(Award Winners at Bend Venture Conference Outside the Tower Theater | Photo courtesy Bend Venture Conference)
Central Oregon Companies Among Winners Awarded $665,000 in Funding
Two Central Oregon female-led innovative start-up companies were among the winners of major capital investments totaling $665,000 at the latest annual Bend Venture Conference, held recently at downtown’s iconic Tower Theater.
The Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO) hosted event is now in its 19th year and has grown to become one of the biggest angel investment conferences in the country, bringing together entrepreneurs, investors, students and business leaders from across the Pacific Northwest.
For 2022, it featured 14 finalists presenting their groundbreaking ideas and business models to an audience of hundreds in hopes of gaining investment from prominent funds.
Of these contenders, seven companies in various phases of development were selected to receive investment infusions.
Each fall, the BVC LLC fund and the BVC Impact LLC fund are raised from individual investors to invest in the conference Growth Stage (already generating revenues) and Impact (deriving social or environmental benefit) finalists. Beginning in August, applicants for both categories began meeting with investors from the funds.
Meanwhile, contenders in the Early-Stage track were evaluated by investors at Portland Seed Fund (PSF), who have spearheaded the BVC investment in initial phase ventures since 2018.
Of the early-stage companies Central Oregon’s Bend-based medical device pioneer Osheru, and Range Revolution of Madras — the world’s first leather luggage company using only traceable and regenerative hides — each received $40,000 from PSF.
Osheru (ilidlyft.com) has a mission to revolutionize eye surgery through development and commercialization of a proprietary device invented by founder, Bend-based Ophthalmology Specialist Dr. Patricia Buehler MD — who has over 32 years of experience in the medical field and is a managing partner at Infocus Eye Care.
The device, dubbed “iLYDlift,” simplifies upper eyelid surgery to make this vision and appearance-enhancing procedure more widely available and more affordable.
With age, eyelids stretch, and the muscles supporting them weaken. As a result, excess skin and fat can gather above and below your eyelids. This can cause sagging eyebrows, droopy upper lids and bags under the eyes.
Dr. Buehler said an ancient practice provided the spark of inspiration for her entrepreneurial venture.
She said, “I have been an eye surgeon for 30 years and have done thousands of blepharoplasty procedures (which involves removal of excess unwanted skin from the upper eyelids resulting in improved peripheral vision and a more youthful appearance).
“Unfortunately, the procedure can take one to two hours to perform with the surgeon dealing with bleeding requiring cautery and needing meticulous suturing. The patients often have to go through a difficult and disfiguring recovery with bruising and swelling for up to two to three weeks and pay up to $6,000 for the procedure.
“To the dismay of the surgeon and the patient there were occasionally problems with symmetry, and issues with wound healing.
“My innovative insight came while visiting an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on ancient Egyptian medicine. The Egyptians removed excess eyelid skin by compressing it between two small twigs, depriving the skin of blood supply and allowing it to fall off in three to five days.
“Based on this idea, I worked with my co-founder (husband Dr. Knute Buehler) and an engineering firm to design and patent the iLIDlyft as a novel medical device that could markedly simplify and improve the procedure.
“There has been no innovation in this area in the last 20 years and this device can represent a big improvement in the patient and physician experience. Instead of 45-60 minutes, the procedure can be done in under ten minutes and is significantly less invasive.
“The patient benefits from an easier process with quicker recovery time, meaning less potential missed work. Essentially this is a disruptive technology, which makes the blepharoplasty procedure much faster and can be done in the medical office.”
The iLIDlyft device has jaws that compress the upper eyelid tissue and a following blade that takes tissue outside of the compression area.
One device is placed on each eyelid, with adjustments to optimize symmetry, and specialized forceps, which will also be sold as part of a kit for physicians, are used as part of the procedure. Surgeons in the field will receive training in the technique as it becomes more widely in use.
The initial focus of the business relates to the upper eyelid as it is somewhat unique in the subject tissue’s ability to heal rapidly.
Dr. Buehler has a patent on the concept and pending patents on the product design and is working towards potentially tapping international markets.
She recollected that testing of the earlier prototype involved working on chicken thighs at her table, and as modifications progressed, she was able to try the device more practically thanks to OSU-Cascades, which brought in cadavers for dissection as part of its fledgling physical therapy program.
She was also aided by the university’s Innovation Co-Lab, a department that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality, which also facilitated an MBA intern, so “all those opportunities came together” representing fortuitous timing to accelerate the concept towards reality.
Dr. Buehler is currently securing funding for clinical trials for the FDA Class I device, as it goes through the certification and validation process and expects to have the finalized version ready for the second quarter of 2023.
She has a patent on the concept and pending patents on the product design, and in the longer term is looking for other sources of capital as things ramp up and working towards potentially tapping international markets.
Range Revolution (rangerevoution.com) is tapping into an increasing groundswell of consumer desire to support sustainable ecosystems by giving a “regenerative” option when it comes to buying leather handbags & luggage staples.
It was originally founded in 2020 by organic farmer/rancher Cate Havstad-Casad, who helps run Casad Family Farms in Madras, known for actively regenerating its soils and surrounding ecosystem through holistic land management, including rotational grazing, and careful monitoring of ecological outcomes.
Havstad-Casad is also a custom hat-maker, and her concept was initially formulated when she was working on a design and wanted to utilize regenerative sourced leather hides but saw there was no obvious path to that goal.
