County PubTalk set for busy new year

Program helps startups promote business, find funding

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

Get involved

This year’s PubTalk dates, all from 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays: Jan. 18; March 21; May 16; Sept. 19; Nov. 14.

Register for the Jan. 18 PubTalk.

For more information or emails about PubTalk, or to become a PubTalk sponsor, contact Bonnie Moore at 360-567-1055 or at bmoore@swwdc.org.

To pitch at a future PubTalk event, or to nominate a company, go to PubTalk.

Clark County PubTalk is entering 2012 on a high note, winning praise on both sides of the Columbia River as a high-energy showcase for local entrepreneurs and small business startups.

PubTalk organizers will roll out next year’s first networking event on Wednesday, Jan. 18. “Patents & Rock ’n’ Roll” will feature Vancouver attorney Kurt Rylander discussing intellectual property protection under new patent laws. Also, the owners of Vancouver startup Young Guitars will make a business pitch, complete with an electric guitar demonstration. The event is 5 to 8 p.m. at Fort Vancouver National Trust’s Artillery Barracks, 600 E. Hatheway Road.

Sponsors are looking ahead for other companies to pitch at later PubTalks, says Bonnie Moore, who works for two of those sponsors, the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Center.

PubTalk gatherings highlight companies that have already established a legal business identity, are in the second stage of development, ideally with seed capital in hand, and have demonstrated proof of a viable concept. Preference will be given to “business-to-business” companies that can become financially sustainable or would be potential buyout targets.

The networking event has grown steadily since its launch in December 2009, and it has outgrown three venues. Conceived as a local variation of the Oregon Entrepreneur Network’s social gathering for entrepreneurs, investors, and other business professionals, Clark County PubTalk now regularly attracts up to 130 attendees and participants.

The Oregon Entrepreneur Network holds the trademark for the PubTalk name, but that organization doesn’t mind that it has stuck in Clark County, as long as it is credited for its role as a founder of the event, says Linda Weston, OEN’s president and chief executive officer.

“We’re thrilled the event has taken a life of its own and is attracting a crowd,” Weston said. “It’s always difficult to get people across a river, whether it’s the Columbia or the Willamette.”

The project’s success is one of the few good-news stories in

Clark County’s efforts to rebuild its struggling economy. And it’s one that defies conventional wisdom in the Portland area, where many believe that Clark County is an entrepreneurial backwater that doesn’t attract much notice on the region’s increasingly vibrant startup scene. Many take note that PubTalk crowds exude energy and optimism that seems to defy the pervasive economic gloom of high unemployment, a stagnant housing market and a lack of job growth.

“There’s a lot going on over there (in Clark County), and I think it’s exciting,” Weston said. “There’s a lot of positive energy and it’s exciting now within the entrepreneurial community in general.”

Paul Brown, a Clark County resident who is chief financial officer for Micro Power Electronics in Beaverton, Ore., also likes what he sees at the local PubTalk. “I really think it’s first rate,” he said. “There is good energy and some up and coming companies getting press time (in Clark County).”

But if PubTalk brings energy and confidence to Clark County’s small entrepreneurial sector, much of the Portland metropolitan area remains oblivious to the local startup culture.

“It’s like a different country,” Brown said. He wishes it were not so. “If I could find the right opportunity and could be over there, I’d probably be a much happier guy,” he said.

Small-business advocates say Clark County still lacks well-heeled investors willing to help finance local startups, and there’s no critical mass of creative entrepreneurs to feed off each others’ energy. Newt Rumble, a certified public accountant in Vancouver who works with startup businesses, believes Clark County’s entrepreneurs were sidelined for decades as investment money poured into more potentially lucrative real estate ventures. With that industry’s collapse, Rumble says he’ll work with other business backers in 2012 to attract more business finance capital from investors in Clark County and the larger Portland region.

“What frustrated me was watching business ideas flourish with good prospects, but die for lack of financial and professional nurturing,” he said. “We were competing against real estate to get capital. We need to grow stuff in this area.”

But the prospects for small-business funding are growing tantalizingly close. Outside investors in recent months have taken note of Portland’s startup scene, bringing hope that Southwest Washington companies will at some point share a place in the spotlight, said Weston of the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network.

“So many startups are getting investment, and are growing fast and hiring,” she said. “We have to think of ourselves as a region. A high tide raises all boats.”