At Crunchbase News, we often connect with startups in the Southeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest who prove that innovation and entrepreneurship is not a Silicon Valley exclusive.
Recently, Crunchbase News spoke to Joe Maruschak, the Chief Startup Officer of the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network based in Eugene, Oregon. More commonly known as RAIN Eugene, the organization is part of an accelerator program that aims to help regional startups build startup expertise while connecting to community resources.
After leading his own startup to an acquisition in 2009, Maruschak noticed that other entrepreneurs were eager to build startups but could not find the money or mentorship to do so.
“They would immediately leave for Portland or San Francisco.” Maruschak expressed. “[And I thought] it’s a shame that people are leaving because they perceive that there are no resources here because there are.”
Maruschak, along with other successful entrepreneurs, decided to band together to help those who were eager to stay in the community and found startups.
“Mostly what we’re trying to do is find people who are struggling to find a business model,” Maruschak explained. “They have a thing, but they don’t exactly know how to put that thing together.”
While Eugene may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of tech startups, Maruschak emphasized the unique interaction between the small town atmosphere and its entrepreneurial culture.
“A lot of people who are doing things here have a different focus,” Maruschak expressed. “[They’re] looking to solve real world problems like transportation or food logistics, which aren’t sexy enough for Silicon Valley but are real problems.”
Four years later, the accelerator is welcoming its sixth cohort of startups attempting to solve these problems.
Startups in the latest cohort include Song Foo, a startup looking to change the DJ and musician live music licensing process, and Algotek, a company that has developed biodegradable packaging. The founders come from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds, and their startup ideas were fueled by personal experiences and community issues.
“The idea for Song Foo came about after co-founder Rick Cobian and I had lost several regular music gigs,” co-founder Zac Wolfe told Crunchbase News in an email. “The venue we were playing at stopped having live music due to threats of litigation.” The two decided to build a platform which allows venues to circumvent licensing issues by enabling musicians and DJs to self-license live music on the spot. Wolfe expressed that Song Foo is excited to be a part of the growing tech scene in Eugene.
“We’ve always had a great talent resource in the University of Oregon, but have struggled to retain that talent locally post-graduation,” Wolfe wrote. “With the success of some local tech companies and some great new startup ideas, I think we’re starting to see how Eugene might be able to attract and keep top talent and actually earn the moniker: ‘The Silicon Shire’.
Another founder, Madison Page, joined RAIN because of her partner’s experience in a previous RAIN cohort. As a Pilates instructor that had moved to the area, Page began to realize that some women felt more comfortable working out in a private setting. Page is now aiming to develop a business for women of all ages who want to build physical and mental strength. Her online platform, Attend, will provide clients with real-time personalized and group movement classes wherever they can connect to WiFi.
Originally from Los Angeles, Page found the culture in Eugene refreshing, especially working in an industry which she believes “mistakenly correlates fitness with youth.”
“This transparent, work-in-progress attitude I’m developing in Oregon is the kind of radical openness I hope to find in the women attracted to my business.” Page told Crunchbase News in an email. “I just love the small town, grassroots community support I am experiencing in Eugene. I feel motivated and encouraged to develop a business because I am amongst peers, and committed to mentors who are always checking in on us.”
While Maruschak said that most graduates of the accelerator remain in the area, RAIN is also focusing on building resources in workforce, capital development, and infrastructure to further help startups stay in the region.
“From a workforce standpoint, we’re heavily involved in early-stage education all the way through directly finding employees for them,” Maruschak said. On the capital front, Maruschak is the managing director of a small seed fund that invests in its cohorts and other startups throughout Lane County.
With RAIN’s efforts, Marushek believes that innovation that is being driven in smaller communities looking to build tangible solutions is beneficial for everyone in the long run.
Editorial Disclosure: Holden Page, the editor of this article, worked for and occasionally mentored startups in the RAIN Eugene program prior to his employment at Crunchbase News.
Illustration Credit: Li Anne Dias