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New food and beverage cluster and more catalysts will take OEN in a new direction, reaching more small businesses.

COURTESY: OEN - Food and beverage entrepreneurs show off their wares outside WeWork in Old Town. The Oregon Entrepreneurs Network is starting a food and beverage cluster, the first of many, to concentrate resources for businesspeople across the state. They will share an online calendar of events.

Oregon Entrepreneurs Network is revamping its offerings, adding a Food & Beverage Cluster and expanding its statewide Venture Catalyst Initiative.

According to Maggie Finnerty, OEN's president and executive director, entrepreneurs spread across the state have very different needs at different stages.

"I came into this job a year ago and I spent time driving the state, talking to founders and C-level people at startups. We had focus groups, we took notes. We learned that the founders are very good at the things they do, but they often don't know how to do accounts, how to hire and fire, the sales pipeline, fundraise..."

She realized they needed to learn basic business — whatever industry they were in.

The Food & Beverage Cluster is part of a bigger new strategy. The new goal is to connect entrepreneurs, service providers, investors and industry influencers across Oregon with nonprofits, government organizations, and educational institutions and others who support the industries.

The next cluster will be a cannabis cluster.

OEN is starting with food and beverage companies because they comprise a $16 billion statewide industry.

Leadership teams from each cluster will work to identify potential gaps within

industries and promote the work and success of like-minded entrepreneurs across the state.

Clusters

Right now, OEN has a grant-funded Venture Catalyst initiative. The new cluster strategy is designed to leverage the network of Venture Catalysts and connect the dots between Oregon's regional communities.

Marissa Schwartz, OEN's first Community Outreach Facilitator, is leading the development of the Food & Beverage cluster, which will be followed closely by a Cannabis cluster.

Schwartz is developing partnerships with organizations and businesses throughout the state to inform OEN's cluster-specific programming.

"Over the last few months, OEN has been busy convening community roundtables across Oregon," says Schwartz. "It's become clear that while all entrepreneurs share common needs, which have historically been OEN's focus, food & beverage and cannabis entrepreneurs also face their own pain points and opportunities. These entrepreneurs are excited to connect with others in their cluster — especially those from other regions."

"The Food Cluster of Central Oregon strives to support the growth of our thriving local craft food and beverage industry by providing education, networking opportunities and by identifying and working to fill resources gaps," says Angela Goodstein, Facilitator of the Central Oregon Food Cluster, a networking and education group created to support the food entrepreneurs of Central Oregon.

COURTESY: OREGON ENTREPRENEURS NETWORK - Maggie Finnerty  is moving OEN to a cluster model, starting with food and beverage, then cannabis.

Education

Memberships to OEN ranges from $95

to $1,500 a year. The new members-only portal on the OEN website features a calendar of relevant networking, educational, and funding events happening statewide; a resource directory; an online forum; and will create a library of online educational programming.

"We also heard that learning with a cohort is preferable. OEN has always provided core curriculum of business training," says Finnerty. "Now we're tying it together into one 10-week session."

The OEN core curriculum is education that applies to any business, regardless of its cluster/industry. The usual à la carte offerings are now a 10-week Startup Series where a cohort of about 25 people will go through all the curriculum together.

Other core programming includes: PubTalk, Tom Holce Awards and Startup 411. The curriculum goes: take the Startup Series, then the Coaching Program, adding PubTalks and other specialized workshops.

Lessons are webcast with Brandlive (who won Angel Oregon in 2013).

Listening

One of the things OEN does is coach entrepreneurs for meetings with venture capitalists.

Says Finnerty, "If an entrepreneur comes to me, I listen whether they say 'I need help with marketing, I need to raise $15 million, I have legal questions about patents...' I say let me connect you to people."

The cluster strategy is designed to help entrepreneurs who although comfortable in knowing what is going on in their region, might never know what's going on outside of it.

"With constant traveling, to deliver goods and meet people, they said they never know what's happening." Hence the creation of a statewide OEN calendar.

It can take, say a food company, 10 meetings to get to the right person at Costco who can decide whether or not to stock their product.

OEN wants to facilitate those meetings with its online database.

"In Oregon we're all generous and willing to sit down with a start-up and guide them and lead them. We're trying to create those connections and have them be more efficient."

Especially between regions.

"Connectivity in regions is good but not among the regions."

No duplication

If someone doesn't see a group or organization in their region — an incubator, a test kitchen, a mentor database — the temptation is to build it.

"But that takes time. If it's just a MeetUp, fine. Meet your neighbors."

She says the cannabis industry is keen to solve problems, and the Bend cluster is getting the first group, which will be a 501 (c) 6. "OEN can't solve all the problems of the cluster, but can bring people together and form committees.

But there's no need for a tech cluster because that is too broad. "Every business is a technology business now," she reasons.

Finnerty can see them having a AR-VR cluster or a blockchain one, or a clean tech one.

"We wanted to start with one or two, and the loudest voices got our attention. We could have 10 or 20 clusters. We think we'll have three or four by the end of 2018."


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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