In his travels to meld an array of talent, technology and investment for successful new companies, venture capitalist Maurice Gunderson sees the world much differently than when he was growing up in Southern Oregon.
He readily expects a startup team to look like a gathering of the United Nations, and his goal is to produce rapid results. But he's as apt to find the right components for success in Enid, Okla. — or the Rogue Valley, for that matter — as he is in Los Angeles.
What: "Sustainable Acceleration: To Infinity and Beyond," a venture forum and dinner
When: Wednesday, Nov. 14
Who: Sponsored by Sustainable Valley Technology Group, Southern Oregon University, Avista and SOREDI
Cost: $40 per person; tickets will not be available at the door, and registration ends 9 a.m., Monday, Nov. 12.
Information: Call 541-414-0000 or 541-779-0569
Gunderson will be among the speakers at "Sustainable Acceleration: To Infinity and Beyond," a venture forum and dinner planned for Wednesday, Nov. 14, at Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union.
Gunderson, who operates Earth Energy Ventures, will discuss alternative energy investments and future opportunities — and compare them to the bubbles of the past.
He cites the tulip bubble in Holland during the 1630s, the railroad bubble in England a century later and even the California Gold Rush when city slickers stormed west to become miners as part of a series of economic events similar to the more recent technology bubble. Now, Gunderson said, comes the green energy bubble attracting hordes of investors — many of whom have no real understanding of the field.
"Bubbles are created when things look big and easy," Gunderson said. "A lot of people without domain experience flood into the market with lots of money and then a lot of things go wrong. A lot of money is lost and the bubble deflates."
But the story doesn't necessarily end with losers slinking off into the economic shadows.
"It doesn't mean the opportunity went away," he said. "The opportunity continues. The Internet bubble didn't make the Internet go away. What we see now is an energy investment marketplace returning to what I consider a sane post-bubble state — that's where the real opportunities will be."
Energy has been Gunderson's investment gain for 20 years. The 60-year-old Klamath Union graduate picked up an engineering degree at Oregon State University "during the slide-rule era" and went to work in the aerospace and energy industries.
Creating more jobs in technology and other fields doesn't mean getting someone to build a business or invest in a startup, Gunderson said. Rather, it means attracting talent.
"I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and people assume everything I do is in the Silicon Valley," said Gunderson, who lives in Orinda. "I've never done a deal in Silicon Valley, but I have in Los Angeles, Denver, Detroit, Connecticut — all over the U.S. — England, France and Germany. I've found far-flung technologies and brought them to another place."
In his current Contour Energy Systems venture in Azusa, Calif., Gunderson is chairman of a company making battery technology for deep drilling, and medical and military uses, among others.
"We're using technology developed in Singapore, the United Kingdom, Austin, Texas, and Southern California at Cal Tech in Pasadena," he said. "Smart people are everywhere, management expertise is everywhere, and you have to figure out how you can attract it, rather than create all the pieces in your backyard. You have to pull it together."
Obstacles are ever-present, but a community's attributes can be just as helpful.
"You've got airline connections in Medford and, man oh man, that's valuable," Gunderson said. "I funded two companies in Corvallis, which doesn't have airline connections. In order to attract management, we had to move a company to Portland."
The effort to build something with the intent of creating high-paying jobs for local residents doesn't always produce fruit.
"You can't go 'presto-chango-zap' and create jobs for people who already live here, and that almost never happens," he said. "Especially if you're a high-tech company. You're going to need technological, managerial, logistical and marketing talent as well as manual and supply-chain talent. The likelihood of finding all that in Medford — or Los Angeles — is very low. The problem is made much easier if you look outside the regional borders."
Gunderson will be joined by Kirk Washington, a partner with Yaletown Venture Partners in Seattle, Steve Bengston of PricewaterhouseCoopers and Oregon Institute of Technology President Chris Maples in a panel discussion moderated by John Lee of Folium Partners at the event.