Terrific Towns for Entrepreneurs: A Spotlight on Bend, OR
Where do you go with a promising new business idea and drive to see it through? If you guessed Bend, Oregon, you’ve done your homework. Like the much-lauded Silicon Valley, Bend has become a hotspot for young entrepreneurs seeking mentorship, investors, and a knowledgeable workforce. Unlike the Silicon Valley, however, Bend is a relatively small city that is replete with outdoor adventures and short on traffic crunches. Not only is the city regularly named among the best cities for businesses, but it also frequently ranks among the best places to live, period. It his home to less than 100,000 people, yet Bend registers more new businesses each year than any other city in Oregon and ranks in the top 20 metros nationally in density of high-tech employers.
There are several reasons why investors and aspiring startup-founders make a home in Bend, and its supportive entrepreneurial culture is chief among them. New entrepreneurs have access to numerous startup incubators and accelerators; venture capitalists and funds; an active peer community; and the kind of mentors and informational resources one needs to succeed. Here is a look at what makes Bend, OR such a promising destination for tomorrow’s business leaders.
Fast Facts: Bend, OR
Great weather, a skilled, scalable workforce, and a supportive community have transformed Bend into a sort of Mecca for entrepreneurs who value livability just as much as economy. In fact, the city has become such a draw for former Silicon Valley investors that Bend now hosts several startup accelerators, incubators, and independent venture capitalists. Software companies comprise the largest share of new startups, followed by aviation, hardware, breweries and bioscience firms. Some other facts about Bend:
- In 2017, Bend registered more new businesses than any other city in Oregon—an average of one business per 28 residents
- Forbes named Bend the “Best Small Place for Business and Careers” in 2016
- In 2017, Bend topped the Milken Institute’s-Best Performing Cities Index for the second year running; the index ranks cities using metrics such as job sustenance and economic growth
- Bend claimed the no. 1 spot on Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live” ranking, earning stellar marks for job growth and livability, and a median household income of more than $55,000 didn’t hurt
- Bend also took no. 1 on Outside Magazine’s “25 Best Towns” of 2017
- Bend is home to several startup incubators and accelerators, including FoundersPad, Bend Outdoor Worx, and EDCO
- Despite its comparatively small population, Bend is the 16th largest metro in the country for high-tech startup density
- Excellent water quality and a laid-back culture makes Bend a go-to site for craft breweries: the Oregon Brewers Guild reported the city was home to 26 independent breweries in 2016
- According to Beer Me Bend, Bend is home to at least 12 beef festivals each year.
Five Businesses to Watch in Bend, OR
The following startups exemplify just how far a good idea and a sense for business can take you in Bend.
DohJe is a web-based service that lets patients make a healthcare worker’s day in less than 90 seconds. Patients can log on to the platform, pen a quick thank you note to a caregiver, and DohJe will ensure he or she gets it. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that DohJe was one of seven companies in the United States to win OpenIDEO’s Gratitude in the Workplace Challenge.
- Founder: Amanda Krantz
- How it Started. DohJe is an excellent model for turning a seemingly simple experience into a successful startup. It all started in a maternity ward where a nurse named Elspeth helped DohJe CEO Amanda Krantz brave 12 hours of labor. Krantz lamented that she was never properly able to thank the nurse, Laura, who helped deliver her first child, which lead to a discussion about how “terribly broken” our system is for honoring caregivers. “So, I set out to fix it,” Krantz wrote in the Huffington Post, and thus, DohJe was born.
- Address: 1001 SW Emkay Dr., Suite 100, Bend, OR
Monkless Belgian Ales
Monkless Belgian Ales is one of a number of much-loved breweries with roots firmly in Bend where, the Oregon Beer Growler reports, excellent water quality and ingredients are key for budding craft breweries.
- Founder: Todd Clement
- How it Started: What do you do with a PhD in organic chemistry and extensive experience in process chemistry? If you are Todd Clement, you found Monkless Belgian Ales. According to the brewery’s official website, Clement developed a deep appreciation for Belgian ales while traveling through Europe—a passion he wanted to share with Bend. The name is a nod to Clement’s lack of monk credentials and the sixth-century monks who first brewed Belgian-style ale by boiling beer to prevent water-borne illness. Today Monkless is one of a handful of Bend breweries advocating for sustainable water practices.
