Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Category - Technology

Cutting a path to success: The ArcLight Dynamics Story

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Scott Cunningham had a simple idea: he wanted to carve realistic replicas of mountains. But that simple idea proved anything but simple to accomplish.

As he began exploring the project, a friend told him about CNC Computer Numerical Control) machines which could carve any shape he dreamt up. After researching CNC machines online, Scott purchased a CNC router from a vendor, but the quality turned out to be really poor. This led him to rebuild the entire drive system using surplus parts he found on ebay.

Once he fixed that initial machine, he realized that he could also build bigger and better CNC routers on his own.BRiJ-Way-LLC

Early beginnings

Scott worked on the CNC routers for a while, but eventually got into metalworking where he noticed the CNC plasma tables were selling for premium prices. He sensed an opportunity.

“I knew I could build a better one but — more importantly — provide an unmatched level of support,” he said. “At the time, you could read lots of reviews on the internet about how poorly these companies were treating their customers. And many of these customers just didn’t get any education on how to run these tables. It was obvious that these companies didn’t know that negative online reviews could hurt them.”

So in 2009, he started with two prototypes. Out of the two prototypes, one stood out as a potentially viable product — one which looks strikingly similar to the machines they sell today.

Scott used that table throughout 2010 to make metal art which he displayed at the Sunriver Artists Gallery in Central Oregon. This provided a solid trial run, but in his mind he kept pondering if people would actually buy the table.

“At the end of the year I basically threw it up on ebay just to see if anyone would bite, and I sold my first table a month later in January of 2011. That year I built 7 tables in my garage, and sold all of them on ebay.”

15937225_622225007949071_3764450894718195906_oWith initial sales traction and some market validation, Scott started thinking there was a true opportunity around building the CNC tables. That thinking accelerated when the recession cost him his full time job and he found himself unemployed. That change in circumstances opened the door to the beginnings of ArcLight Dynamics.

“With my small severance pay I rented a shop and hired two of my fellow unemployed co-coworkers, and built a website. From that point on the business took off and I hired two more of my old co-workers within a year’s time.”

That initial website had a high level of focus and professionalism. In all of his market research, Scott realized that many companies had a very limited amount of actual product information on their websites. This was a huge negative in his mind. He wanted potential and returning customers to have the ability to find an answer to any question they might have about the tables. There was an additional emphasis around producing comprehensive training videos that would allow their customers to hit the ground running.

“When we started out I created a series to video tutorials that showed our customers how to program and run our tables and put them up on Youtube for anyone to use. At this time no other manufacturer had done this, but from my perspective it was essential. So a lot of people who use other brands of tables used our videos to teach themselves how to run their systems. As a result we became the authority and source for training. “

The focus on the customer from the outset allowed ArcLight Dynamics to slip in and fill the void.

Developing an innovative product

ArcLight Dynamics tables are complete packages, which means that all someone needs to have for a very functional cutting system are standard components. And while this may seem like the norm, that is far from the case, and another area in which the focus on the customer has paid off.

“Other companies often start out with low prices, but the system won’t cut well until you add on options, which add to the cost. We believe customers will get the best bang for their buck with an ArcLight Dynamics table. We combine solid durable frames, combined with easy to use software, and most important to our success, excellent customer support.”

Scott and his team saw the biggest opportunity for their tables within small to medium size shops and businesses, and to gain traction within these verticals they had to be very conscious of the pricing. By keeping all of the parts and production in-house, they have been able to not only control costs, but also maintain high standards.

13305220_521846171320289_2423757534828226125_o“I do all the R&D in house for the design of the tables and develop new product lines. I don’t have formal education in it, but I’ve always had a knack for it. Keeping the overhead low is another reason we have been able to keep prices low. We have been very lucky as we found low cost rental space when we started out, and was able to take over more space when we needed it. But moving forward it is going to be very challenging to find a large enough building to rent or buy in the current market.”

Keeping the pricing low as they were just ramping up was a lot easier than the current production rate of 8 tables per week. So Scott and his team started researching ways to not only maintain their costs, but also create a more efficient process. This resulted in ArcLight Dynamics partnering with the local Fastenal store.

“Fastenal has been a huge help in sourcing and maintaining our inventory. Often I can find the best price on a product on the internet, and they can then match that price or do better. But what is really great is they come to our facility and stock the parts for us, maintain that stock, and often they are able to keep a back stock of our parts at their store. This saves a lot of labor and gives us ”just in time” ordering that helps with cash flow and storage space.”

ArcLight Dynamics started out with four sizes of tables, and just recently added two new larger models. The initial four were identical in design and function, while the most recent tables have larger steel welded frames and a more smoother and precise functionality. The new tables are named the Arc Max series, and are focused larger industrial environments. But new models are not rolled out too often.

“We just came out with the Arc Max table design this year, and so the new product cycle up until this point is about every 5 years. To date our best selling table is our 5’x10’ Arcpro 12000 table, accounting for 30% of our sales.”

ArcLight Dynamics has seen 40% year-over-year growth, which can, in many ways, be directly attributed to the high level of craftsmanship put into each table, along with the high level of customer service. One sector in particular, custom automotive, has really seen an uptick in the adoption and usage of CNC tables. Scott believes the adoption of CNC tables in these smaller shops, not just those focused on automotive work, can be traced back to a combination of things.

“The quality of cut that can be achieved with a plasma cutter has greatly improved in the 6 years, while at the same time, the cost of CNC technology had dropped in price. People have also become comfortable with running computer controlled equipment. They have come to the realization that they need this technology in their shops if they want to compete in the marketplace.”14681025_580637488774490_787406608450889072_o

Connecting to the community

There is a strong connection between ArcLight Dynamics and the Central Oregon community. Scott and his family see not only a place with a high quality of life to raise families, but also one they can help support through providing good paying jobs with benefits. In addition to the jobs, the company pumped $2.25 Million back into the local economy.

Scott also found connections that have been a tremendous help to his business, including Steve Curley from the SBDC.

“I started off taking the two year business development course through the SBDC and that was immensely helpful in getting me to understand how to grow our business. After the completion of that course they told me that we would qualify to continue working with the Grow Oregon program. This is when they introduced us to a new program they were offering,the Entrepreneurial Operating System, or EOS. This system has been very helpful in bringing the rest of our management team on board so they can start running the company independent of me. It has been very empowering for them and helped me grow from being self employed, to being a true entrepreneur/ business owner.”

Table made for Central Oregon based Noslr

Table made for Central Oregon based Nosler

The training and resources Scott received have helped to shape a great company culture as well. ArcLight Dynamics has been able to consistently move people up from the bottom and into management. This means that every one of their employees started out cutting steel , welding, assembling tables, and lastly, training customers on how to run the tables.

This has resulted in not only a sense of empowerment for the employees, but also created an entire company that has a very deep knowledge base, has a commitment to making sure the table works for the customer the way it should, and knows how each customer can get the most from their tables.

As the company continues to grow at a high clip, one of the biggest challenges facing ArcLight Dynamics will be finding a large enough space to rent or buy to not constrain growth. But taking on challenges like these are where Scott and his team feel most comfortable. They have created a great product, culture, and customer support system, and are more poised to seize on opportunities as opposed to slowing down due to challenges. Scott also has advice for other founders about to take the leap.

“Don’t hesitate, take bigger risks, and don’t be afraid to invest more in your company.”

For more information, visit www.arclightcnc.com and like the on facebook.

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Linking the physical and digital worlds: A conversation with Sce Pike of IoT startup IOTAS

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Recently we chatted with Sce Pike, CEO and founder of Portland tech company IOTAS, an Internet of Things (IoT) application designed to deliver the smart home experience to renters and the smart building experience to property owners. Pike caught the entrepreneurial bug in college and since then has started 4 companies, all leveraging her vision of IoT as a transformational technology with societal and environmental impacts that go well beyond profit. To that end, Pike will be a panelist talking about the New Clean Tech Economy at the upcoming GoGreen Conference in Portland on October 5th (Built Oregon is a sponsor – tickets available here).