She said, “I saw that there was a demand for sourcing hides coming from ranches that employed proven regenerative practices.
“Using the EOV (Ecological Outcome Verification) Protocol developed by the Savory Institute, we ensure our partner ranches participate in a monitoring program through which ecological outcomes data is collected from the land to ensure the holistic management practices result in net-positive ecological outcomes.
“All Range Revolution leathers are coming from lands that are regenerating soils and increasing biodiversity on rangeland ecosystems.
“Revolutions can be beautiful, design can be a force for good, and business models which support biodiversity and ecosystem health are the future.
“It is not just altruistic; it makes good business sense. Every industry is ultimately reliant on preserving the ecosystem, and there are opportunities to ease stresses on the supply chain by promoting regeneration.
“We are building a company that is founded upon reverence for living systems and focused on creating a value chain that is based on planetary limits of production, giving people an opportunity to participate in land regeneration through the purchase of our products.
“It is credit to Indigenous peoples that conducted regenerating practices that we have lost track of, that were dominant prior to colonization and industrialization.
This is actually a value-added proposition. Consumer studies show there is a huge audience for this and people want to know that their purchases are producing some benefits.
Millennials are conscious of living through climate challenges, and we are experiencing the biggest transfer of wealth in history from baby boomers.
Billed as “leather goods from the land, for the land,” Range Revolution products are built of 100 percent American cattle hides which are vegetable tanned in the U.S.
The BVC award comes as Havstad-Casad undertakes a wider seed round fundraising effort, looking to expand the leadership team, create connections globally and set up third-party logistics. She is currently building out the Range Revolution collection including handbags, luggage and men’s suitcases.
Her designs will be seen at major retailers in 2023 and showcased at the Cowboy Channel Cowboy Christmas show again in Las Vegas this December.
The only official gift show at Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR), the Cowboy Christmas has been a Las Vegas tradition ever since 1986, with more than 500,000 square feet of floor space showcasing 350+ exhibitors representing all 50 states.
Each year Portland Seed Fund (PSF) commits to writing a $30,000 check to at least one BVC Early-Stage company. Steve Eichenlaub and Angela Jackson, Managing Directors of Portland Seed Fund IV, evaluated applications and met with founders over the last few months.
“We were blown away. The quality gets better each and every year. In the end, we ended up writing four $40,000 checks,” said Jackson.
Ultimately, Portland Seed Fund IV awarded $160,000 across four finalists — three Early Stage and one Impact — at the conference. These companies joined the likes of sustainable personal products innovator Clean Age and patented at-home instant health assessment technology creator Reperio as Portland Seed Fund IV’s latest investments.
Along with Osheru and Range Revolution another BVC Early Stage company that received a $40,000 investment from PSF was Portland-based DailyChela.com, an *OTT app for Latinos that solves the problem of the lack of Latino news, opinion and sports on Roku, IOS and Android.
tOther BVC awards were handed out in Growth Stage and Impact classifications.
The Growth Stage Competition is for companies that have a proven concept and initial revenues. The finalists that walked away with investment awards this year were Minnow Technologies (Seattle, Washington) and Wild Rye (Sun Valley, Idaho).
Minniow is a cloud-connected delivery hub (called a “pod”) that makes food delivery efficient and reliable was awarded $185,000 from the BVC LLC. Wild Rye is a women’s outdoor brand crafting attractive and technical mountain apparel that fits, inspires confidence and welcomes more women into the outdoors and was awarded $65,000 from the BVC LLC.
The Impact Competition featured for-profit companies with integrated social or environmental missions. The companies that received investments this year are Ethicann of Bethesda, Maryland and Portland, Oregon’s Photon Marine which proved to be the conference’s biggest winner after scooping some $235,000 in backing:
Ethicann Pharmaceuticals Inc., a biotechnology company developing high-value, cannabinoid-based drug therapies using a development strategy of reformulating approved drugs into safer and equally efficacious drugs was awarded $60,000 from the BVC Impact LLC.
Photon Marine designs and develops an electric outboard motor system and intelligent fleet management software for commercial boat fleets and was awarded $45,000 from the BVC Impact LLC, with follow-on investments of $150,000 from Elevate Innovation Gap Fund II and $40,000 from Portland Seed Fund.
The goal is to electrify this portion of the maritime sector and help protect fragile ocean ecosystems.
“After months of meetings between our companies and investors, it is hugely rewarding to see the response. Companies and investors from around the country have been exposed to Bend and we’ll continue to foster these relationships and offer resources and support,” explained Deanne Buck, EDCO’s Venture Catalyst. “This program wouldn’t be possible without our partners and Oregon-based funding entities including Portland Seed Fund and Elevate Capital.”
Jenn Lynch, Fund Manager for the BVC Growth Stage and Impact funds, added, “The BVC Conference Fund investors were so impressed with the caliber of the businesses that elected to pitch.
“The investors put in a significant amount of work in the weeks preceding the conference — they’re truly invested in these businesses in more ways than one. We’re thrilled to welcome these new companies to the BVC Fund portfolio and look forward to their success.”
In addition to company pitches, attendees heard from investment industry leaders, Lily Trager of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and Mel Strong of NEXT VENTURES VC firm, on the latest research on impact investing and the virtues of untraditional funding perspectives.
**All investments are awarded following considerable due diligence of each of the presenting finalists. Investments and follow-on deals are still being finalized.