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Mead-maker has high hopes for backing

The Rogue Valley has a growing reputation for artisan beverage production, from wine and microbrewed beer to distilled liquor.

James Romano hopes to add mead to that drink list, perhaps with a boost from the Southern Oregon Angel Investment Network.

The former Navy F-14 and American Airlines pilot touched down in Sams Valley five years ago and started laying the groundwork for Fire Cirkl, a brewery that produces braggots, a style of mead made from a combination of malted grain and honey.

He's found interest as far away as Portland, and his product is sold locally at Market of Choice, Harry & David, the Medford and Ashland food co-ops, Albertsons and Rogue Creamery, among other locations.

Romano has been a one-man-band, which has hindered his ability to grow, but now he's got a shot at the $200,000 investment prize to be awarded April 30 at Bigham Knoll in Jacksonville.

"I've sunk $230,000 of my own funds into the business, so if someone else is interested in working with me, that would be great," he said. "I've been wearing all the hats, and it's way too much work for one person. I feel like an octopus missing about six arms."

The first batch of Fire Cirkl mead hit the shelves two years ago and the second and third appeared last summer.

Other finalists announced Wednesday night for the Southern Oregon Angel Investor Network competition are:

  • Portland-based cloud computing company Nouvola, which has already pocketed $250,000 for winning the Bend Venture Forum last fall;
  • Homeschool Snowboarding, a Portland-based technical snowboard apparel maker, which won last year's Roseburg Angel Investment Network competition;
  • Rogue Rovers, a Hood River-based concept company led by Melissa Brandao, which will produce electric four-wheel vehicles for agriculture use;
  • Institutional Stoves, a Cottage Grove-based firm that has developed stoves for use in developing nations, primarily in Africa.

The four concept company finalists are:

  • Ackley Counseling and Employment Services, owned by Daryl Ackley of Medford;
  • Go Time Video, Brandon Kirkland, an Ashland app maker;
  • Klamath Falls-based Grow-Volution — a foursome of Oregon Tech entrepreneurs, led by Eric Wilson, interested in creating farm produce quickly, anywhere without pests;
  • Recording and streaming firm Studio 1 Cafe, led by Southern Oregon University student Zach Cochrane.

The concept winner will receive $2,500 in cash and $9,500 worth of in-kind services from: CFO Solutions in Ashland, which handles financials for start-ups; Pneuma 33 from Bend, a brand and marketing consultant; the Board Room, of Grants Pass, which will provide six months' free rent; and Rogue Community College, which will provide a seat in its next six-month course for entrepreneurs at Avista Center for Entrepreneurship.

The number of entrants declined from earlier years, but Southern Oregon Angel Investment Network chairman Steve Vincent said he thought the current batch was better prepared than previous groups.

"The quality of applicants this round was much greater," he said. "There were some in the past who weren't ready to make the ask and had very undeveloped business plans."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.