I always like to ask about that particular moment in an entrepreneur’s career when the light goes on and they take the leap? What was that moment for you, and can you expand a bit on how your career journey brought you to that inflection point?

rtemagicc_iotas_sce_pike_web-jpgI’ve always been entrepreneurial. Perhaps it’s because my parents were immigrants and ‘owning a business’ was the only way they knew to provide for the family and also believed that was the American dream. They borrowed money from their family and friends to start a business, this was the only way they knew how to work. I suppose they instilled in me similar values. In my Senior year in college, 1997, I started a web development company. I started another company in 2000, then again in 2007, which was very successful, and IOTAS in 2014. I guess I have the 7 year itch for starting businesses.

Why such an interest in IoT?   You saw this as a “next big thing” well before most of us nearly 10 years ago.

Good question. My interest with IoT peaked when I was in the mobile telecom industry with Palm back in 2000. I saw mobile, specifically smart phones, as the next big thing and I knew that software, (applications and services) for mobile devices would be so much more valuable than just selling the hardware. In 2007 the iPhone showed everybody how to do that well. Seeing that change in the telecom world: from selling hardware to selling services to generate revenue, I wanted to take that same change to the real estate industry. The shift from selling only hardware to hardware + software yields exponential value. This is true for the real estate industry as well, instead of selling just 4 walls and a roof, if they can digitize their homes they can sell services and software that would generate limitless revenue. IoT is the only way to digitize buildings. It’s a way to create that layer of interaction between the physical and the digital worlds, and that’s where it becomes really interesting.

What role has Oregon (and Portland) played in developing your ventures ?

Portland has been great because it’s a place where people really care to experiment and connect, and they’re not financially motivated as long as it makes a valuable difference in people’s lives. It makes for a really good environment to innovate; you can find people who are passionate and willing to connect with you, and they’re willing to take a risk and do something different. We were lucky that Capstone Partners was willing to do this with us, and experiment with their building. It’s the people, they make a bigger difference than capital ever could.

Let’s talk about IOTAS – what led you to start this IoT venture, and what problem are you solving with this service for apartment developers and owners?

The typical age group for early adopters is 18-35, which fits the Millennial demographic. With this group, home ownership was only at 35%, since most of them were renting. They also live in the ‘Subscription Economy,’ where access to value is more important to them than ownership – e.g. the death of CDs and DVDs and rise of Netflix and Spotify. So what would be the perfect product for these Millennial early adopters?

I believed that the perfect product for early adopters would be an elegant Smart Home product which would be the gateway drug for IoT. It would not cost them thousands of dollars and should not be DIY. This product shouldn’t require them to install bunch of hardware, set it up, and then when they move next, force them to uninstall it, pack it, move it, reinstall it, and set it up again in their new rental.

A true Smart Home would also be a complete home. Rather than just one thermostat, a couple of lights, random devices, or outlets, a smart home would be 100% of lights, 100% of outlets and thermostats, with sensors throughout.

Luckily for me, at the same time that this was going through my head, Capstone Partners, an innovative Real Estate Developer in the Pacific Northwest, reached out to me to ask about a technology differentiation that they could market to their residents in an upcoming building. They made me realize that the Multi-Family-Home (MFH) industry is ready for a radical tech overhaul.

The next step was evaluating the MFH market size and understanding trends in the market. Based on my research, there is a trend towards Urbanization, where cities are the next big deal because resources are limited, and it’s more effective to share resources in cities versus a spread-out inefficient infrastructure like suburbs. This urbanization is a global trend and that means that Multi-Family-Homes will be growing in volume.

For developers and owners we hope to accomplish four things: 1) Get more people to the buildings. 2) Use the technology to show units faster and spend less time between showings. 3) Rent apartments for more because of the value added by our technology. 4) Make buildings cheaper to manage by automating tasks that are currently done by walking around the properties.

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There’s a big “green” piece of IOTAS – the electricity savings. Have you scoped the potential impact in reduced energy use as your company scales and its use is more widespread among the 24 Million apartments in the US? I bet that number is pretty big.

We actually only count 18 million apartments as our target market, because we focus on buildings with 5 dwellings or more. In our testing, we’ve found that our technology will save a minimum of 1.36kwh per sq. ft. per year, up to 6.74kwh per sq.ft. per year. On average, those apartments are 982 sq.ft. which totals 17.7 billion sq. ft. That comes to a potential energy savings of 119,000 gigawatt hours every year, which is enough to power all of New York City over that same period of time. That’s also $7.3 billion dollars of potential savings at 8 cents per kilowatt hour, the going rate for the northwest.

What does this social impact factor (the energy savings) mean to you relative to the “making money” side of the business? In other words, how will you personally define “success” for IOTAS?

aaeaaqaaaaaaaao5aaaajdnlmtnhmdvmltnjnzgtndjmyi04njdhlwexzjvhymvkmdy4oqFortunately for us, the two are completely linked. The more success we have, the more energy we save, and the more money we make. Personally, the more social impact we have the greater my satisfaction will be with IOTAS and what the team has created.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur you can pass along to our readers?

People. Surrounding yourself with the right people is critical to success, not just in business but in all aspects of life.

Look into your crystal ball and give us your prediction as to when what you’ve called the “huge promise of IoT “ will finally be fulfilled? What needs to happen?

I predict that this will only take about five years to happen. But before the promise of IoT can be realized, there needs to be a standardization of IoT protocols across different industries. That is to say, once industry standards have been established for every step of the way from design, to manufacturing, to sales, to installation and implementation. For example: most smart technology companies have no idea that installation is even an issue because most of their products are currently only being installed one or two at a time. Technology moves fast, and our culture is so entwined now with technology that our acceptance rate for technology is moving just as fast.

You can find out more about IOTAS on their website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Protecting Our Data Blind Spots: Senrio Brings Needed Visibility to IoT Vulnerabilities

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260f88b-1Not long ago, we sat down with Portland startup founder Stephen Ridley, the founder of Senrio. Senrio is an entirely new approach to data security, a Software as a Service product that easily scales to protect all kinds of companies, from small businesses to major medical, critical infrastructure, and financial institutions.

But because of Stephen’s research on data security and his understanding of technology and consumers issues, we hung around a little longer than usual, and asked a few more questions about recent developments—things we hear a lot about in the news.

For this edition of the Making Oregon podcast we bring you one interview divided into two episodes.  In the first half, we ask Stephen to tell us about his path from teenage hacker to working for the Department of Defense, Wall Street banks and social media companies. He’ll tell us how his love of research eventually lead him to become an entrepreneur—two pursuits that require very different skill sets.

He’ll describe Senrio, how it works, and what makes it different from other security applications. We’ll learn how it addresses the vulnerabilities found in embedded systems. And yes, we’ll explain how ubiquitous embedded systems are—and here’s a hint—they exist in your cell phone.

And, if you’ve never heard of a USB Condom (also called Syncstop) and what it can do to keep your data safe, Stephen will explain what the device he designed and produces in Oregon can do for you.

In our second episode, we back track for a couple minutes and make sure everyone is on the same page with understanding how Senrio works. Then we dive into a discussion about best practices for protecting data, especially if you are a small business.

Stephen will also talk about the vulnerabilities he and his developers find in consumer electronics and how Senrio can play a role in providing solutions. Plus, we’ll get his take on data privacy, metadata and what social media giants like Facebook are doing with the information users supply, whether they know it or not.

network-4Finally, we’ll ask whether data privacy really exists in today’s world and how Stephen balances his awareness of security issues with his own personal practices in daily life.

We want to congratulate Stephen Ridley and the entire Senrio team on their recent launch, and for spending time with Making Oregon. For those who want to read some of the early reviews about the company, you can check out Silicon Angle,  or the Oregonian.

