It seems every month Bend is highlighted in yet another survey touting our uniqueness, whether it’s breweries, lifestyle, growth or overall performance. The most recent being Milken Institute’s Best Performing Small Metro. The top factors placing us at #1 on their list were job growth (#1), number of high tech industries (#2) and wage growth (#4).
High Tech Impact on Bend’s Innovation DNA
High Tech is having a major impact on both jobs and wages in Bend. We’re rebuilding the middle-class which was decimated by the mill closings and the loss of forestry jobs, with higher wages and low-impact jobs. Most of the tech jobs require little to no costly infrastructure, just office space, beer, Humm Kombucha and laptops.
Most importantly, it’s one of the most prolific innovation engines in Bend, spawning startups with a broad array of innovative solutions to their respective marketplaces.
Now to the point of the article: Innovation. What’s driving the tech industry in Bend are brilliant ideas supported by strong founding teams and investors willing to take the risk. The ecosystem is exploding with innovative startups (examples: Amplion, Manzama, Droplr, Verdant Web Technologies, Tend.ai, Cairn, etc.) and support organizations (ex. EDCO, SBDC, Opportunity Knocks, Technology Alliance of Oregon, E:Space).
You’ll find similar stories from other clusters of innovation in town such as outdoor, food, beverage, biotech, aviation, health/medical and several others.
Okay, so what’s missing? The people who step out on the ledge and take the leap. Innovation and entrepreneurship require out-of-the-box thinking, people capable of seeing opportunity between-the-lines and the confidence to take risks and fail your way to success.
The Fountain of Entrepreneurial Spirit
The mechanics of entrepreneurship can be taught, but creativity/innovation is something which can be nurtured early on, some would argue as early as pre-kindergarten. I’m in the camp with those who believe the spark of creativity is embedded in everyone, and it’s a matter of coaxing that flame into a blowtorch.
The Bend La Pine School District (BLPSD) is the main source of virtually all our future local entrepreneurs, and recognizes the challenge. Below are examples of the Innovation DNA already in place, and where it’s missing.
K-5th DNA – Highland Elementary School
BLPSD’s Highland Elementary fulfills the K-6 DNA piece. With their Storyline approach, they’re connecting the core curriculum to over-arching storylines which connect esoteric topics (examples: math, history) to real-world scenarios, and encouraging creative engagement with the subject matter.
6th-9th DNA – Realms Middle School
Realms, which started out as a Charter school and now brought into BLPSD as a Magnet school, fulfills the next piece of the DNA with its Outward Bound inspired format and connecting all the curriculum to mostly eco-focused projects, much like Highland’s approach with Storyline.
MISSING: 10th-12th DNA – Coming in 2018
High School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Now to the future. One of the key segments missing is the High School part of the Innovation DNA. First off, BLPSD is on the ball, and has been implementing innovative points-of-light throughout the high schools, with things like senior projects, internships, etc. However, the structure of all three comprehensive high schools do not allow a fully-immersive experience to truly foster the creative/innovation spirit.
The High School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation will be a stark departure from the traditional classroom with a lectern in front and rows of students led through studies by a teacher. In fact, it may be disconcerting for most of us who went through public schools. It’s slated to open September 2018 for the 18/19 school year with about 150 students. Any high school student will be able to apply, most likely in a lottery-based selection. The student body will increase to about 325 students the second year, and will most likely cap at this number.
The best environment to foster innovation and entrepreneurship looks like organized chaos. Groups of self-managed students working on projects they defined themselves and mentored by teachers along the way. This is Project-based Learning (PBL) at its best. Studies show this approach leads to highly engaged students with higher graduation rates. Autonomy and self-direction are key attributes of successful students in a PBL environment.
I witnessed project-based-learning at Spokane’s River Point Academy High School, along with representatives from BLPSD and HDESD. We were all mesmerized by the environment. Initially, it seemed like total chaos, but patterns emerged, showing purpose behind every action on the floor. Teachers stood on the edges, scanning the room. They would sense an issue or tension, and would swoop in and engage the student(s). What was truly amazing is how they engaged. I shadowed two teachers, and their approach was to ask questions, not to impose direction/guidance. “What’s the issue?” — “How would you solve it?”— “Is your team in agreement?”
MISSING: 13th-16th DNA
OSU-Cascades’ Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs
Gap In Funding
The next piece of the Innovation DNA is OSU-Cascades’ Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (ICE). The funding is partially in place for ICE, enough for it to open without all the required elements in place. ICE will reside in the Graduate Research Center located in the Upper Mill district off Colorado Ave. and Columbia Ave.
This is crucial to the Bend Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, as it will be the interface for businesses to work hand-in-hand with OSU-Cascades students in researching, prototyping and getting projects converted into viable startups.
ICE will attract companies with well-paying jobs to Bend which value partnering with OSU-Cascades on academic research and development. Onboard Dynamics is a perfect poster-child for such a relationship and its potential commercial application.
EDCO, FoundersPad, Opportunity Knocks, Leadership Bend, Bend Poly, Etc.
Bend has in place substantial resources for the post-academic Innovation DNA, such as those listed above. EDCO, our fantastic economic development powerhouse headed by Roger Lee, provide invaluable services to current and potential traded-sector companies.
So here’s the bottom-line: to complete the Innovation DNA, we need to do everything possible to make sure both the High School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and OSU-Cascades’ Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs are fully operational and successful. This will make Bend a powerhouse of creativity which will inoculate it from future economic downturns.
Preston Callicott is CEO of Five Talent Software Inc. Preston has over 37 years of management experience in High-Tech companies and consulting organizations. His career started at venerable institutions such as Hewlett Packard, Advanced Micro Devices and Price Waterhouse – Management Consulting Services. In 1990, he found his love for startups and was on the executive teams as a founding member for over a dozen startups. Preston brings deep experience running companies and managing consulting teams, processes and client relations. Preston has a broad knowledge of technology in system architecture, database, coding, infrastructure, social media, web/internet technologies.