the list, the city to the south -- my hometown -- of Eugene did not.Earlier this year, ReadWriteWeb ran a series "Never Mind the Valley," featuring some of the locations outside of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area that are home to vibrant entrepreneurial communities. While Oregon's largest city Portland made
But today, RWW co-editor Marshall Kirkpatrick and I attended the Willamette Angel Conference here in Eugene, and it was a great reminder that entrepreneurship thrives in many communities. More importantly, you needn't head to "the big city" in order to pursue your startup dreams.
Now granted, Eugene, Oregon is no stranger to entrepreneurship. University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman invented the sole for a running shoe here, something that he along with his student Phil Knight parlayed into the Nike Corporation. The city boasts the oldest open-air craft market, where roughly 300 entrepreneurial artisans sell their goods each Saturday. Eugene has solid tech roots as well. Brøderbund Software, Palo Alto Software, and GarageGames were all founded here, and Symantec and Playdom have a service center and studio here respectively.
Today's Willamette Angel Conference is a joint venture between Eugene and Corvallis, home to Oregon State University - the UO's PAC10 and Civil War rival. But despite sports rivalries and a competition for an investment prize at today's event, the event was thoroughly focused on building a strong and sustainable local entrepreneurial community. In the words of John Sechrest, Economic Development DIrector for the Corvallis-Benton Chamber Coalition: "Buy local. Product local. Invest local."
Seven startups competed in today's contest, each giving 10 minute pitches. Six were chosen in advance by the angel investors based on their business plans. The seventh was selected by an audience vote after a short "ignite pitch" round. Based on the investment interests of the Willamette Angels, the companies ranged from cancer diagnostic software to a small business e-commerce tool. Those presenting their pitches took questions from a panel of investors as well as from the audience. While only one company walked away with the $165,000 investment prize, arguably everyone benefited from the event.
Part of this stemmed, of course, from the ability to network face-to-face with potential investors and partners. But part of the benefit to entrepreneurs came from simply watching the pitches, listening to the questions asked of the competitors - questions about scaling, IP protection, and exit strategies, for example - and listening to a panel of entrepreneurs this afternoon speak to some of the common issues with which they struggle. "I'll be here next year," was a phrase I heard repeated a lot.
A recent Harvard study found that angel-backed companies are more likely to succeed. According to the report, "Access to capital per se may not be the most important value-added that angel groups bring. Some of the 'softer' features, such as angels' mentoring or business contacts, may help new ventures the most." It was good to see the all of this - along with some very innovative startups - at work in my hometown of Eugene.
Photo from Flickr