Links to the Senrio video and comic mentioned on the podcast:

Video: https://player.vimeo.com/video/147295095

Comic: http://senr.io/comic

Part 1:


Part 2:

Sounding like a great idea: Q&A with Audibility

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Portland startup Audibility is closing in on the end of a successful campaign on Kickstarter, designed to help fund the first production run of their personalized headphones. The company is also part of the current cohort of the Portland Development Commission’s Startup PDX Challenge, a program designed to help early stage founders from communities of color. We took a few minutes to sit down with Audibility cofounder and chief operating officer Gilbert Resendez to hear more—ahem—about this young Oregon company.

What was the genesis of Audibility?
Long story short, we worked together on projects for our respective programs at the University of Portland. We wanted to develop a business model that worked to address a lack of access to hearing aids for those with hearing loss. With this in mind, Audibility was born as a consumer headphone company that aims to improve everyone’s listening experience through well designed custom fit headphones for everyday listeners, and access to hearing aids through our partner foundation.

How did you go from just an idea to where you are today?
We started with form in this concept while we were students at the University of Portland in our respective academic programs. From there, we applied for and received the Dean’s Innovation Challenge award at UP. This allowed us to begin working on product development. And after winning a spot in the Startup PDX Challenge, we began to receive the resources to carry out our vision for Audibility. Because of all of that combined support, we’re happy to see our Kickstarter campaign meeting our goal.

The headphone market seems like one that is extremely crowded. How is your product different? Who are you initial target customers?
Everyone’s ear is different. Just like a fingerprint. But the majority of earphones and headphones are not made to fit a generic ear shape.

At Audibility, we recognize the need to customize headphones to ensure comfort and quality. While other custom-fit options do exist, they often require excessive time and money as they require users to visit an audiologist for fitting, or to send images of their ears. Audibility headphones are a “one-stop” solution to achieving an affordable and custom fit.

audibility-boxingTalk a bit about the concept and design of the earphones. Was there a lot of trial and error around the engineering?
Our earphones are uniquely designed to accommodate our custom molding material. The molding material is a silicon-based putty that comes in two parts. Upon mixing the molds, the user will have approximately ten minutes to secure the mold to our earbuds before the material cures into a flexible rubber that maintains the contours of the users EarPrint. In our development process, it was fairly easy to find the right molding material, considering that material very similar to ours is used regularly in audiology for fitting ear-molds for hearing aids. Our cofounder Brian Carter wears hearing aids and was very familiar with this process. The challenges in development came in our industrial design of the earbuds. Our earbuds are designed with gaps in the casing that allow the custom molding material to form in and around the earbud to secure the earbud and become one unit. We used 3-D printing, amongst other rapid-prototyping tools, to iterate several designs and find the best, most fool-proof design possible for our Audibility Customs.

I assume human error is built into the model. People will mess up the fitting. Will you send replacement material if they reach out and say that it doesn’t fit exactly right?
Yes we will! We also provide enough molding material in our initial package for the user to do their fitting again if needed. In the coming months we will also provide instructional videos on our website to assist this process.

Talk a bit about the commitment to give back to the Hear the World Foundation.
For every product that we sell, we’ll give 10% of our revenue to Hear the World Foundation. From the beginning we’ve been strong believers in making sure people have access to hearing aids. Again, with Brian wearing hearing aids, we feel like we have a personal connection to that cause. This is our way of supporting that mission of giving hearing aid access around the world.

Where do you see the company in one year? Three to five years?
In a year we want to develop our online sales strategy and develop our ecommerce platform. In three years, we want to have multiple products surrounded by this idea of having a custom audio experience. By five years, we hope to have been acquired or developed some kind of larger partnership that allows us to eventually exit.

For more information, visit Audibility, follow Audibility on Twitter, or like Audibility on Facebook.

Verifying the Offers: A Q&A with Jake Weatherly of SheerID

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SheerID is an eligibility verification service for online commerce, based in Eugene. Co-founded in 2010 by CEO Jake Weatherly, President David Shear and CMO Marci Hansen, the company currently provides its service to companies like Spotify, Foot Locker, PGA TOUR, and Costco.  We recently sat down with Jake Weatherly to talk about the company and its history, and find out how it’s been able to gain such great market traction in just a few years.

What was the initial genesis of SheerID?
Living in a college town, everywhere we went, we kept noticing how hard it was for students to verify their eligibility and redeem discounts they deserved. We saw that at the airport, in the University library, and even at the college bookstore. As the pattern started to emerge and the pain point became obvious to us, David and I conducted extensive research to uncover what solutions existed. We were stunned that there weren’t companies already verifying eligibility for exclusive student discounts.

Once you had that initial idea, how did you go about developing, testing, evolving, and growing the concept?
I tapped Alex Boone, our EVP of Technology, and sold him on the idea. After hours of testing, Alex confirmed that it was possible to build an API that could perform a binary verification against data sources. From there we spent a lot of time researching data options until we found the right partner for authoritative student data. Upon starting to do TAM research for students, we uncovered there might be an even bigger opportunity around military discounts, so we began developing those two products in parallel.

What were some of the initial hurdles that you encountered as you were entering the market and lining up new clients?
When looking at the classic product life cycle, we realized that we were at the extreme end of the introduction and education phase. So while it was great to not have competition, there was a lot of education to do in the marketplace before we could sell our product.

What were the key pain points that SheerID looked to solve in the market when you launched and how have those evolved as you’ve scaled up?
At our core, we have always been a verification company. We set out to streamline the eligibility verification process for our clients and their customers. Along the way, we have been surprised at how our clients integrate our solutions. For example, we knew from the beginning that we had the capability to host our clients’ verification, but we thought they would be more interested in our API and hosting it themselves. However, because we frequently work with decision makers on the operations and marketing side of the house, the fact that we can get a SheerID-hosted verification solution up and running in six business days with minimal IT support has been a big advantage.

SheerID started with Students and Military, which seems like a great group based on retailer promotions/deals – was there a focus on lining up these two groups first?
There are 34 million members of the military community and 21 million college students. That made them the biggest opportunity for our target prospects.Hurry_bg_img

Was there a measured approach to growth after Students and Military, or more of a database/records access reason for how SheerID has entered the market?
We’ve always gotten a positive response from data partners we’ve approached because our API is designed to ask for a binary response and doesn’t see or transmit PII (personally identifiable information).

As we gained traction and on-boarded new clients, we uncovered two new pain points. Many software companies and other business that offered student discounts wanted to offer academic discounts so adding teacher and faculty satisfied their criteria. We also discovered that several of our clients who offered military discounts to show their appreciation also wanted to extend their offers to first responders. Both new products were client-driven.

Talk a bit about founding and growing the company in Eugene from a community standpoint.
Eugene has been a terrific place to start our company. The cost of living is affordable and the quality of life can’t be beat. Founding our business in Eugene has allowed me to maintain a healthy work/life balance and spend time with my family.

jake_david_2How important is it to maintain a great company culture as you scale up?
Maintaining our company culture is super important to us. We’re a family-friendly, environmentally conscious company. Once a month, we host a family movie night at our office. We encourage our employees to bike to work and stay active by organizing hikes and other outdoor activities. When we opened our new office in Portland, there was definitely a look and feel we wanted to replicate. For example, our desks in both offices are made from recycled doors, and we made it a priority to create comfortable seating areas where our employees can relax and brainstorm. We want our remote employees to feel like they’re a part of the SheerID family. We supply our offices with healthy snacks and high quality coffee, and we’ve signed our remote employees up for Graze subscriptions and coffee subscriptions so that they can enjoy those perks too. We try to create an environment that is very inclusive.

