LAUNCH Focus – What Does A Venture Catalyst Do Anyway?!

Welcome to the first in a regular weekly article by Venture Catalyst, Alex Palmer, focused on SOREDI’s LAUNCH initiative. Alex will provide useful tips/ content/ stories/knowledge to help entrepreneurs, start-ups or anyone running a company in Southern Oregon.

Starting close to home, you may wonder what a Venture Catalyst does anyway, so here goes. First up, it’s not to be confused with Venture Capitalist. Venture Capitalists are those rich folks who run venture capital funds that invest directly into start-up companies.

My role as Venture Catalyst really has two main areas of focus:

Part 1. Helping Growth Companies Secure Investment

The main part of my job is advising companies and entrepreneurs with a focus on getting start-ups ready to raise investment, and then helping those companies get funded.

This starts out with the Sounding Board, where anyone locally can submit their business plan or idea to a pitch panel comprised of myself and a rolling rotation of local experts & mentors.

The Sounding Board is the first step to getting funding from local Angel Investors and provides valuable feedback to entrepreneurs to get their business plan, financials and pitch ready for raising capital. In some cases, this will lead directly to a formal pitch to Southern Oregon Angel Investment Network, or a roadshow where we will facilitate pitch opportunities to any number of Angel/Seed/VC funds in other parts of the state like Portland or Bend, for a local start-up.

We also refer entrepreneurs to a number of other resources that can help them out:

SBDCs at RCC and SOU to work on building out the business plan and financials so they are pitch ready.
SOREDI Business Development Loan Fund for those looking to raise debt over equity.
Local banks that provide SBA Loans and other products.
Business Oregon, Craft 3 and other sources of finance.
Local mentors in specific categories or verticals that can provide more detailed industry-specific knowledge.

Part 2. Building The Entrepreneurial Eco-System

The second part of my job is much more of a long-term strategy to build the eco-system so that we have more promising start-ups and entrepreneurs in the pipeline who are growing, looking to secure funding and ultimately creating jobs, successful companies and economic prosperity here in Southern Oregon.

There are a number of components to the Entrepreneurial Eco-System that need to be developed in order to have a thriving start-up / entrepreneurial sector, these include;

1. Financial Resources.

This is about making sure that we have the right financial options to support entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey. Some of these are already quite developed, eg. Bank Financing, SBA Loans etc. Others, much less so, eg. Seed Investment Capital, Working Capital Loans, Angel Investment, etc. There are some big gaps to fill to help companies especially at the very early stages of their journey, when bank financing is not an option.

2. Training & Educational Resources.

Again, we have some great resources in place already like the Small Business Management course and others from the SBDC, Virtual Incubator Program and further afield programs like Bend Outdoor Worx Accelerator and OEN’s Startup Series. Building out the offering locally, means developing more programs like incubators and accelerators to help promising start-ups scale up and get the help they need to be successful. Or alternatively, to fail fast, learn useful lessons, and then move on to the next opportunity.

3. Mentoring.

Connecting entrepreneurs with more experienced mentors is a great way to help and share knowledge. We are always open to more experienced professionals who would like to mentor entrepreneurs, participate in a Sounding Board or similar efforts. If you have helpful knowledge to share, please let us know!

4. Events & Networking Opportunities.

The most obvious example of these are our Launch|Talk events, which take the form of a pitch contest, panel discussion or similar program. These are important events for peer-to-peer networking, finding help and resources, sharing experiences with other entrepreneurs. Other types of events we’re looking at in the future include creating Industry Clusters around specific verticals, more Pitch Contests and Hackathons, in addition to other SOREDI events, and those provided by, E2E, Local Chambers, and SBDCs that provide plenty of networking, learning and knowledge-sharing opportunities.

5. Physical Spaces.

Co-working and incubator-type spaces provide a key part of the eco-system and are very common in other parts of the country. They are critical not just for providing great, flexible work-space options for start-ups, freelancers, consultants or anyone else looking to break out of their home office. More importantly, they provide a valuable social function and place to share experience and knowledge.

In my opinion, our region would greatly benefit from having spaces like this in Medford and in Ashland, to complement the great work Zeal has done in creating The Hivve in Grants Pass.

If you are an entrepreneur or a provider of resources for entrepreneurs, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with . We look forward to meeting you and getting you plugged in to the parts of the Eco-System that are right for you!

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