Five Eugene Tech Startup Founders Weigh-in on the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
By Matt Sayre
An entrepreneurial ecosystem is the social and economic ingredient of a region that affect the probability of success for newly forming companies. The ecosystem is all the inputs to economic growth taken together including: capital, talent, partnership, and mentorship. I caught up with five founders during Eugene’s recent Tech Tour to get an update on how things are going.
WHY EUGENE: ETHAN RALSTON, PRESIDENT OF UBCO US
Ethan Ralston , US President/CEO
Converting owners of gas-powered vehicles to electric with a twist of technology
The concept behind UBCO was germinated in early 2014 in New Zealand. Daryl Neal and Anthony Clyde saw a gap in the market for a new category of product after spending 10 years in the electric bike industry. The concept was a 2 wheel drive electric, lightweight, utility vehicle.
UBCO had been actively visiting and investigating the US market when it was contacted by Technology Entrepreneur Bob Ralston. Bob had successfully built Feeney Wireless, an IoT company, with his son Ethan Ralston and sold it to Novotel Wireless in 2015.
Bob had been actively researching electric vehicles. Growing up with the Honda Trail 90, the 2×2 aligned perfectly with where Bob saw the market opportunity. His passion was clear and a relationship quickly developed with CEO Timothy Allan presenting to a tight group of like-minded investors including Spring Capital in Eugene, Oregon.
The investment opportunity was consolidated over the next 5 months with a dedicated distribution company established in Eugene. Ethan Ralston was appointed as President and CEO and Bob Ralston joined the UBCO Board of Directors. https://www.ubcobikes.com/us/our-story/
Eugene is an amazing place to live with access to a variety of outdoor activities, active lifestyle culture, and makes it attractive for starting new companies here. I have lived here my entire life, traveled all over the US for business, but always prefer to come back home to zero traffic and a comfortable pace of life. There are multiple top notch business groups in town from accounting service, to legal, to marketing, and everything in between that is needed to help start a new company. The tech scene in Eugene has always been growing rapidly since the early 2000’s and seems to be getting better every year.
FINDING CAPITAL: TODD EDMAN CO-FOUNDER OF BITCORK.IO
I’m lucky in that I’ve been in the business community for a while and grew up in Eugene which allowed me to raise money from my own network. Despite that, it has still been a challenge. I’ve done upwards of 50 pitches and for most here, making a Venture investment for $50K is too risky. There are huge holes in the capital landscape from Angel all the way to VC. I think there are different groups trying to fill those holes but fundamentally that’s hard to do with the amount of capital here. Most Funds are predicated on making early stage investments and then following on in their investments in a big enough way to keep their equity stake high “enough.” Additionally, if a company is raising funds in Oregon there is no fear of “missing out” on a deal. This keeps valuations low, which then makes it harder for companies to raise their next round outside of the state, and the cycle continues.
ACCESS TO TALENT: MICHELE ZIMBA, PRESIDENT OF NULIA
Nulia decided to locate our global headquarters in Eugene in large part because of the access it offered to high-quality employees from the passionate students and graduates of the University of Oregon and Lane Community College. We also felt there was a fast-growing technology industry and community in Eugene, which would continue to attract a strong and diverse base of talent for our business well into the future. We have developed strong partnerships with the Universities and the technology community which have allowed us to grow quickly. We expect to continue adding more jobs and expanding our Eugene workforce in the promising years to come.
LOCAL PARTNERSHIPS: NICHOLAS SKREPETOS, CEO AND FOUNDER OF MYCOFFEEHELPER
Local businesses have been eager to offer mobile order and pay ahead, and they’ve been both supportive and encouraging of MyCoffeeHelper. They appreciate being able to compete against larger chains while supporting local technology!
PEER MENTORSHIP: CHRIS LEE, CEO OF CONCIERGE365
Peer mentorship has been the foundation of providing me direction in my business endeavors. Every encounter with a fellow entrepreneur is a learning experience for success. What I love about Eugene is the accessibility to other founders. All the founders I know set aside time to help grow and provide a better community through peer mentorship. My top peer mentors have been Justin Bloom, Michael Nail, Lanny Berg, John Friess, Kevin DeWhitt, Richard Geiger, Matt Beaudet, Joe Maruschak & Shane Johnson.
By Matt Sayre
Economic Development | Community Builder | Technologist | Rain Maker