What do you think the biggest opportunities and challenges are on the horizon?
Our core business will always be verification, but our API is so flexible that there are many products we can create and different directions we can take. We’re very aware that in order to meet our goal of doubling revenue this year, we need to scale with focus and choose our next products and opportunities in a calculated fashion.

If your present day self could go back in time and tell your former self some advice, what would it be?
Don’t waste time worrying about the fact that every business planning professional out there says you should never start a business that doesn’t have competition. This idea has legs, so relax, dig in, and enjoy the ride.

For more information, visit www.sheerid.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter.

Tech, foodies and makers converge into a Perfect Oregon cupcake

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Can technology merge successfully with the foodie and maker movements to create a transformative consumer product that changes the way we work in our kitchens?  The Perfect Company is working to do just that.

We recently visited the test kitchen of Perfect Company to bake some gluten-free and vegan cupcakes using their Perfect Bake product, featuring many Oregon-based ingredients, with head of recipe development Matthew Barbee, and COO and co-founder Miriam Kim.

IMG_4602Perfect’s business is to design and develop smart products for the smart home. Through their cool products–such as the Perfect Bake and Perfect Drink, their aim is to bring  “perfection to your kitchen as well as your lifestyle”.  The products merge a simple and elegant scale with a smartphone or iPad app, and walks you through every step of the baking or drink-making process, measuring each ingredient by weight and (literally) telling you when to stop as you put them into the bowl or glass.

It’s also a product and company that’s caught the attention of Oregon angel investors – in November of 2015, the Oregon Angel Fund led a $4 Million investment round which will help the company expand its marketing reach and create new products, including the Perfect Blend, launching later this year.

perfect coverWhile making the peanut butter frosting for our cupcakes, we also chatted with Miriam Kim about the Perfect Company story, their innovative food & beverage products and technologies, and how they were able to go from idea to production of their first Perfect product in just 10 months (you don’t want to miss that part).

And oh yes, the cupcakes were delicious.

You can find Perfect on their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter

Here’s the interview:

And, here’s a list of the Oregon-based products we used in the cupcakes:

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Bob’s Red Mill Flours

Holy Kakow Cacao Powder

Jacobsen Salt

So Delicious Almond and Coconut Milk

Ristretto Roasters Coffee

Aunt Patty’s Coconut Oil

Singing Dog Vanilla

Oregon Olive Mill Olive Oil

Phoenix Egg Farm

Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters

(full disclosure: Terry is an investor in the 2015 Oregon Angel Fund, which has invested in the Perfect Company)

 

 

Orchestra Software Brews up an ERP solution for craft beverages

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The craft beer industry is booming, with existing breweries growing rapidly, and new ones opening at a rapid pace.

But this growth brings great challenges. From inventory management to purchasing and receiving, and production to quality control, the actual operations side of a brewery is not an easy job.

And is often the case, these kind of challenges open the door to new business opportunities. Brad Windecker saw an opportunity to help these brewery founders, and built OrchestratedBEER, an all-in-one brewery management software solution, to help these brewery founders manage operations and growth so they can concentrate on doing the thing they love to do – make great beer.

Identifying an opportunity

Before founding Orchestra, Brad was an implementation consultant, helping small and mid-sized companies implement ERP (enterprise resource planning) software – a job that requires the consultant to understand everything about a company, from their workflows, to the reports they need, all the way down to the structure of their general ledger.

“ Every time I completed a project, it occurred to me that we should target other similar companies and leverage the expertise we had gained from the implementation process. I especially thought that solution would fit one of Oregon’s favorite industries, Craft Breweries.”

However, the owners of the consulting business didn’t recognize the opportunity. So, when the recession hit in 2008 and his employer was bought out, Brad decided to leave and start Orchestra in Beaverton. The goal was to create an ERP company that focused on specific industries, enabling his team to build in best practices and turn as much of the traditional services component of ERP projects into software that worked out of the box.

This meant the company would need to have a hyper focus on each target industry, learn everything about it, and then work all of that knowledge into the product.

Listening to customers - 2But what that really means is it all comes down to one simple concept – listen to the customer.

“ We had a relentless focus on understanding what the first customers needed, so we could make sure that we worked all that knowledge into the solution. We looked at every spreadsheet that our customers were using, how they used whiteboards in the brewery, how they used Quickbooks, and studied their workflows. In the early days, there were many revisions of how we suggested people use our software, many versions of reports they needed, and so on. As we gained more customers, we fine tuned all the features and functions into the solution that customers see today.”

Listen to the customer.

It really is a simple concept, but the dedication Brad and his team put towards listening to the customer, and then responding, quickly helped their growth tremendously.

“ It showed our customers and prospects that we were focused on the industry and committed to making the product into the solution they needed. In a small community like craft beer, it was vital that we walk the talk and prove that we were in it for the long term and dedicated to the success of the industry.”

One of the biggest hurdles the Orchestra team encountered early on was the difference in how each brewery handled their TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) reporting process. Every brewery has to file the Brewer’s Report of Operations to the TTB, but every customer in the early days seemed to think about it differently. It took Orchestra almost 2 years to have enough customers to fully understand how to build a solution that handled every customer and all the infinite permutations of how beer moves around a brewery.

“ It’s easy to say you have TTB Reporting, but it’s really hard to get it right 100% of the time for all breweries, which we can now say with confidence.”

Another hurdle the team encountered was that they weren’t replacing a proven system; they were replacing spreadsheets, whiteboards, Quickbooks, and homegrown databases that breweries had all developed themselves to try and keep track of their business. This meant that every customer Orchestra encountered had different systems and processes that had to be replaced.

“ As we were building out our solution, this was hard to deal with. Today, OrchestratedBEER handles it all and we know exactly how to get customers off those legacy tools, but back in 2011, it wasn’t so clear.”

Early Wins and Growth

Oregon is craft beer spoiled (not that any of us are complaining).

Given that there are 200+ breweries located here, it would have made sense for a new Oregon company offering a software solution for the craft beer industry to build its client base in its home state.

But that wasn’t the path that Orchestra traveled. They didn’t target a specific geographic area, but instead targeted the industry.

“ Our first client was Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, we landed Schlafly in St. Louis and Firestone Walker in California. The first customers found us at the Craft Brewers Conference, the big industry trade show for the craft beer industry. When we started exhibiting there, we were one of the few tech companies; we were surrounded by bottling lines, valve manufacturers and malt suppliers. That initial presence in the industry, combined with strong SEO on our website, drove traffic to us. The early success solidified our strategy of using inbound marketing, which we still rely on today.”Early Wins & Growth - OBeer customer map

But in an industry and community as tightly knit as craft beer, once a solution is being used with good results, word of mouth marketing takes over.

“ Once we had started solving the problems of the first few customers and had established ourselves as a company dedicated to the industry long term, things started to move fast. When you combine a great product that solves a problem, dedication to the industry and the customers’ success, and great marketing, you end up with great word of mouth and high traffic to your website. We also made sure that anyone that was interested in our solution could see everything we had without having to call us and get a custom demo. In other words, we made it as easy as possible for customers to decide that our solution would be a good fit for them.”

One of the main pain points Orchestra is looking to solve is to bring all operations and finance information into one place. Having multiple systems for different areas of the business is what causes most of the challenges in running a growing company, and you simply can’t get the data you need to understand your business when data is in many different systems.

Many businesses rely heavily on web based tools, with Quickbooks and Dropbox folders full of spreadsheets. Pain points addressed - fast track implementationBringing all the aspects of the business into one application that has been tailored to the industry solves this problem.

“ More specifically, all breweries, from the smallest startup to the largest craft breweries in the country, have challenges understanding their cost and margins. Orchestrated helps breweries of any size see all the cost components that go into a beer, from the malt to the label on the bottle, and all the labor and overhead involved, to see a true cost. Without having all the financial and logistics information in one place, this is almost impossible, but we’ve made it easy and provided the reporting out of the box to show the data to customers in a brewery specific format.”

