Oregon RAIN: Catalyzing People and Programs to Advance Lane County’s Economy

Coastal RAIN Graduates

With a multitude of innovative ideas coming out of the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, and a serious lack of capital to support early stage startups born out of these ideas, Oregon RAIN was founded. Oregon Rain is a public-private partnership tasked with connecting entrepreneurs in Lane, Linn, Lincoln and Benton counties with resources to scale early-stage companies. The overall purpose of RAIN is to “catalyze people and programs that help advance our region’s startup economy.”

 

Specifically to Lane County, Oregon RAIN supports a business accelerator — RAIN Eugene, located at 942 Olive Street — as well as entrepreneurial outreach in Cottage Grove, Florence, Springfield, Oakridge, Lowell and Veneta.

 

History shows if we don’t provide capital to support early-stage companies, they move to Portland, the Bay Area, Austin, Boulder, Seattle and other places, taking innovation and future jobs with them. It’s not enough to simply support entrepreneurship by providing accelerators and programs to help the companies without following through and recognizing that someday they may want to grow into a larger traded-sector company. These startups may want to sell their products and services nationally or globally. Each of these companies typically need to raise somewhere between $1 Million to $30 Million to start and scale their ventures in Oregon. As Venture Catalyst Caroline Cummings puts it, “It’s difficult to find this kind of capital in Oregon, as we are not known for venture capital.”  

 

The three things Oregon RAIN does is match entrepreneurs with people, programs and capital. RAIN also provides leadership for the Willamette Angels, a group of high net-worth individuals – mostly from the Southern Willamette Valley – who have collectively invested $3 Million in 14 Oregon startups over the last 9 years.

Netwroking at RAIN event

 

The first two to three years of RAIN were primarily focused on people and programs. RAIN is now expanding into the capital piece. For example, the outreach RAIN is doing in Oakridge, Florence and Lowell started with people, the entrepreneurs behind the companies. Once RAIN can prove there’s something “there” (interesting ideas, interesting companies working on food & beverage, consumer products, tech--or whatever it might be), as long as the company wants to go national or international, they work with the entrepreneurs to get their business plan and teams squared away. This initial work helps poise the startups for the capital they need to seed growth. That’s when RAIN introduces them to the investors.

 

Cummings, along with RAIN’s executive director, Marc Manley - have partnered to launch a new angel investment fund called the W2 Fund, as part of the Willamette Angels. They have raised close to $500K and are currently reviewing startup deals submitted from all over Oregon. Cummings and Manley will make early-stage seed investments between $25K and $125K. The purpose of the fund is to help provide more early-stage seed capital to Oregon-based startups.

 

David Youngentob, the Coastal Venture Catalyst, focuses more resources on coastal entrepreneurial development. He implemented and taught the region's’ first-ever, multi-week pre-accelerator for entrepreneurs. Seven entrepreneurs from Florence (and five from Lincoln County) participated in this 12-week program, which culminated in June with the RAIN Coastal Demo Day showcase and graduation event.

 

This type of development doesn’t just kick in at the start-up level, however. RAIN Eugene has another program focused on building a partnership with the entrepreneurship and marketing class at McKenzie High School in Finn Rock to provide mentorship and curriculum support. Additionally, RAIN Eugene is providing support services at the newly launched Veneta Small Business Development Center. These efforts have already bolstered the pipeline of viable companies into RAIN Eugene’s accelerator.

 

RAIN’s motto is “what’s next?” Cummings most recently was invited by Lane County’s Sarah Means and Kim Thompson, to visit with economic development leaders in East Lane County - specifically Oakridge/Westfir and Lowell/Dexter - to bring RAIN’s successful rural entrepreneurial development model and help catalyze an entrepreneurial ecosystem to those regions. You can stay up-to-date with the exciting economic growth efforts of RAIN through our email newsletter and our website, or by visiting oregonrain.org.