Cowboys beat out web and software innovation and thermal window inserts in the 8th annual Bend Venture Conference finals held Friday, October 14 at the Tower Theatre in Bend. Brett Mils, dressed in a black cowboy hat and jeans, lassoed the grand prize of $250,000, winning the launch stage investment for his Redmond-based RES Equine Products and eliciting a rowdy round of rodeo cheers from the assembled crowd.
This year, the program gathered over 300 registrants, entrepreneurs and business professionals from all over the Pacific Northwest. RES was chosen by the angel investor congregation over four worthy finalists after a stimulating and convincing presentation to the panel.
“I think the investors made the right decision and I don’t mean that in an arrogant way,” said Mills. “I knew we’d be in the top two or three. The other companies had great presentations and products as well but our investment plan fit into the whole BVC criteria and where we’re going and obviously they agreed too.”
Mills wowed the judges with his innovative line of protective splint boots, bell boots and fly masks for horses that are designed with a replaceable Velcro closure system. These boots prevent performance horses involved in ranch work and competition from injuring sensitive tendons and ligaments during strenuous exercise and work. Most boots and fly masks need to be repurchased long before the product itself is worn due to inferior Velcro. RES beat out two companies revolving around websites and two companies selling concrete products. But the final pitch was not as easy as Mills believed.
“It was definitely a little bit of a hurdle to overcome,” he said. “Most common folks don’t understand the horse business and don’t realize the extent of the equine industry. It’s a large universe made up of a very small number of companies and people are so emotionally attached to their equine partners. Each individual spends a large amount of money on their horses and this product gives the customer a better value. We double the life of a product for the same price.”
Mills revealed that RES is rapidly expanding into the lucrative hunter/jumper show circuit market.
“We’re going to be launching into that area a lot sooner than later. Our patented product can be produced and adapted to any equine protective gear, anything at all that uses that same a Velcro enclosure. We have some turnout blankets on the drawing board, and may be putting together a deal with one of the major blanket companies and catalogs but the ink’s not dry on that deal yet. It’ll be them using the RES system on their own line of blankets, turnouts and sheets.”
The difference in the RES line is the fact that horse owners and equine professionals can buy an inexpensive “hook-and-loop” Velcro element instead of paying for an entire new set of boots or masks. With the price of new boots at $40 and fly masks going for $20, customers can get a new closure systems for $5 each and double the product’s lifespan.
“With the other boots out there on the market, it’s like selling a pair of shoes you can’t replace the laces in,” Mills said.
Mills has big plans to expand and add employees in management and marketing with the prize money.
“It will help bring more of our prototypes to market quicker and provide increased local consumer awareness. The key is getting everybody out there around the globe the info and let them know there’s an option to replace the closure mechanism.”
“I’d also like to open a regional factory to assemble the RES products right here in Central Oregon,” he explained. “A factory in China makes them for us at present. This investment should get us to where we need to be. We’ve done a feasibility study and it looks very probable a few years down the road. We would be bringing in the products unfinished and then doing final quality control and packaging here in Central Oregon.”
This year’s venture conference was the first to deliver a quarter-million dollars to an entrepreneur. The investment treasure chest for the big concept-stage prize included $50,000 provided by the Oregon State Treasury’s Oregon Growth Account which draws money from Oregon Lottery funds.
That amount represented the maximum amount the treasury could provide in new initiatives this year to support entrepreneurship through matching funds in the State’s regional investment conferences. The remaining $200,000 balance was raised by the BVC, LLC and constituted the highest investor raise in BVC’s eight year history.
EDCO, Economic Development of Central Oregon, organized and managed the conference and was excited by the enthusiastic turnout and innovative spirit represented by all the entrants and lucky finalists.
“One good way to follow us is on our Facebook page,” Mills said. “There’s lots of instructional videos and pictures and comments by happy customers. People have a hard time envisioning something they’ve never seen before. We’re thrilled about the award and rapidly unfolding opportunities in our future. We had a lot of things in the pipeline already even before the Bend Venture Conference. RES was cocked and ready and with all these amazing, positive things coming together simultaneously, this was basically pulling the trigger.”
For more information or questions, visit RES at www.resboot.com or call 541-604-1919.