Recently, Orchestra has seen the effects of the recent brewery M&A activity with some of their smaller clients merging with larger players. These mergers lead to additional high-end needs like multi-location production, consolidated reporting, and system integration needs.

“ From the brand new breweries being set up from day one to be multi-site conglomerates to the growing mergers and acquisitions space, our solution helps them see a big picture of what’s happening across their sites and brands.”

Evolving the solution for other opportunities

The Orchestra team has seen a rapid user adoption rate within the craft beer vertical, to the tune of 207% sales growth over the past three years. This rapid rise has landed them on the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies in America list for the second consecutive year.

But the myriad of challenges in the beverage industry are not solely limited to breweries.

OrchestratedSPIRITS - distilleries face the same challenges as breweries“ Yes, manufacturing liquids poses many challenges that are faced by distilleries, brewers, and others. It’s critical that in a complex business like these, finance/accounting is in the same system as inventory, logistics, QC, and production. The main problem we solve is eliminating the silos of information and bringing everything into one application. This allows data to flow between the areas of the business and provides a single source of the truth. This challenge and solution exists in both beer and spirits. Distilleries also deal with the dreaded TTB and have similar reporting demands. Our systems handle all of the needs of a distillery to automate their TTB Reporting.”

Challenge equals opportunity, and for Brad and his team the opportunity was around launching Orchestrated™SPIRITS – an all-in-one business management software solution that helps you manage every aspect of your distillery, from accounting in the back office to production in the still house.

And Orchestra is not stopping there either.

“We’re in the process of working with a number of wineries already on OrchestratedWINE. We hope to launch the product in 2017, and expect it to be our third main vertical. Our goal is to be the #1 provider of ERP software to the beverage manufacturing market globally. We already have brewery customers in Canada, the UK, and Australia, and expect this global expansion to increase in the coming years and accelerate with the introduction of the winery solution.”

Much like they found in the brewery and spirits industries, there are a number of ‘tools’ wineries use for specific areas of the operation, but there is a huge gap in having an industry specific ERP solution that brings everything together.

Keeping up with the rapidly growing industries they serve is a huge opportunity for Orchestra. Craft breweries are opening up at a record pace and the distillery growth is nearly doubling year over year. There are currently 250 of the 4,000+ breweries in the US using OrchestratedBeer, so there is a huge opportunity to engage and work with many more breweries in the US, and around the world.Orchestrated tradeshow booth at Craft brewers conference

Brad also feels the craft beer industry is hitting a maturity as opposed to a peak.

“You can recognize this in the consolidation happening, investment capital flowing in, breweries starting out day 1 with 100 BBL systems, etc. These are the signs that the industry is no longer just a free for all; it’s now structured, there’s a lot of money at stake, and the growth potential is huge. When you look at the numbers, craft only makes up 20% of all beer consumed in the US. There’s still a lot of macro beer drinkers out there that will shift to local craft beers in the coming years. It’s very feasible that craft doubles in size over the coming decade and grows to 40% of all beer volume in the US, which would be an astounding volume of craft beer.”

And while craft beer is hitting maturity, craft spirit growth resembles craft beer circa 2008, with the number of companies doubling every year and the potential for acceleration as some of the early craft distilleries proving out you can make a big business in the space.

All this growth and client potential does pose challenges to the Orchestra team.

“ The biggest challenge facing us today is staying focused on our core mission. The old adage “you can drown in a sea of opportunity” is a good one, especially when our solution can help solve so many challenges. Orchestra’s place in all this is growth is to constantly listen to what our customers need, and make sure that we provide them solutions with a great experience. We’re now seen as the gold standard of ERP for the beer and spirits industries, so we have a responsibility to provide the industry best practices, benchmarking, and data analysis that is now needed.”

Creating a company culture that stays true to the core mission and the values of the people in the company is something that Brad and his team really focuses on. The values they have instilled into their business are Customer First, Continuous Improvement, Authenticity, Teamwork, and Integrity.

But creating a strong culture is something that took time, about 5 years, to fine tune and nail down.Orchestra Culture - with Beer

“ Our culture also has a lot of standardization; not for the sake of efficiency, but for extreme quality. Like a brewery or distillery that has to standardize their processes to ensure that every batch is high quality and offers the same great experience, we do the same for our people. Every department leader at Orchestra uses the exact same structure to ensure that regardless of what role you are in at Orchestra, your experience of working here is very similar and high quality. For example, every department has daily standups, weekly one-on-ones, monthly reviews, quarterly reviews and annual reviews. For engineers the standup might be scrum and for the consultants it’s the “go-live review”, but in the end, they are all following the same template to ensure that the experience of working at Orchestra is world class. We hire people that live them, and we end up with a culture that can be described as having an obsession with our customers, constant change and improvement, collaboration everywhere, and with really good people that are true to who they are and do the right thing.”

And doing the right thing in a company that focuses on the craft beverage industries means, of course, having good beer on tap in the office and having Friday at 4pm company happy hours.

So what’s currently on tap at Orchestra and the tougher question, what’s Brad’s favorite beer?

“We almost always have a beer from our friends at Buoy Beer in Astoria on tap here, so right now we have Czech Pils. They helped us out in 2015 by providing all the beer for our user conference, and they are active in the tech industry in Oregon, which I appreciate, and they of course have amazing beers. This is like picking a favorite child…I love them all!”

For more information, visit www.orchestrasoftware.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter

Our Vision for the future

From electric vehicles to the internet of herds: The Rogue Rovers story

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Bringing innovations that make sense for farming and ranching is not always an easy thing to do. It’s a market segment that moves on the basis of relationships, as opposed to quick scaling user acquisition platforms and plays.

Rogue Rovers, an Ashland based company, is focused on not only the development of technologies for this massive industry, but also on building solid and long term relationships with the farmers and ranchers whose innate knowledge will be the ultimate driver on how technology can effectively engage and help.p02lfbqp

Connecting the EV market to agriculture

There are two big problems in agriculture today – the ability to gather, and then generate, data. Rogue Rovers was started to address those two big challenges through advanced technology and engineering.

What many people in urban areas take for granted in regards to localized content during their everyday lives, apps for everything and constant connectivity, are not the conditions found in agriculture. Moreover, the specialty farms that are smaller, more specialized and in more varied terrains have an even greater challenge – getting low cost solutions that can help them.

This is where Melissa Brandao, CEO & Founder of Rogue Rovers, saw not only an opportunity, but a way to create a company that focuses on bridging technology with real world agricultural problems.

IMG_7773“ We came together to create an AgTech company that was doing more than just web-based solutions. We wanted to make advanced hardware systems that could solve real world problems, while keeping it simple and low cost.”

Melissa is a self described technologist with a lot of maker mixed in. She started her career at Apple and has spent the past 10 years in the AgTech space. And while a tech evolution from Apple to AgTech may not make sense to some, Melissa’s background is rooted in farm life, as she grew up on one.

This farming background gave her an innate understanding of the challenges and opportunities around farming and agriculture, especially those associated with equipment and processes. Farming is still pretty simple and basic when compared to the fast moving world seen in urban areas.

Enter the development of the FarmDogg, an electric four wheel drive vehicle.

The term “Dogg” is widely used by the Rogue Rovers team and Melissa explains its significance, “ Dogg means Data Generator-Gatherer. We developed our FarmDogg rover as the platform that will replace existing farm equipment because it’s a versatile, fully controllable mobile platform, and can support robotics.”

A data generating electric four wheel drive vehicle.static1.squarespace

If it sounds unique, that is indeed true. But the uniqueness is built on a solid vision about why and how this vehicle will help farmers. Electric propulsion is focused on precision control, which is an essential factor in autonomy and smart vehicles.

