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On The Scene: The 2010 OEN Tom Holce Entrepreneurship Awards

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On the Scene
Thursday, September 23, 2010

By Emma Hall

Oregon Entrepreneurs Network Executive Director Linda Weston stood on stage last night and began her speech.  "It's been another difficult year for the economy, but..."  What followed was a steady stream of examples of business leaders making the most of a challenging situation by raising money, making strategic acquisitions and creating jobs.

Over 730 supporters of entrepreneurship in Oregon gathered at the Hilton in downtown Portland to celebrate 14 local businesses making waves in the community.

The 2010 OEN Tom Holce Entrepreneurship Awards celebrated the 17th year of the annual awards, but were missing their namesake who passed away in July of this year.  Holce was a pioneering entrepreneur who helped shape the Oregon tech community since the 1960s, and many attendees cited him as a personal mentor.

The first award presented was for development stage businesses, true startups that are just testing and developing their products or services, with less than $1 million in revenue.  The winner was TrustID, which has developed a patent-pending telephone firewall solution to Caller ID spoofing.  CEO Pat Cox praised his employees for "leaving big paying jobs to chase a dream."  He provided concise advice to fellow entrepreneurs: "Take risks, make it worth it, drive the economy, make a better life for people."

The second award given was for working capital stage companies with revenue between $1 and $10 million.  The winner was ClearAccess, a Vancouver-based company that sells software to telephone, cable and Internet service providers.  CEO Ken Hood half-jokingly advised the audience that when selling a product, "a qualified no is a conditional yes."

The final award was in the growth category, for companies that have a fully-marketable product or service and revenues in excess of $10 million. The award went to Smarsh, which provides hosting services for archiving e-mail and social media. When CEO Steve Marsh took to the stage, he described starting the company in 2001.  "I never imagined it would have gone very far, if I had, I would have named it something else!" he said.

The individual achievement award was presented to an entrepreneur who founded or operated a new business at a time when its success wasn't guaranteed, and assumed personal accountability for its survival. The winner was Sohrab Vossoughi of Ziba Design (pictured at left), who thanked OEN for the award and said he was just happy to have found something that made him get up everyday excited to go back to work.  

Finally, a special lifetime achievement award went to Ken and Joan Austin of A-dec, Inc., a Newberg-based manufacturer of dental chairs and accessories.  Ken credited Joan with being his business partner through and through, and someone who he still had to ask for parking money from.  Soft-spoken Joan described how much fun it was to work on her destination hotel--the Allison Inn and Spa in Newberg, a family project that didn't include Ken, she joked.

Although a business magazine is probably not qualified to give fashion critiques, if we could we would also award Joan as the best dressed at the OEN Entrepreneurship Awards. Her sequined lime green cardigan and matching dress truly made her stand out in the sea of black business suits at the ceremony.  And as the co-winner of the lifetime achievement award, she's obviously doing something right and standing out in the crowd in more ways than one.

Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.

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