PubTalk hosts investors, startups

Event aims to link those with cash to those who need it

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

On Thursday, Clark County PubTalk will tackle one of the biggest conundrums of today’s economic struggle: the disconnect between young businesses in need of cash and the lenders who have plenty of dollars but are wary of letting go.

Organizers of the increasingly popular PubTalk business networking event have invited three keynote speakers to offer perspective to both businesses and investors at the Thursday session, held for the first time in the old Red Cross building, E.B. Hamilton Hall at the Fort Vancouver National Site.

One of those speakers, the regional president for an organization that tries to bring together investors and cash-starved startups, believes a fundamental task for getting money where it’s needed is to build a bridge between the very different worlds of investors and entrepreneurs.

“There is plenty of money out there,” says Nathan McDonald, the Seattle-based Northwest regional president of the Keiretsu Forum. “The key is to have the money flow.”

In McDonald’s view, the retrenchment by banks and other traditional funding sources has created new opportunities for private investors if they’re willing to take a risk on startup businesses.

The difficulty, he believes, is getting would-be investors to accept many business failures in pursuit of an occasional success. Investing relatively small amounts, perhaps $10,000, in many companies over several years is likely to yield a profit even if most of the businesses fail, he said.

“The opportunity for angel investors has never been better,” he says.

An important role for the Keiretsu Forum and similar organizations is to educate investors about those opportunities, he said. “Nobody has time (for research) unless they’re part of a group,” he said. “If we are able to get investors working together a little more corroboratively we can get more capital flowing.”

One big obstacle, McDonald believes, is that the Northwest lacks qualified money managers skilled in so-called angel funds for fledgling businesses. That’s one reason why two-thirds of the region’s startups go outside the Northwest for financing. Still, he says the Portland-Vancouver region’s startups are attracting growing interest from investors.

Other speakers at this week’s event are Rob Wiltbank, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., and Ryan Moor, president of Ryonet Corp., a Vancouver-based supplier of screen-printing equipment and supplies. In addition, representatives of six local startups will make 90-second business pitches.

The Keiretsu Forum, founded in 2000, bills itself as the world’s largest angel investor network, with 850 accredited investor members in its 21 chapters in the U.S., Europe, and China. Its members have invested more than $260 million in companies with high growth potential in technology, consumer products, health care, real estate and other fields. The Forum’s Portland chapter has a large number of Clark County members, McDonald said.

Thursday’s PubTalk is from 5 to 8 p.m. at the old Red Cross building, E.B. Hamilton Hall, 605 Barnes St. Cost is $25 for the general public and $20 for Oregon Entrepreneurs Network members. Registration is available through the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council at http://www.swwdc.org/.