’s take on the 2016 Bend Venture Conference

We love this write-up about this year’s Bend Venture Conference from our friend Kelly Kearsley, co-founder of

There were so many great takeaways from the conference this year. Read on to see what Kelly had to say:

img_0433-1024x768The 2016 Bend Venture Conference is officially wrapped up and the big headline is $3.76 MILLION in funding was awarded, and Vancouver, Wash.-based Hubb snagged $2.5 million of that. There were big checks flying everywhere, people were crying tears of happiness and the conference set a funding record for angel conferences in the state.

Other big takeaways: The women entrepreneurs, investors and keynotes slayed this conference, the first-ever social impact made a big impression and if you live in this state, then we’re all winners. So let’s dig in.

First, the money.

There were three funding tracks this year, with the BVC debuting the social impact track on Thursday, followed by the usual early and growth stage tracks on Friday. As noted, the conference’s big winner was Hubb, a startup that makes event management software.

Founder and CEO Allie Magyar delivered a powerful, polished pitch that earned her compliments from the panelists and rave reviews in the audience. It also earned her a whopping $2,515,000 in investment via a combination of awards. The Hubb investments were:

  • $1,750,000 investment from the Oregon Angel Fund
  • $140,000 from BVC LLC
  • $450,000 from Elevate Capital
  • $175,000 from Cascade Angels Fund

Seriously, the big checks just kept appearing. People in the Liberty Theater crowd started wondering if maybe everyone there was going to get money, like not just the startups. One person commented that it was like Oprah’s Christmas special. What if we all got free cars?!

Last year, the conference funding totaled about $950,000. So for people keeping track, that’s a 300% increase from 2015. Ten startups received funding this year. Other winners included:

  • RFPIO, a Portland-based, growth-stage startup with a SaaS solution that streamlines the RFP response process, garnered $350,000 in total investment.
  • Sudara, a Bend-based company competing in the social impact track, won a $250,000 investment from Craft3. Sudara makes beautiful pajama pants, sewn by women in India who are survivors of the sex slave trade. It’s a pretty good reason to buy some more lounge wear. Founder Shannon Keith gave a passionate pitch about the social impact of her startup, which has also made some pretty amazing business progress.
  • The Outdoor Project, another growth stage competitor, earned a $150,000 investment from Cascade Angels. The Outdoor Project is a media platform dedicated to outdoor sports. Tyson Gillard, co-founder and CEO, also grew up in Bend so it was fun to see him on his hometown stage.
  • OpConnect, another of the SI track companies, won $100,00 and Hemex Health won $50,000. The first makes charging stations for EV cars, and the second makes rapid diagnostic medical devices that detect malaria and sickle cell disease.

But there’s more. Business Oregon popped up to hand out some giant checks including $100,000 to Cascade Wellness Technologies. That was one of the EDCO PubTalk Early Stage Semi Finalists who didn’t make it to the BVC stage, but scored some big money nonetheless.

Early stage chops

The early stage competition was really strong. The companies made a range of products from innovative gardening beds (Free Rain Designs) to HR software (InvestiPro) to swimsuits you carry on your key chain (Wedgis) to a crowdsourced photo platform for brands (Hytchr). CushCore, a Bend startup that makes an inner tire suspension, system won the $15,000 BendBroadband prize, following on the $3,000 prize the founders won at the Venture Out Festival on Wednesday. So that makes for a good week.

Social impact = good works + good business

The startups pitching at this first-ever Social Impact Track discussed powerful ways that their companies would change the world and truly improve people’s lives.

But make no mistake, these founders are also helming solid businesses, with serious growth potential, that could have easily competed on the growth stage. As a Bend local, I loved hearing Shannon Keith, founder of Bend-based Sudara, talk about how her lounge wear company empowers survivors of India’s sex trade by providing them with living wage jobs and employment training. The product is stunning, and business is booming: her revenues are set to hit $4 million this year. As previously mentioned, she earned a well-deserved $250,000 investment from Craft3. We’re excited to watch Sudara’s growth.

Women entrepreneurs, women keynotes, women investors! 

Of the 15 founders pitching over the past two days, six were women. Two keynote speakers? Also women, both in tech. Julie Harrelson, of Cascade Angels, and Julianne Brands, of OAF, were handing out big checks from investors. A shout out to Stephanie Senner, of BendBroadband, who also handed out the $15k early stage prize, and champions so much startup and tech activity in Bend.

At time when only 18% of startup founders and 12% of partners at corporate VC firms and accelerators are women, it was inspiring to see so many accomplished, awesome women holding down the stage and frankly, raking in — and doling out — the funding. I don’t need to tell you that businesses and investors do better when everyone is at the table. So yes. Yes to this and more of this.

So that was a fun week. If you happened to attend the unConference, Venture Out Festival and BVC then you heard no less than 40 startup pitches, drank at least 5 free beers and probably met dozens of people.

One last thought before you put your feet up: There’s been much talk over the past few years about the ability of small(er) places to sustain big businesses. People write about it. They drive around in buses and talk about it. This week, we got to see it in action right here in Bend.

The BVC is a conference, yes, so you get to see inspiring keynote speakers and eat all sorts of free pastries. But it’s also a prime example of how our growing Oregon and Bend startup ecosystem can launch, and then support and build industry-leading, game-changing, world-improving businesses.

Sit for a moment with the fact that Oregon investors came together and invested more than $3 million in regional companies. That’s needle moving stuff, not just for the startups that got funded, but for the next generation of Oregon entrepreneurs who are debating whether they can/should start their business here. They can. And they should.

Congratulations to everyone who pitched and participated!

Click here to read her original post and to see more great photos from the conference!’s take on the 2016 Bend Venture Conference

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