Hello Friends of the Willamette Angels Conference:
After a thoughtful process that included engaging several ecosystem stakeholders (see list at the bottom), we have decided to stop hosting the WAC. This was not an easy decision to make, especially since many of us have been around since John Sechrest first started the WAC back in 2009.
To come to this decision, we conducted a survey that we distributed to attendees from prior conferences and Willamette Innovators Network events. We also sent the survey to the people on Oregon RAIN’s mailing list and asked our partners (including the OSU Advantage Accelerator, RAIN Eugene, the Eugene Chamber, and the Corvallis Chamber) to share it with the people on their mailing lists. We had over 100 responses! So, thank you to those who took time to respond to the survey.
What we learned is that the WAC has served as a great resource and catalyst for our entrepreneurial ecosystem in the South Willamette Valley for the last decade. Below are some of the transformative things that the WAC helped catalyze over the years:
Activated Regional Capital: Recruited, trained, and engaged dozens of regional, individual angel investors—most of whom had never invested in start-ups prior to engaging with the WAC. Many of them went on to invest larger amounts in various funds around the state. It’s also been wonderful to see things come full circle. Entrepreneurs, like myself and many others, who were pitching our own ventures back in the early days, are now participating in the ecosystem as investors and mentors.
Showcased Regional Entrepreneurs & Innovators: Provided an opportunity to showcase shining star entrepreneurs, innovators, and start-ups from the region and the state, and provided them with access to capital. Over 500 entrepreneurs have applied to pitch at the WAC over the years. Around 100 entrepreneurs have taken the stage and pitched their ventures. The WAC has invested nearly $4M in Oregon start-ups, most of whom are still in business, and many of whom have gone on to raise significantly more capital, and still reside in the region.
Showcased the South Willamette Valley’s Start-up Scene: Shined a light on the entrepreneurs, innovators, and other key players in the regional ecosystem who took a leap of faith to support high-growth start-ups. Many organizations increased their understanding and participation in the start-up scene in the region and started a conversation about how to build and foster a culture of entrepreneurship. Thank you to the media outlets for reporting on the successes of our state’s start-up activities.
Built a Regional Ecosystem and Network: The WAC was one of the early seeds planted in our region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. It has yielded many organizations, programs, and services that now support the region’s entrepreneurial economy. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of our region’s start-up revolution!
If I tried to thank all of the people and organizations who were a part of the WAC over the years this message would go on for pages, so apologies for not mentioning any one person or organization. You all know who you are: the entrepreneurs, innovators, mentors, investors, fund managers, law firms, bankers, accountants/CPAs, software companies, service providers, educators, foundations, government staff, elected officials, community members, and many other change-makers. It truly does take a community to raise an entrepreneur!
Thanks, also, to all of our ecosystem partners who are continuing to offer programs to support the entrepreneurial communities in the South Willamette Valley, including the OSU Advantage Accelerator, RAIN Eugene, the Willamette Innovators Network, the Corvallis & Eugene Chambers of Commerce, the Small Business Development Centers, economic development organizations, angel and venture funds, lenders, cities, counties, co-working spaces, tech hubs, food innovation hubs, maker spaces, youth entrepreneurship programs, and others. We each play a vital role in growing and sustaining our region’s innovation economy.
Thank you all for being an integral catalyst in building our region’s entrepreneurial culture and economy. I will continue to share Oregon RAIN’s events with you (next up is our Last Founder Standing event) and all of the ecosystem partners’ events. I hope to see you at these events, and staying engaged in our entrepreneurial community.
A Message for the Angels: All former WAC LLCs will continue to be managed and reported on by previous fund managers. You also may have heard that Oregon RAIN has selected 44North Ventures to build a regional seed fund after securing a federal grant from the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA). Through a selection committee comprised of ecosystem leaders and supporters, we selected Julie Harrelson and Robert Pease to build a seed fund that prioritizes investment in innovations coming out of the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, and the regional accelerators, as well as overlooked entrepreneurs in Oregon. Their fund is called the Cascade Seed Fund and they are hosting educational info sessions next week (March 5th in Eugene + March 6th in Corvallis). If you’re an accredited investor and would like to attend one of these two educational sessions, please reach out to me ASAP.
Until then – don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have ideas for ways we can partner, or how I can support your success in the ecosystem!
A special thank you to the ecosystem stakeholders who gathered to help in this process:
- Dan Whitaker (entrepreneur, mentor, and investor)
- Skip Rung (mentor and investor, former WAC LLC fund manager)
- Cooper Whitman & Heather Stevens (Corvallis Chamber)
- Brittany Quick-Warner (Eugene Chamber)
- Tom Nelson & Kate Porsche (Corvallis Benton Economic Development)
- Aaron Moore (Willamette Innovators Network)
- Danelle Kronmiller (Willamette Innovators Network and OSU)
- Sabrina Parsons (Oregon RAIN Board Chair, mentor, investor)
- Dana Siebert (Oregon RAIN Board Member, mentor, investor, former WAC LLC fund manager)