Central Oregon is home to a large, thriving community of innovators and entrepreneurs. One of the toughest challenges for startups is bringing new products to the market. Usually the biggest gating item is the lack of adequate funding; the search for investors can be exhausting.
Bend Venture Conference was established in 2003 to facilitate the funding process. The annual two-day conference, one of the largest angel conferences in the Pacific Northwest, has become a tour de force in bringing together investors and local startups.
As a local company interested in supporting a strong economy, BendBroadband has taken an active role in BVC. As a part of the Bend Venture Conference, local entrepreneurs and companies compete for BendBroadband’s Concept Stage award, which includes a check for $10,000.
“This year, we had a very competitive race between six passionate, local founders,” said Stephanie Senner, BendBroadband director of B2B Marketing. “They’re putting blood, sweat and tears into their original ideas, and those ideas are turning into real jobs right here in Central Oregon.
“That’s why we’re so proud to fund the BendBroadband Concept Stage Prize. It’s ten thousand dollars that directly stimulates our home-grown entrepreneurs.”
This year, the BendBroadband Concept Stage Award was given to Bend-based Volcano Veggies. Through a process called aquaponics, the company is exploring ways to grow organic vegetables and fish indoors with proprietary biotechnology solutions, providing cold-weather communities with fresh, nutritious, locally produced food year-round.
“One of the reasons that we started this business is because the weather in Central Oregon can be so sporadic,” said Jimmy Sbarra, who co-owns Volcano Veggies with his wife, Shannon Sbarra. “You get hot summers and cold winters, so growing in the summer is hard, and growing in the winter is even harder. [We want] to show that growing indoors can be sustainable and profitable.”
Asked what Volcano Veggies will do with the prize money, Sbarra answered quickly.
“We are going build a new module that is going to be twice as effective as the first,” he said.
The BendBroadband award pays handsome dividends, Senner said.
“I encourage everyone to watch the short interviews with the semifinalists and learn just what ten thousand dollars will do for a small business,” she said. “You’ll hear everything from building a new prototype to improving manufacturing efficiency to building online marketing strategies to training employees. That’s exciting. That’s direct investment. That’s what local dogs do, and will continue to do, for Central Oregon. It’s our distinct honor to be part of the Bend Venture Conference.”
You can find out more about the five semifinalists in the video below.