Angel Network flies into Medford

A pool of business investors has founded an "angel" network intended to give Southern Oregon entrepreneurs the financial wings to make their business plans soar.

The Southern Oregon Angel Investment Network will begin accepting business plan proposals on its website ( beginning Nov. 1 and will award at least $125,000 this year to at least one entrepreneur.

"This is exciting because it's the first time we've had a group of investors who pool resources and say, 'We believe in emerging companies, and we are going to put our money in them and see them move forward,' " said Ron Fox, executive director of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.

Angel investment networks, in which entrepreneurs compete against each other for a limited amount of capital, are common across the country and already exist in Portland, Bend, Eugene/Corvallis and Hood River/Wasco counties, said Caroline Cummings, a regional representative in Eugene for Oregon Entrepreneurs Network.

Entrepreneurs gain the possibility of equity for their business plan, as well as feedback, advice and support from investors seasoned in business ventures, said Steve Vincent, Southern Oregon's angel network founder and a regional business manager for Avista. Meanwhile, investors learn about business and innovation in the community, investment opportunities and possibilities for partnerships and information sharing, he said.

The network will hold its first awards conference March 9, where winners will be announced.

So far, Southern Oregon's angel network has 20 investors, and more are expected to join the pool before the conference, said Tom Becker, a Medford business owner and former Rogue Valley Manor chief executive who has been involved in forming the new network.

At least $125,000 would be invested in an emerging company, and more money could be available depending on how many more investors sign on to the network, Becker said.

Vincent said the network is seeking companies in need of $200,000 to $2 million that have a niche in the market or a competitive edge.

In January and February, the investors will begin meeting to review, screen and discuss submissions and invite entrepreneurs to answer questions about their respective business plans, Vincent said.

Becker said the investors likely will form subcommittees to review business plans related to their area of expertise, such as technology, agriculture or retail.

Angel conferences in the state have funded all types of companies, from software to sexual health, and there often are individual investments and business partnerships that result from the networking that are separate from the angel investor group, Cummings said.

One example is Good Clean Love Inc., a Eugene-based producer of organic, vegan personal lubricants distributed nationally. In May, the Willamette Angel Conference representing Eugene and Corvallis awarded $165,000 to Good Clean Love. In addition to equity to expand her business, company founder Wendy Strgar gained a chief executive officer and a chief operations officer, both investors from the Willamette Angel Conference.

Strgar and her initial business partners had taken the company as far as they could, taking out second mortgages and credit-card debt, said Good Clean Love CEO Clay Higgins.

"She needed someone with a lot more sales and marketing experience," Higgins said.

The $165,000 investment has allowed the company to adopt and pay for a strategic marketing plan and hire brokers to sell the product, he said.

Strgar now has more time for her passion, teaching and writing about love and relationships, he said.

Sid Deboer, CEO of Medford-based Lithia Motors Inc., said he joined the Southern Oregon Angel Investment Network as a way to help create economic growth in the area.

"Portland, Bend, Eugene all have these networks to attract businesses and living-wage jobs, and we don't want to be left out," Deboer said. "We want to invest in something that will create jobs here and has the potential to succeed."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

Fact Box

Southern Oregon Angel Investment Network will accept business plans between Nov. 1 and Jan. 7


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