- Address: 20750 High Desert Lane, Suite 107, Bend, OR
DIYcave is a community makerspace, which, as the shop describes, is like a health club with tools instead of treadmills. People can join as members and/or learn new skills through workshops and classes.
- Founders: Aaron Leis, Dave Danek, and Tim Willis
- How it Started: DIYcave is the story of a woodworker, a drywall contractor, and an Alaskan fisherman who came together to bring Bend into the growing maker movement. Co-founder Aaron Leis told StartupBend that he wasn’t satisfied with the city’s existing maker resources and began scoping out locations for his own. He soon found two more people who shared his vision, Dave Danek and Tim Willis, at a local meetup called the High Desert Makers. Together the men were able to establish what Leis describes as “a considerable makerspace” in a short time.
- Address: 444 SE 9th Street, Suite 150, Bend, OR
KIDCARESHARE is a parent-driven social network, which helps mothers and fathers build stronger connections within their existing parent communities through shared activities such as school, camp, and sports. It promotes the development of trusted support networks for coordinating play, exchanging carpools, and care. Overall, the company is digitizing the child-care co-op by allowing parents and kids to build trusted, real-time connections while streamlining their communications.
- Founder: Jen Ortado
- How it Started: Founder Jen Ortado launched KIDCARESHARE in 2017 after one too many experiences scrambling for affordable or last-minute child care. Less than 12 months later, Ortado learned she was chosen to participate in Project Entrepreneur, a five-week business accelerator for women.
- Address: N/A
WebCyclery & WebSkis
WebCyclery and WebSkis are high-end cycle and Nordic ski shops. Founded in 1998, WebCyclery was one of the first online bike shops to hit the web. The team later opened a brick-and-mortar shop and launched WebSkis—a Nordic skiing counterpart to WebCyclery. The shop’s year-round rental services outfit locals and tourists alike.
- Founder: Kevin Gorman and Dave Cielowsky
- How it Started: Gorman, a ski and cycling enthusiast started WebCyclery in his garage, though he quickly learned how difficult it was to compete with big mail-order sellers. Gorman began selling trail bikes, single speeds, and 29ers to differentiate his shop from the competition. He also hired his brother and father, endearingly referred to as “MeanTodd” and “DickieG,” and launched WebCycle’s first brick-and-mortar shop. Though Gorman had been skiing Mt. Bachelor since 1996, it was several years before he hired ski guru Dave Cielowsky and founded WebSkis.
- Address: 550 SW Industrial Way #150, Bend, OR
Local Resources for Entrepreneurs
Part of Bend’s startup success lies in its vibrant and supportive community of investors and fellow big-thinkers. The following organizations are just some of those that can help new entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.
- EDCO – EDCOinfo is a nonprofit corporation that strives to grow and sustain Bend’s dynamic local economy. The organization woos outside employers with incentives and a relocation program. It also partners with local companies to help them grow and serves as a startup incubator connecting new entrepreneurs with experienced mentors and VC funding.
- StartupBend – StartupBend is an online publication and community for Bend-are entrepreneurs. The site helps visitors keep up with local business news, list jobs, find a co-working space, learn about regional events, and chat with fellow thinkers.
- Bend Outdoor Worx – Bend Outdoor Worx is a business accelerator that helps scale startups focused on outdoor living. The organization describes itself as fearless, experienced and “not even remotely interested in the status quo.
- FoundersPad – FoundersPad is an early-stage venture fund with a team of experienced mentors and investors. Participating entrepreneurs typically have a core founding team, an Initial Product Release, and a drive to succeed. “Little to no professional capital” is needed.
- Oregon Entrepreneurs Network – Oregon Entrepreneurs Network is a statewide nonprofit supporting entrepreneurs by connecting them to the people, programs, and capital they need to succeed. The group hosts workshops, startup trade shows, and angel conferences and supports the venture catalyst position at EDCO (Economic Development for Central Oregon), located in Bend.
- Cascade Angels – Cascade Angel Fund connects investors and startups in order to drive economic growth throughout central Oregon. Portfolio companies include Wildfang, TopBox, and InvestiPro.