The walls are up and the Internet connection is in place at a mentoring and business development nonprofit years in the making.
Gorge Innoventure will open Sept. 8 in the east corner of the Port of Hood River office building, next to Hood River Interstate bridge.
A program of Gorge OEN, Innoventure will provide a place for fledgling businesses to learn, network and gain coaching to help them proceed toward opening for business and obtaining investment.
“This has been the culmination of discussions for years around here on the need for a way to grow new business,” said co-founder Gary Rains, a member of Gorge OEN, an independent chapter of Oregon Entrepreneurial Network. Rains also helped found GAIN, Gorge Angel Investment Network, in its sixth year of providing investment opportunities for startups.
The Port of Hood River was the charter sponsor, and is providing reduced rent in addition to making the tenant improvements in the long-vacant space. Google and Insitu have signed on with in-kind and grant support.
“Up until now no one has stepped up to the plate,” said Rains, who stressed that more corporate sponsorships and partners are needed for Gorge Innoventure. (Interested businesses or potential partners can call Rains at 541-386-5351.)
“The whole idea is to take someone who has a good idea but is very green as far as taking that innovative idea, and help them figure out how to build a business around it; and make them be investor-ready,” Rains said.
“We need that kind of encouragement to take to the businesses that are starting around here,” Rains said. “GAIN has seen about 50 businesses, some of them moderately successful to highly successful, and there needs to be a way to encourage them so they can grow, create new jobs and get over some of their hurdles.
“Who best to do that than those who have started businesses and grown them; people who can say things such as ‘You have a really wonderful idea and but you’re going in the wrong direction with it’?
“We’ve seen businesses that had great ideas but had absolutely no protection, as in intellectual protection or trademark work,” he said.
As such, Gorge Innoventure will provide networking and mentoring to help meet a variety of needs including bookkeeping, business plan development and business structuring, in addition to presentation, marketing and idea development.
Rains describes the new nonprofit as “a 12-month incubator for up to 10 businesses to come in get a desk and chair, a place to reside and lots of exposure to a mentoring network we will build over time,” with the support of Gorge Angel Investment Network, Gorge OEN and other partners in the Gorge.
A basic goal of Gorge Innoventure is to help potential businesses figure out their direction — including what type of business they want to be, or should be.
“One of the biggest problems is a lot of people have no idea what kind of business to start,” Rains said. “They might have a great idea but don’t know what kind of business it should be, such as a C corporation or an LLC, and if they do have ideas they don’t generally structure it correctly for whatever the exit strategy will be on the other end.
“You need to structure a business so you can sell it, or merge it or grow it, and if you’ve got it structured improperly on the front end you have a problem on the back end,” he said.
“A lot of people around here are creating things in their bedroom or their barn and their whole network is so small, and so getting exposed to other people who have been through other problems and solved them is huge,” Rains said.
Gorge Innoventure’s first program starts in September with a 10-week “boot camp” for five fledgling businesses.
The program involves weekly full-day sessions on how to do investor pitches, setting up books, and more. Helping with the training will be ONAMI, Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnology Institute, and others teaching one-day classes.
“The first day of the 10 weeks is all about the businesses explaining what they’re trying to accomplish,” Rains said. On the last day of the fall boot camp, the businesses will present to a group of investors who will hear the pitches and give them feedback. Depending on what the investor/judges hear, offers of investment could emerge from that last session.
Rains noted that the port office location has plenty of advantage, from ample interior space and extensive parking, to its proximity to the bridge.
“The space is as far out of Hood River but in Hood River as we can be, and as close to being across the river without being across the river, and one that will be easy for people from White Salmon and Bingen to get to,” he said.
Gorge Innoventure is so-named because it will not be just about Hood River-based businesses.