The East Metro Economic Alliance attempted to answer the question of how to fund entrepreneurial innovation in Oregon during its monthly meeting Tuesday, Feb. 7, at Fairview City Hall. The group invited a pair of expert speakers to discuss and answer questions from a gathered group of regional business and political leaders.
The speakers were Maggie Finnerty, president and executive director of Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN), and Julianne Brands with the Oregon Angel Fund.
OEN is a 25-year-old statewide organization that connects individuals with information, legal workshops, human resources, and accounting and financial support.
"We support entrepreneurs throughout their entire life cycle," Finnerty said. "We help take people from the concept stage to a successful exit."
The Angel Fund is the largest venture capital fund in Oregon, deploying $10 million to $12 million a year.
"We invest across the state — in any market, sector or industry," Brands said. "We invest at the earliest stages of a business."
In 10 years the Angel Fund has invested in 52 companies, with a record amount of nine investments in 2016. Seventy percent of investments occur in enterprise software companies, 20 percent in life sciences, and the remaining 10 percent are a mixed bag.
"When investing we look for the team behind the business first, market second and product third," Brands said.
The panel discussed some of the trends occurring in Oregon entrepreneurship. Speakers noted the most successful startups they're currently seeing are involved in sectors including athletics and the outdoors, food and beverages, and technology.
"We are seeing a fusion between these industries, and some really unique talent is starting to shine through," Brands said.
Food and manufacturing companies are the most difficult to secure capital funding for, the speakers explained, because they require more money up front. Individual investors shy away because it only results in returns after a long period. Their suggestion for these type of startups is to get connected with someone who has already successfully opened that type of business, as they can serve as a guiding mentor.
"It's really important to be networked," said Finnerty, which is something OEN is focused on supporting. "We try to connect people to have ways to prepare businesses for unforeseen pitfalls."
One question from the crowd was centered on how immigrants living in East Multnomah County, many of whom have interesting ideas for businesses, could get connected to funding. Both groups admitted this is something they have struggled with historically, but are beginning to take a more intentional effort toward addressing.
"It is really important to have a diverse group of companies and investors," Brands said.
The focus is on reaching out to minority and female entrepreneurs.
"People in these communities don't even realize these options are available," Finnerty said. "I see our role as creating models to show all people from different backgrounds and cultures what is possible."