The precision control allows for pin-point accuracy in speed control, location and performance, all while having a low decibel level that allows you to hear your surroundings and not spook the animals. The FarmDogg’s data collection is done with delicate sensors and cameras. The smooth motion helps to protect these elements and creates a more stable data collection process. Electric vehicles also have fewer moving parts so the downtime is less than gas powered vehicles, which is an important benefit to farmers in rural areas.

But Melissa didn’t set out to create an EV company in Southern Oregon.

“ I kind of fell into electric vehicles on accident. Up until then I had been working with disruptive technology but it was always software. I spent four years abroad building companies in emerging markets providing market data so capitalism and investor access to markets could work more efficiently in places like Russia and Latin America. Electric vehicles are one of the examples that Chris Christensen sites as a disruptive technology and it was hardware–tangible–I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get into this technology. But as you know the EV industry has had many ups and downs and has yet to gain the market traction to become the norm. I always have been about focusing these technologies on solutions that are a best fit for them. Ag has made sense to me and as I stated earlier there’s a need to move Ag forward in its technology development.”IMG_6723

This need to move Ag technology forward has brought much well deserved attention to what Rogue Rovers is building, including a trip to the White House to participate in the first ever Demo Day at the White House.  From Southern Oregon to the White House. The team at Rogue Rovers had created a product that effectively helped farmers in their day to day work and the pre-orders were coming in.

Everything was going great, so the time was perfect to focus on the next evolution of the company.

Creating a product for the Internet of Herds (IoH)

Rogue Rovers started with the intent to design and manufacture rovers.

But during the process of talking to farmers and ranchers about the FarmDogg, what they began to realize was these folks were struggling to retrieve the most simple ID information off of animals, and that the current retrieval process was both stressful to the rancher as well as the herd. This was especially true on ranches where the animals are free range or pasture raised.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.53.12 PMThe Rogue Rover’s team saw the opportunity to create a product that could directly address a problem in ranching today, and thus was born the HerdDogg.

“ We developed HerdDogg, which is a wearable device for improved accuracy of livestock traceability and biometrics. The HerdDogg eco-system is made up from three parts: the DoggTag, the DoggBone and HerdDogg.io.The DoggTag is an ear tag designed for generating biometrics from livestock and herd animals. The DoggBone, is a small multi-pairing device that reads data from the DoggTags with an estimated range of 30 feet. It connects, transmits and stores the data using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). When the DoggBone is near a cell phone or laptop it can then transmit the data to the cloud at <HerdDogg.io. HerdDogg.io is your dashboard access to all your herd’s data available from anywhere on mobile or computer. “

One of the key features is that ranchers can put the DoggBone anywhere they want to collect data; the watering trough, a favorite tree, on your own herd dog, or even just in your pocket. The Bone is going to collect data as often as the rancher is near the herd, but because it’s using Bluetooth instead of RF or other more expensive and complex protocols, Rogue Rovers can keep it simple and low cost.

David ‘Duppy’ Proctor, the CTO of Rogue Rovers, explains how the tech is similar to some well-known wearables.doggbone.doggtag.noAGM

“ The Bone is constantly collecting herd data. The data collected includes temperature (ambient and animal), light, activity via an accelerometer and relative location – it’s like a fitbit for cows”

But the data collected goes far beyond the number of steps a cow takes in a day. The data received by the rancher is both beneficial and actionable. Cows that are sick get lethargic, and the via the dashboard, the rancher can identify potential sick cows. How quickly an animal lays down after they eat is relative to the quality of food they ingested.

The Bone’s constant gathering of data is also allowing ranchers to evolve how they breed the cows. The current method is to use tail chalk, which is a process of putting chalk on females and the chalk rubs off once the female is mounted. The Bone allows ranchers to see which cows are fidgety at night, a sign that they are in heat. Once these females are identified, the ranchers know that they have roughly 16 hours to breed them, and once the female is pregnant, this pattern of activity ceases to occur.

The percentage of cows that get pregnant during a breeding season is vital to the profitability of a ranch, and the Bone is helping ranchers increase this percentage via data gathering.Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.53.50 PM

Engaging farmers and ranchers in a collaborative manner is something that Melissa has focused on from the beginning.

“ The truth is that I just really like working with farmers and ranchers. They are the original makers. They’re clever how about to build something, being independent thinkers. Yet hey have an immense responsibility being the growers of our food and I want to help to support them. What is so exciting is to see how many of our engineers are emerging from rural Oregon and how excited they are about supporting the industry in their backyard. Rogue Rovers supports the eco-system of rural makers and engineers. The farmer’s daughters and sons today are tech savy but when it comes to applying that to the family farm–there’s still a long way to go. That’s where Rogue Rovers wants to operate.”

It is an operation that is looking to make the Rogue Valley home base for a flexible and sustainable business that is internally focused on implementing ideas and processes more similar to Silicon Valley, and putting those to work in rural areas of Oregon.

Melissa is keenly aware that creating a company for the long haul starts with creating a team that can deliver on the initial mission and goals.

IMG_5770 copy“ My team is fantastic collection of people that I have worked with, and people that have come to us. Our CTO David “Duppy” Proctor I have known since I was in elementary school. He’s a brilliant hardware technologist. I knew he was the right guy for the job but it took some convincing for him to consider doing tech outside of the consumer products and gadgets that he was used to. Now he’s completely converted. He just as happy to go out and work on site with our farmers and ranchers and get some dirt on his boots. We all like that–that’s really the best part of the job.  Our firmware engineer was referred to us by one of his partners and our web developer contacted us looking for an internship and on it goes. “

On it goes indeed. Rogue Rovers was recently featured on the show America’s Greatest Makers to pitch HerdDogg. And even though the team still believes in EV’s as a platform, they are just as excited about being the cornerstone technology around the Internet of Herds, which they all really believe is the future of Ag.

And even though the future of Ag may sound like something reserved for farmers and ranchers, there are applications some of us may see and use in the near future. The DoggBone can also generate SMS alerts, and yes, be connected to social media. So if you go in on say ¼ cow with some other folks, you can now keep track of said cow via a mobile device and possibly see some tweets about its daily activities.

Welcome to the future of ag.

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For more information, visit www.roguerovers.com. You can also follow them on twitter and instagram.

 

Lumencor shines a transcendent light on a sustainable path to success

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Back in 2007, a fledgling company took the leap and relocated to Oregon from California, bringing with them a revolutionary product idea and a desire to live and work in a state that could provide them with the best chance to see that idea blossom and thrive.

Today, nine years later that company Lumencor Inc. manufactures its innovative light engine in a 30,000 square foot facility in Beaverton, turning the long dominant, mercury-based lamp world on its head, with not only a superior light source, but one that is significantly more energy efficient and better for the environment, because it doesn’t use mercury (or a bunch of other toxic materials) at all.

To fully conceptualize this you need to erase the image of a traditional light bulb out of your mind, because this light engine is not remotely like a bulb. The light engine features “instant on/off excitation” via electronic control so that energy is consumed (and this is the really cool part) only when illumination is needed.

Lumencor Inc co-founder Claudia Jaffe

Lumencor Inc co-founder Claudia Jaffe

Recently we visited Lumencor for a chat with one of its co-founders, Claudia Jaffe, to find out more about the company, its technology, and its exciting potential as an enabler for even more impactful discoveries and breakthroughs in the bio-tech and manufacturing arenas.

Jaffe, who earned her doctorate in Bioanalytical Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, is an inventor in nearly all of Lumencor’s patents. She is Lumencor’s Executive Vice President and oversees new business development as well as sales and marketing.

Her husband Steve Jaffe is her fellow co-founder and CEO, so the company retains many of the close knit and humanized characteristics of a family-run business, despite its growth to 60 employees (and still growing) scattered around this large facility.

A better match of business, place and capital

We started by asking Jaffe about their move from California to Oregon in 2007, and their subsequent investment by the Oregon Angel Fund (OAF). It was the very first investment by the then fledgling fund.

