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Jobs Watch: What's next for business?

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Ben Jacklet
Thursday, November 04, 2010

Now that election day is behind us the question is: What next? It’s a question with a million subsets, many of them having to do with the still-sluggish economy. When will it turn around and how? Where will the jobs come from? Who will create them? Clearly they will not be in the public sector. What’s next for the private sector?

Today’s Venture NW event at the Governor Hotel in Portland offers compelling clues. The Oregon Entrepreneurs Network’s annual event brings together promising companies, potential investors and a wide variety of professionals with an interest in boosting Oregon’s fortunes. Among the topics of discussion are the quests to bring more investment capital into the state and to improve technology transfers from universities into the private sector.

The event’s organizers have invited 10 companies to present, with the winner receiving $27,000 in professional services, not to mention great exposure to potential investors. Among the presenters:

- Corvallis-based Columbia Power Technologies, which has invented an ultra-efficient way to harness energy from ocean waves.

- Portland-based Lux Bio Group, an Intel spin-off developing a DNA sequencing device for less than one-tenth of the current price.

- Portland-based The Clymb, launched by a team of veterans from the sporting goods industry with the goal of attracting consumers to private online buyers clubs for lower prices, for members only.

- Portland-based GreenPrint, which has created software to eliminate wasteful printing at the workplace.

- Portland-based DesignMedix, which is developing drugs to attack drug-resistant malaria. 

Diane Fraiman of Voyager Capital, the event’s ball-of-fire MC, said of the presenting companies, “Every one of them is pushing the boundaries.” She encouraged everyone in the audience to do the same.

“We’ve got to stop bitching and start doing more to support the entrepreneurs,” she said. “And the entrepreneurs have to stop whining that there’s not any money in the state, because it’s just not true… It’s there for great ideas.”

Fraiman implored the state’s universities and public agencies to “stop talking and start doing,” by improving the technology transfer process and embracing innovation rather than the status quo.

Fraiman also pointed out that for all the frustration in the entrepreneurial community,
“Activity is up, and the attitude is more verbal, more passionate, more aggressive.” She raced through a quick list of companies that have scored funding this year: TrustID, Tripwire, Jive Software, Elemental Technologies, Puppet Labs, Survey Monkey, Azuray Technologies, G5 Search Marketing, and more. “This is an unbelievable list of companies that are getting funded,” Fraiman said. “We need a strong ecosystem to help them grow.”

Newly elected state treasurer Ted Wheeler echoed this theme. “You are the ones who are providing the vision and the leadership,” he told attendees. “We need to support risk taking again. We need to take risks. And who better to show the way than the people in this room?”

The first round of presentations featured four companies with big growth plans. The Clymb is the fastest-growing retailer in the outdoor industry, with $1.4 M in revenue and 100,000 members after one year in business.

The Lux Bio Group grew out of an Intel team assembled to bring down costs for DNA sequencers and appears to be on the verge of busting into that market of the future.

Portland-based CardPower is tapping into the exploding debit card market (they’re now larger than credit cards) with rewards programs that snag the purchase data embedded in the cards.

Columbia Power Technologies hopes to fill the gap in renewable energy production that solar and wind power cannot fill, by harnessing wave power. “Waves are consistent, reliable and predictable,” said Reenst Lesemann, VP for business development. “This is worth hundreds of billions of dollars per year.”

Columbia’s plan is to move into the European electricity market first, exploiting requirements for renewable energy sources there, with a design that can handle intense weather and extract energy from both the heave (vertical motion) and the surge (forward motion) of ocean waves.

Attendees were impressed. Columbia won the first round of mobile phone voting, then beat out finalists DesignMedix and GreenPrint at the end of the day. All three companies offer progressive solutions to complex problems: the war against malaria, the quest to make the office environment greener, the need for more sources of renewable energy. With luck their ideas will bring in the money and the jobs that Oregon badly needs.

Ben Jacklet is the managing editor of Oregon Business.

 
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