO spokeswoman Elise Rossman.

“When we got the email that we were in the top four, we did our happy dance — then the anxiety set in,” said Nicole Galchutt, co-owner of Meli Wraps.

Galchutt and lifelong friend Melia Foster founded the company. The women grew up together in Hawaii and have stayed close friends. On a 2015 trip together to Australia, they saw a reusable wrapping made of biodegradable products.

“We had an ‘aha’ moment and knew we had to run with it,” Galchutt said.

Galchutt and Foster started a business to create an eco-friendly wrap at their homes in Kauai. They tried several mixtures before settling on a formula of organic cotton, beeswax, tree resin and plant oils in early 2016. Meli is Hawaiian for sweet and often used in connection with honey bees. The hand-made wraps can be washed 150 times and last up to two years.

Since creating reusable wraps, the company has expanded its sales to more than 350 stores in the U.S. and recently signed a deal to be sold at Whole Foods.

Galchutt and her family moved to Bend for family reasons. Meli Wraps opened its second production facility in the city on O.B. Riley Road.

Winning the BVC prize would boost Meli Wraps plan to expand its online sales and create more marketing.

“We’d like to get to where our sales are 50-50 between wholesale and direct,” Galchutt said.

Galchutt will be doing the Bend conference pitch solo — Foster is in Bali on a family trip.

If they don’t get prize money, Meli Wraps will push ahead.

“We might not be able to be as aggressive with marketing,” Galchutt said. “The timing is really right now to push it out there.”

Riff Cold Brewed Coffee

One of Meli Wraps’ three competitors in the impact competition is Riff Cold Brewed Coffee.

Riff has a strong business pedigree, led by former executives at Crux Fermentation Project, Stumptown Coffee, LinkedIn and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Riff hit the coffee scene in spring 2018 with its cold brewed coffee created at a Redmond facility. That December, the company opened The Riff Cold-Brewed Taproom in the Box Factory in Bend to serve its drinks alongside modern and traditional cuisine.

Riff co-founder Paul Evers said the company chose its name from the musical term for spontaneous innovation and hopes the BVC competition will give the company a leg up in developing a riff on its own product, the energy drink Alter Ego.

Coffee beans are actually the hard seed inside of a fruit, sometimes called coffee cherries. The fruit protects the bean from insects and infuses it with the caffeine.

When coffee is picked, the pulping process takes the bean from the fruit. The beans are then dried and roasted for coffee. The pulp is sometimes used for fertilizer or compost, but it is often discarded and can become a pollutant of groundwater supplies.

“For every bean that is harvested, there is six times the weight in fruity pulp that can go to waste,” Evers said. “We estimate about 100 billion pounds of this fruity pulp is wasted across the globe each year,” Evers said.

Riff is not the first to turn fruity pulp into a product. Some coffee growers, such as Stumptown, market dried cascara as tea. The biggest player is self-described antioxidant infusion drink Bai, a subsidiary of Princeton, N.J.-based beverage giant Keurig Dr. Pepper.

While repurposing coffee fruit pulp may be the same concept as Bai, Evers said the drinks have little else in common.

“They use extracts and additives,” Evers said. “We use the natural flavor of the coffee fruit, adding only four grams of cane sugar per serving. We add lemon juice concentrate, then pasteurize it so it can sit on a shelf for six months and still taste great.”

The result, Evers said, is a drink with about 105 milligrams of caffeine — a little less than the equivalent amount of coffee. Like coffee, different coffee beans can bring out various notes of fruit, such as apricot, Evers said.

Part of Riff’s pitch at the Bend Venture Conference is that Alter Ego has a positive social impact.

“Small coffee farmers barely make a living,” Evers said.

Drying and selling the coffee fruit pulp they once discarded would bring extra earnings with little or no investment.

If it wins, Riff would use the money to expand the scale of production, including two more “flavor extensions” to its Alter Ego line by the end of the year, Evers said.

“It would help us with additional sales, tools, staff and marketing,” Evers said.

Without the award, the company still plans to move forward.

“It definitely wouldn’t hold us up or slow us down,” Evers said. “We’ve been fairly successful in raising money. We would be grateful just to take the stage with three other incredible companies. We don’t see a downside in taking part. We are honored to make it to this stage and will be incredibly proud, win or lose.”

— Reporter: 541-640-2750,