“We made a conscious decision to leave California and move to Portland. It is recognized as one of three or four top optics centers in the country and it was an entrée to a whole network of talent in the technical community as well as in finance, legal, marketing, all kinds of services that you need to foster and grow your business. (It’s) a place where we could develop hardware with access to optics, electronics, software and mechanics expertise.

(In Oregon) there’s a desire to build the biotech industry and that’s the market we serve. The investment community was a better match for our initial need than in Silicon Valley. That’s how we found Oregon Angel Fund, and Eric Rosenfeld (the co-founder and manager) has been a tremendous supporter since day one, since we first came scouting and met with him.”

Armed with that initial financing, Jaffe and her team went about developing and selling the technology in suburban Portland. But as with any startup and with any new technology, there had to be an underlying problem they were trying to solve. How did they approach this question, and the even more intriguing question – why hadn’t it been solved before?

“We build lighting that solves certain problems that are just fundamental to LEDs (Light-emitting diodes), but we came to this problem with an integrator’s approach to a solution. We said, ‘We’ll build a modular product so that if the customer needs only red and green light, we can satisfy that. Essentially we have a tool box and can pick and choose aspects of the lighting that specifically suit a given application.’

As a business proposition, there has been a big obstacle to solving this problem. Lighting manufacturers like to build a single product, for example a lamp based on a bulb. Then they just find many, many wall sockets in which to plug. That’s not our approach; we’re integrators.

What we do is talk to the customer, typically an equipment manufacturer, like a microscope company. We ask, ‘What are you trying to solve? What is the technical obstacle? What does the instrument look like? What does it need in terms of the color spectrum, spectral purity, brightness, fast switching time?’ It’s all of these technical performance traits that go into tailoring the light to suit the need. We call it “Tailored Illumination” because we offer control over the spectral, spatial and temporal aspects of the light. In the past lighting couldn’t be so carefully controlled in large part because it was mostly in the form of a simple bulb.

87725-5506057So when you say, ‘Why wasn’t this problem solved before?’, I have to answer because there were so many different aspects, both business and technical, that needed a customized solution, one tailored to the equipment manufacturers’ needs; and those needs vary. Today we have over 100 customers – equipment manufacturers, many individual researchers, labs, hospitals, universities. We offer off-the-shelf products for a larger group of customers but for the smaller group with large volume needs, like the equipment manufacturers, we build a unique product for every one of them. Not a lot of manufacturers of hardware want to do that.”

That begged the question – why don’t they?

“They want to build one kind of lamp. Again, I think our novelty is that we’re very solutions-oriented. You hear it all the time, but we truly are. We tailor our products for the equipment needs, the equipment specifications, and we’re very nimble in manufacturing, very modular in manufacturing and we’ve always had that posture. It’s one thing to impose that after you’ve built the first product, but it’s another thing to envision product with that in mind first.”

Jaffe then spoke about this “old” technology, the good old light bulb, and why Lumencor’s solution is better.

“Lamp manufacturers think about a bulb, and that bulb provides white light. It provides a lot of light in spectral regions that aren’t useful.

(So we said), let’s build white light not from one bulb, one source, but from six different colors as six unique sources, as an example. And if you only need three different colors, we’ll just give you those. There’s no wasted light, because the spectrum that is provided is based on the instrument need or the analysis need as the customer defines it.

Further, it’s electronically controlled so it runs off a DC power supply, not (traditional) AC, much quieter. And it’s electronically pulsed, so you can trigger it on or gate it on and off. When it’s off, it’s because the lights are truly off, not because it’s blocked. All that savings in energy and heat and spectral purity, it’s just a completely different posture for how to provide the light.”

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An enabler of transformative discoveries and inventions

With this better light source, Lumencor becomes an enabler of some grander discoveries and inventions. Jaffe elaborated on this, and those things that have made her sit back in her chair and say, “If it wasn’t for us, this wouldn’t have happened”.

“Well, if it wasn’t for us, some of the kinds of experiments that you can do today wouldn’t be happening. We are truly enabling drug discovery, as one example. Let’s say you want to identify drugs that interact with cells in a certain way. What’s the best way to do that? Watch the cells. But for the most part, the biology hasn’t been done that way – historically you would have a sample of tissue and put it on a microscope slide or create a milkshake literally of cells and add things to it and then test that.

But with our products, the light is kinder, gentler, less disruptive to actual real-time cellular function. Because the light can actually probe at video rates, real-time events in cells, you can literally watch cellular events that you didn’t use to be able to. Tumors are cells gone wild, and with our lighting, you can actually watch the cells replicate in real time and do so in the presence and absence of some potential drug. You cannot do that with a simple lamp.

It’s really interrogating the cell of a tissue in a way that allows you to optically discriminate what you couldn’t see just with the naked eye. This is enabled by the process of fluorescence. Its possible to impose fluorescence in cells or in tissues, to label them if you will with light reactive tags, that allow you to discriminate at a molecular level what’s happening to that biology. The quality of the light very much influences how well you can detect those cellular events.”

A commitment to sustainability

The other side benefit of the technology is its sustainability and environmental friendliness, attributes that Jaffe and Lumencor have leveraged into an overall “green” approach that extends all the way to the packing materials and the building it occupies. Jaffe explains,

lumencor“We built this company, used solid-state components and never used mercury in anything that we ever built. We’re lucky, in that our light engines are relatively low power consuming, they don’t generate heat, and they’re all clean tech. We’ve only ever shipped in recyclable materials and it’s a green kind of process and philosophy we use throughout our organization. It’s a value that we have, a value that the whole organization has, and we just are always thinking about that when we start new processes, ‘How can we do it in a way that is consistent with that value?’

But what about the higher costs to live up to this philosophy?

“The money proposition is very short-sighted. I don’t think there’s any question that, in the long term, it is cheaper to do with a “green” solution. Yes, for the initial investment it may be a little more expensive to buy “sustainable” product. But the overall impact has to include costly waste disposal, long term energy consumption, instrument down-time during maintenance, replacement parts. Plus it goes back to how passionate are you about (being green) – is it really a value for you? I have to believe the scientific community that supports life sciences values this too.“

Following your passion

Lastly, nine years on in Oregon, Jaffe offered advice to those folks that that are thinking about taking the kind of big technological leaps that they took, but perhaps are reluctant because it just seems too hard, even though they have a great idea.

“Isn’t that where all the joy and value comes from, doing something that’s hard? And I also think you have got to follow your passion. I have two little girls, they’re 12 and 14, and I tell them that all the time. ‘Figure out what you love to do and then just do a lot of it. Whether it’s mathematics, arts, music or history, whatever it is, if you have passion and volume, you just discover things more deeply and do them more thoroughly. Do it intensely for a long period of time and expertise will come.’ And that’s what brings you to good work, right?

Before this job, I hadn’t worked for any organization, (I had many different jobs), for longer than two years. I’ve been here nine years and I can’t wait to get to work. We have a very respectful work environment, the people are all great and we know we’re doing valuable work. That makes it much easier to be committed.”

The story of Lumencor epitomizes the promise of Oregon entrepreneurship and its unique take on the role of people, place and the environment, as well as the important role of angel funds like OAF, and the other Oregonians who are willing to invest risk capital to help turn that promise into many successes.

It’s a story that shines an altogether different light than what comes out of their Beaverton factory, but it’s a very bright and illuminating light nonetheless.

To learn more about Lumencor, visit its website at lumencor.com.

An imperfect science: Supporting and incubating Oregon’s bioscience industry from scratch

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The bioscience industry in Oregon is one that sometimes flies under the radar, but it’s one where the impact—specifically from an economic standpoint—cannot be ignored. One of the unique pieces within the industry vertical is the Oregon Translational and Development Institute (OTRADI).

Since 2007 this organization has focused on translating research to commercialization, and in 2013 they launched the state’s only bioscience incubator.

