(Photo: Bend Venture Conference | Pic by Julie Harrelson)
Cascade Business looks to seasoned, local leaders poised to mentor Central Oregon through its current economic climate of growth and change.
Julie Harrelson is CEO of Harrelson Group, the fund manager for Cascade Angels. She is an entrepreneur and investor in Oregon’s startup community. While she is preparing to be intimately involved in the Bend Venture Conference coming up October 13-14 as emcee of the Social Impact competition and making investments in local start-ups she shared some insight into the investment world.
Cascade Angels is a sponsor of the conference and plans to invest a minimum of $100,000 in one or more of the finalists. Harrelson has navigated multiple executive roles in design, technology and angel investing and co-founded Cascade Angels Fund in Bend in 2013 with a group of entrepreneurs and investors. Cascade Angels Fund invests in launch stage companies who are primarily based in Oregon.
Harrelson is invited to speak at industry conferences and events and recently presented a Best Practices in Angel Investing seminar on managing angels funds and groups at the international Angel Capital Association Summit in Philadelphia. Every month she emcees a popular PubTalk sponsored by Economic Development of Central Oregon (EDCO) attended by 200-300 entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders.
A 2014 Woman of Influence Award winner, Harrelson is an active member of the Angel Capital Association and serves on the board of the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator, the board of advisory directors of the Central and Eastern Oregon Region of U.S. Bank National Association and is a founding member of the Center for Women’s Leadership at Portland State University.
Harrelson explains her love of the Pacific Northwest as a native who has been in Oregon for many years. “I started Cascade Angels with a group of local leaders and entrepreneurs in Fall of 2013 and was new to town. Cascade Angels is based in Bend and primarily invests statewide in early stage companies.”
Through her work with Cascade Angels Harrelson says she has focused on entrepreneurial companies. These are companies in the early stages that are seeking to build successful companies and can be in any industry. Of the eleven companies they’ve invested in so far, seven are in Central Oregon. Cascade Angels funds have invested over $1 million in Oregon since 2014.
In August 2016 Cascade Angels Fund 2016 announced that they were investing in Amplion, inventors of BiomarkerBase, Biomedtracker and BIO. Earlier this year the company announced the publication of the largest study of clinical drug development success rates ever. The report examined10,000 clinical programs by therapeutic area as well as three unique categories: rare diseases, chronic high prevalence diseases and programs utilizing selection biomarkers.
“We are pleased to have Cascade Angels continuing involvement as a strategic partner,” said John Zicker, CEO of Amplion. “Strategic partnerships with funds like Cascade Angels and other Oregon investors are critical to the success of Oregon’s entrepreneurial efforts and will help to accelerate our expansion.”
In August 2015 Cascade Angels Fund invested $100,000 in Bend-based start-up LeadMethod. The company provides channel sales management software to companies that sell through independent sales reps and distributors.
Cascade Angels has also invested in Cairn, which is changing the way outdoor enthusiasts discover new products and ideas that inspire them to connect and explore. Cairn was built by a group of entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity to bring positive disruption and give back in their area of passion – the outdoors. Since the company founding as a monthly subscription box service, Cairn has evolved to be a market leader and fast growing community of thousands who love the outdoors.
Harrelson is a veteran in her own right of several tech start-ups and has owned two businesses. In 2007, she started Harrelson Group, working as a strategist with CEOs and their teams and boards across multiple industries including healthcare, tech, transportation, global trade, energy, apparel, education and other areas.
“All this has given me a broad base of experience from working with tech executives trying to double their business, to fashion designers seeking to launch a brand, to tech, outdoor products, food and apparel companies seeking investment to expand — to name a few examples,” said Harrelson.
Harrelson says she started her career before there was technology that could colonize, measure and potentially optimize everything. “Who knew we would be able to meditate, measure our steps, watch a podcast on leadership, play Pokemon Go, manage our schedules and crunch big data on a device that fits in your pocket,” she declares. “But the fundamental challenges and opportunities of leadership and building great businesses by managing the unforeseen, developing strategy, managing cash-flow, finding product market fit and attracting, retaining and developing talent remain.”
“A change I‘ve noticed in Central Oregon is that when we first launched Cascade Angels, the region was just starting to emerge out of the downturn. Now there is so much activity and an increasing diversification including growth in industry clusters such as tech, consumer products — food, apparel and outdoor and biotech.
Asked where she sees Central Oregon’s advantages to business and industry at the moment Harrelson offers, “In regions that grow successfully there are some common building blocks — a friendly business environment, opportunities for education, networking and access to expertise and capital, and a great quality of life.
“Central Oregon has strength in these areas —
we have great community organizations (too numerous to mention) to support business. EDCO plays a strong role in helping entrepreneurial companies with Bend Venture Conference, the monthly PubTalks, a group of volunteer experts and a position focused on assisting entrepreneurs. We have a four- year university with a focus on educational excellence. We have industry clusters where people can trade ideas and resources. We have long-time efforts like Opportunity Knocks that provide business people with a forum to exchange ideas and best practices — there are really too many to name. We have a community with amazing expertise, and we live in a great place, with easy access to the outdoors and a beautiful environment.”
Interviewed on the week that Oregon State University — Cascades opened Tykeson Hall on the new campus in Bend Harrelson offers this view.
“Universities can play an important role in communities. I sit on the OSU Advantage Accelerator Board. If you look globally at successful regions, a focus on education is key. I think there is an immediate benefit in that people who want and need a four-year university have local access to higher education. This could also create a larger pool of local talent. And the collaborative nature of our community could lead to increasing intersections between the entrepreneurial community and the University.”
Harrelson has found a niche and a friendly welcome in Central Oregon. In closing she says, “I want to especially thank the business community in Central Oregon who reached out to welcome me, provided introductions and local knowledge. Cascade Angels was an idea of a few intrepid business leaders here and when they engaged me to build it, it was a full-on start-up and I was new to town. It took a few months to build the initial effort and now with just over two years of investing, Cascade Angels has put significant dollars to work to help build a pipeline of entrepreneurial companies.”