October 17, 2011 The Bulletin
By Jordan Novet / TheBulletin
Brett Mills, of Redmond’s RES EquineProducts Inc., took home the big prize of $250,000.
Wearing a cowboy hat,jeans and a blazer, Brett Mills took the big $250,000 prize from the BendVenture Conference on Friday for his Redmondcompany, RES Equine Products Inc.
“Yeehaw!” said a person inthe audience at the Liberty Theater in downtown Bend when Mills’ victory was announced.
Mills, whose company sellsboots and fly masks for horses with a replaceable Velcro closure system, beatout two companies revolving around websites and two companies that sellconcrete products.
Boots protect horses’hooves from injury. Fly masks keep flies out of horses’ eyes. What sets Mills’products apart is that owners can buy a low-cost hook-and-loop Velcro elementrather than splurge for new boots or fly masks. A new boot costs $40 and a flymask $20. But Mills’ Velcro closure systems cost $5 each and double the life ofthe products, he said.
“Tech is all the rage, butthat gets back to the roots of what’s really cool,” said J.J. Camarata,director of Esri Inc., a mapping-software company based in Redlands, Calif.,as Mills walked past him.
Still, onetechnology-oriented entrepreneur went home with the conference’s first-ever$10,000 prize for an entrepreneur with little more than an idea: Sheetal Dube,representing her Portlandcompany AudioName Inc. On the company’s website, people can record and storethe correct pronunciations of their names.
A year offirsts
It was one of a few firstsfor the eighth annual Bend Venture Conference, which drew more than 300registrants and about 200 audience members to the Tower Theatre on Friday.
This year’s conference wasthe first in the event’s history — it started in 2004 — to give a quarter-milliondollars to an entrepreneur. The pot for the big concept-stage prize included$50,000 from the Oregon State Treasury’s Oregon Growth Account — also a firstfor the conference. The account draws money from Oregon Lottery funds.
Also, for the first time,each launch-stage company presenting at this year’s conference got on-stagepraise and criticism from an investor who did due diligence on the business. Arepresentative from each company then responded to the comments. Previously,investors did due diligence on the winner after the conference concluded.
Mills rebutted severalconcerns investors had about his company. They felt several entrenchedcompetitors could challenge RES, but Mills said his was the only company thatmakes a product with replaceable closure pieces.
“It’s like the shoes thatyou couldn’t replace the laces in,” Mills said of his competitors’ products.
With the $250,000investment, Mills said he plans to add employees in management and marketing.
Mills said he would liketo open a factory to assemble RES products in Central Oregon. Currently, a factory in China makes them, he said.
The investment, he said“should get us where we need to be.”
Dube, for her part, wouldlike to start paying people who have been working with her on the website,audioname.com. “Unpaid interns are fine, but I want to be able to pay them.”
The money will not allowfor lavish operations, she said, but she will be able to perfect her plan todraw revenues from the site.
Conference audiencemembers saw the official launch of VentureBox, a business accelerator operatingunder the nonprofit Tech Alliance of Central Oregon. Through VentureBox,entrepreneurs with startups will go through 12-week boot camps to become moreprepared to succeed and take on investments.
Adding to privatedonations for the program, the Portland-based Oregon Community Foundation isgiving a two-year, $75,000 grant to the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, of which$26,000 is going to VentureBox.
Earlier this week, theDeschutes County Commission agreed to give $14,000 from the county’sbusiness-loan fund to VentureBox.
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