We recently sat down with Jennifer Fox, the Executive Director of OTRADI, to learn a bit more about their story.

What is OTRADI’s core mission?

OTRADI is a nonprofit institute primarily funded by the State of Oregon to fuel the economic development of Oregon’s bioscience industry by translating innovative research into products and companies that benefit human health and create high-wage jobs for Oregon.

Since its inception, OTRADI has evolved quite a bit. How has that evolution enabled the organization to better deliver on its mission?

OTRADI’s overarching goals have always been to translate basic research into commercializable products and to spur startup and spinoff company development in Oregon. To achieve our core goals, we have used the State’s funding that we’ve received since 2007 to build out two completely unique assets:

  1. Since 2007, OTRADI has operated Oregon’s only drug discovery core laboratory, located in Portland, OR.  OTRADI Lab is the only resource in the state with high-throughput screening robotics, compound libraries and scientists with expertise in collaborating with university researchers to design, validate and troubleshoot experiments to discover, validate and de-risk new drugs.  In 2015, OTRADI opened an additional lab location in Corvallis, on the campus of Oregon State University.
  2. In 2013, OTRADI built out and opened Oregon’s only bioscience-focused startup business incubator—the OTRADI Bioscience Incubator (OBI).  The OBI provides shared laboratory equipment, lab and office suites and a statewide BioMentoring network for spin-off and startup companies in Oregon.  Half of the OBI’s current client companies have worked with OTRADI Labs on scientific projects.

Basically, OTRADI provides a continuum or pipeline from basic university research to value-added scientific work at OTRADI Labs, then to commercialization with startup company formation via the OTRADI Bioscience Incubator, and then to successful company growth and job creation for Oregon.

Can you talk about how the idea around a bioscience incubator came to be? Were there other models out there that you looked to mimic?

In working with university researchers since 2007 at OTRADI Labs, we were honored to be helpful in developing multiple technologies that led to startup companies.  Over the years, OTRADI has increasingly used our resources to help new companies incorporate, navigate writing their first SBIR grant and introduce fledgling entrepreneurs to partners and mentors. Our startup and spinoff companies continually faced the same roadblock to growth—no available wet lab or incubation space. The Portland State Business Accelerator’s (PSBA) collection of small labs had been full with a waiting list for years, and no other lab space was planned in the area.  Finally, OTRADI decided that we would eliminate this lack of wet lab space roadblock ourselves by opening the OTRADI Bioscience Incubator.

Locally, we worked closely with the successful PSBA to learn best practices, to listen to local demands and to ensure that we were working synergistically with the PSBA to deliver incubation resources to startups in Portland. As an aspirational role model, we’ve looked to QB3, a research institute and accelerator headquartered at the Mission Bay campus of the University of California, San Francisco. QB3 is a series of incubators, and more specifically we’ve looked to QB3@953 as a good starting point for bioscience incubation. For more details, see http://qb3at953.com/>

Incubator and Accelerators are terms used around a lot of things these days. How does a bioscience incubator differ from other industry verticals? How is it similar?

Generally speaking, accelerators are programs that exchange investment and/or mentorship for an equity stake in a startup company. Accelerators often offer specific-length programs that companies go through in order to graduate. Incubators are longer-term programs that often offer a combination of specialized space, mentoring, and training.

OTRADI Bioscience Incubator (OBI) offers space, equipment and mentoring and does not have an equity stake in startup companies that we incubate.  The OBI specifically serves the niche needs of bio-entrepreneurs and early-stage startups, by providing specialized shared scientific equipment and lab space. We serve a subsection (early stage/startups) of the vertical community that the Oregon Bioscience Association serves. We augment and serve a small section (early stage/startups in bioscience) that uses other horizontal resources, such as the PSBA, which is a tech incubator that helps startups in software, clean tech, biotech, etc. and the Oregon Entrepreneur Network, which helps a wide variety of entrepreneurs from all traded sectors at early stages of growth.

Many people are not aware of the process around commercializing and developing bioscience products, can you talk about some of the biggest challenges facing founders in these fields?

Founders seeking to commercialize and develop bioscience products face all of the common challenges of any product developer or startup founder, including challenges of accessing sufficient capital, allocating constrained resources, designing effective collaborations and partnerships, making difficult and complex go/no-go decisions, honestly assessing risks and effectively guarding assets.  In addition, bio-founders must concurrently become experts at negotiating technology licenses, often from or with universities or research institutes.  Other unique challenges include the vast amount of capital and years needed to advance bioscience products through the R&D phase, into and though FDA trials and into the health care market. Even once products are approved, the question of health care reimbursement or “who will pay?” come into play.  Timeline and capital needed are extreme constraints for bio-founders compared to software founders, for instance.

What are some of the biggest opportunities you see on the horizon for both OTRADI and Oregon’s overall bioscience community?

In 2015, OHSU and the greater Oregon bioscience community will see the unprecedented opportunity of $1 billion of funding to drive scientific research to cure cancer.  OTRADI Lab is poised to partner on cancer and other drug discovery activities and avail ourselves of joint opportunities to grow.  OTRADI already works with many researchers at OHSU’s Knight Cancer Center by providing scientific/experimental services and partnering with researchers and spin-off companies to write grants for federal funding. With an additional $1 billion of funding and forty or more new world-class researchers attracted to OHSU, OTRADI Lab’s opportunity to grow and prosper through increased scientific and grant-related revenue are likely.

In addition, the OTRADI Bioscience Incubator (OBI) has been the go-to incubator for OHSU spinoff companies, with over half of OBI’s current client companies coming from OHSU.  As OHSU’s de facto incubator, the OBI expects to see an increased demand in spinoff company formation requiring lab and incubation space in coming years.  OTRADI and OBI must prepare for these needs and be in growth mode to help propel both research and startup incubation activities, and co-benefit from additional resources and attention for Oregon.

What is the role—both from a collaboration and acceleration perspective—that OTRADI fills in the world of bioscience/academia/private?

  1. OTRADI Labs provides the state’s only drug discovery core laboratories.  The robotics and expertise that are held by OTRADI Labs are available to university researchers and startup companies in Oregon.  OTRADI Labs helps these academia and private companies to develop novel experiments and “translate” basic research into promising new products.
  2. OTRADI helps fledgling entrepreneurs across Oregon with our OBI BioMentoring network, which connects bio-entrepreneurs (both those located within the OBI and any entrepreneurs from across the state) that need help/advice with nearly 100 industry professionals who provide voluntary, pro bono advice and recommendations in areas of concern to bioscience entrepreneurs, including: business formation and planning, capital sources (SBIR, STTR, DOD, angel/VC), communications, intellectual property and patents, technology licensing, strategic partnerships, product development and management, clinical trials, FDA regulatory strategies, commercialization, market evaluation, marketing, finance, manufacturing, facilities, organizational leadership, human resources management, and a range of other relevant areas. Our full roster of BioMentors, can be found on our website at http://www.otradi.org/biomentoring/ as a resource for entrepreneurs statewide.
  3. OTRADI Bioscience Incubator is Oregon’s only bioscience-focused startup business incubator.  The OBI provides a home for startup companies, including shared laboratory equipment, lab and office suites and our BioMentoring. We are on-site and committed to the success of these private companies, as well as promoting the bioscience sector in Oregon.

What has been the biggest surprise since you took over as ED of OTRADI?

This will sound naïve, but I had no idea how much work was required to run a business.  I didn’t know I could work as hard or as passionately as I have in my role as Executive Director of OTRADI.  I thought I’d worked hard in my life—being a caddy, waitressing, earning my Ph.D., struggling through two challenging postdocs, writing grants and running the OTRADI Lab for years—but the workload and determination required for each of those positions pale in comparison to being the ED of OTRADI. It is simultaneously the most rewarding and infuriating and important and impossible job I’ve ever undertaken.

That said, I love it.