Photo: 2016 Early Stage Finalists: (L-R Chip Dixon, Free Rain Designs; Soren Wrenn, Hytchr; Dana Barbato, InvestiPro; Adam Krefting, CushCore; Sam Lambert, Fire Funder; and Dan Hallada, CushCore. (by Marisa Chappell Photography)
Five Central Oregon early stage companies are moving on to the Bend Venture Conference (BVC) on Friday, October 14 after successful pitches to an overflow crowd during PubTalk on September 23 at McMenamins Old St. Francis School.
CushCore, Fire Funder, Free Rain Designs, Hytchr and InvestiPro will vie for a $15,000 cash prize from BendBroadband at the 13th annual BVC hosted by Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO) — the largest angel conference in the Pacific Northwest. They were selected by a vote of PubTalk audience members from a 10-company field that included Best Hire, Broken Top Candle Company, Cascade Wellness Technologies, Pryzym Home System and SIMBAWARE.
“All 10 companies got a lot of votes,” said Natalie Dent of EDCO. “They were across the board better than last year.”
EDCO Venture Catalyst Brian Vierra added, “They are a diverse group representing a wide breadth of different industries.”
Representatives from each of the 10 semifinal companies at PubTalk were given three minutes to woo the crowd before taking a few questions from audience members.
CushCore’s Dan Hallada described that firm’s product, an inner tire suspension system for mountain bikes. More than eight million people ride mountain bikes annually, he said, although most of their bikes are still equipped with old-fashioned tire systems. In contrast, Hallada said CushCore’s innovative suspension takes advantage of today’s high technology materials and design.
“It gives riders the benefit of a lightweight tire with the protection of a heavy tire,” Hallada said.
His business partner, Adam Krefting, said their product “reduces shock to the rider. It’s lightweight and easy to install.” In addition, he said tires with CushCore can be deflated to low tire pressure to handle the sandy conditions of many Central Oregon trails.
“We’ve been testing this for a long tine with zero flats,” Krefting said of the product manufactured in Canada and under design for the last three years.
Fire Funder is a crowd-funding platform for outdoor and sports applications. Entrepreneur Sam Lambert, sporting a bushy auburn beard, said he’s competing in a $48-billion-per-year industry.
Lambert acknowledged that Fire Funder isn’t live yet, but said, “If I flipped the switch tonight, we could be active in six weeks. But we need that $15,000.”
Free Rain Designs plans two showcase products: The Cube, an aesthetically pleasing way to collect water and The Hexagarden, a raised-bed gardening system.
“The need for food security and water quality is absolutely mandatory these days,” said Free Rain Designs Owner Chip Dixon. “We need to be growing food and saving water.”
The Hexagarden’s frame is made of recycled plastic with 1-inch by 12-inch cedar boards “to make it a long-lasting product,” said Dixon, who told the crowd he needs more money to complete the prototype.
Hytchr is a mobile photo/video crowd-sourcing application powered by blockchain technology. Soren Wrenn called his company “a social application with business purposes” and likened it to “the uber of photography.” The firm’s six employees anticipate releasing their product within the next two months, Wrenn said.
InvestiPro is a cloud-based software platform that simplifies how employers conduct workplace investigations. Owner Dana Barbato said her product can reduce by half the chance of a company entering litigation. Up to $13 million in annual sales is possible, she said, with human resources professionals her target market.
“That’s the most likely person to want this,” Barbato said. “It takes the fear out of workplace investigations.”
An audience member asked her whether the product, which was unveiled in August, has been used in the court system. Barbato said that hasn’t happened yet, although a labor law attorney told her it would stand up in court.
“We are the only online platform that allows people to conduct investigations,” she said.
Despite not getting enough votes to qualify for the upcoming BVC, the five other firms making presentations at PubTalk earned their share of supporters, as the balloting indicated.
Here’s a thumbnail look at each of those companies:
Best Hire, owned by Fred Rafilson and Chris Mergenthaler, develops a web-based employment testing and screening application to identify potential employees who have the integrity and drive to help a business prosper.
Affton Coffelt’s Broken Top Candle Company produces handmade scented candles made from the highest quality soy blended wax, all-cotton wicks, and fine essential oil-infused fragrances.
Cascade Wellness Technologies, owned by David Schaefer, makes automated thermal contrast devices to increase blood flow to selected parts of the body without invasive measures.
Pryzm Home System is a free, mobile application that allows users to create online, interactive, customized home owners’ manuals, said company entrepreneur Thomas McClain.
Manfred Walder’s SIMBAWARE is an innovative, cloud-native management system that gives customers high quality compliance and efficiency in their regulatory processes.
Chris Friess of Cascade Angels was among those in the PubTalk audience and talked about the qualities investors are looking for.
“In the end, it’s trust in the CEO and their integrity,” Friess said. “They need to have a plan to grow and the Cascade Angels want to see sales. We’re looking for fast growth, but how do you predict fast growth?”
At PubTalk, the early stage companies were hoping to strike a chord with potential investors despite not having fat sales records.
“Most of these just have an idea,” Friess said. “The usual return comes three to four years later when they are purchased.”
The BVC will be divided into Early Stage, Social Impact and Growth Stage categories. Last year, almost $1 million was awarded to multiple winners and the conference drew 465 attendees, 50 prominent investors and 65 companies.
A similar pool of investment money is expected during this year’s event at the Tower Theatre.