Oregon Trail

A Bend, Oregon VC wants startups to move there so he can incubate them

For many years my family and I have been traveling to Bend, Oregon, for summer vacation. Recently I started to see Bend in a new light. If you’ll indulge me by listening to why I initially fell in love with area, I’ll share my new, more intriguing interest and offer.

As a family, we typically pull our Airstream — with its vanity license plate “SPTNK” — from the San Francisco Bay Area on a 10-hour venture up I-5 through central California, past 14,180 ft Mount Shasta and the town of Weed, and onto highway 97 toward one of the many beautiful parks that surround the Bend area. We then spend a couple weeks using our campsite as a jump off point for mountain and road biking, fly fishing and hiking.

Although we haven’t tried the white water rafting, if that’s your thing you’ll find a number of rivers to explore. Likewise, we have yet to make a winter trek to Mt. Bachelor, but I know the locals get up early and ski first tracks before heading back down the mountain to their offices (just a 30 minute drive).

We’ve fallen in love with this once sleepy logging town. And we aren’t alone. Today Bend is a popular area for recreational enthusiasts and retirees from around the U.S. as well as its full-time population of about 85,000 people. What’s not to love about a “high desert” town that gets just 11.2 inches of rain, two feet of snow and 300 days of sunshine each year?

Bend seems to have everything I like about the outdoors, so I was a bit surprised when recently I was invited to judge a startup competition at the 10th annual Bend Venture Conference (BVC) this past October.

Venture Capital in Bend? 

Really? Well, it turns out that over the past 10 years a lot of Silicon Valley folks have discovered Bend, usually while on vacation, and they’ve figured out a way to transplant themselves into the community. It helps that just 20 minutes north in Redmond is a new airport that is small, easy to navigate and friendly (yes, that’s right, I said friendly). There you can grab a 55-minute direct commuter flight into SFO. (Brilliant!) It turns out a lot of people are getting up early Monday morning, flying in to the Bay Area in time for 8am meetings, and then traveling back on Thursday afternoons.

Bend’s dry, cool climate and access to low cost power led both Apple and Facebook to build data centers just north of the town. And there are more than 40 software companies located in and around Bend. There’s even an incubator, called FoundersPad, designed to help companies through the startup phase. Dino Vendetti, a successful venture capitalist from Silicon Valley, relocated to Bend, co-founded FoundersPad and created a local venture fund, SevensPeak Ventures. Dino has been helping the community attract new software companies into the area.

I was connected to Dino through my in-laws who relocated there a few years ago and had read about him in the local newspaper. He and I met up in our Menlo Park offices, where I listened to his vision of transforming Bend into a thriving high tech community similar to what’s happened in Boulder, CO.

Dino has been working with Oregon State University to develop a 4-year computer science curriculum at the University’s extension campus located in downtown Bend. Recently, the university and state of Oregon agreed to fund and build that $40M extension, which is sure to bring even more talent to the region. The Bend Economic Development Center along with a number of other firms in the community also have put together the Bend for Tech website to start spreading the word on this up-and-coming tech community.

Calling on founders: Come try out Bend 

Dino and I have been talking a lot about Bend over the past few weeks since BVC, and we’ve decided to make an offer that 10 years ago would have been a dream. We’re calling on all of you startup founders to take a challenge. We’re calling it the Big Bend Theory.

If you have a high-growth startup, or an idea for a startup, send me your pitch. Tell me what you are doing and why Bend is where you should be doing it. We are going to sponsor and host the top three applicants to a weekend up in Bend, so you can see if this is a community for you.

We will pay for the CEO and one other member of the team, as well as their spouses/significant others, to take the commuter flight from SFO up to Bend. We’ll put you up in the really cool Oxford Hotel downtown, pay for all your meals, and introduce you to local startup executives and community leaders as well as all the activities available to you in Bend.

If you choose to relocate to Bend, we will provide you with temporary tech space (at no cost), assistance with getting your team and families settled, and help you with your funding efforts.

I’ll let you in on one more little secret that may get you thinking about this more seriously, especially if you have kids. The roads, homes and schools in Bend are all very new — many have been built in the past decade. The elementary, middle and high schools look more similar to private college campuses here in California. According to the locals, the community’s support for public school education and the outdoor lifestyle has made Bend a highly sought after location for teachers. There is now a long waiting list for teachers in Bend, so the community gets the best Oregon has to offer.

Help us test the Big Bend Theory

To apply, send me an email to the address in my bio below by Dec. 31 at 11:59 p.m. PDT and include the following information: who are you, what does your startup do or what idea do you have for a tech business, are you already funded or do you need funding, and why do you think Bend might be a great place for you to build your company. Keep your pitch simple, but make it compelling.

We will select the top three applications and notify winners by January 24, 2014. Then we will then find a weekend that works for everyone and let you see for yourself  why I think Bend is becoming a startup community worth noting.

[Image Credit: Brendon Burton on Flickr]