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Sustainable Valley receives $50,000 SBA grant

Sustainable Valley Technology Group, a four-year-old endeavor to boost local entrepreneurial startups, is one of 50 recipients of a $50,000 U.S. Small Business Administration award.

Sustainable Valley Accelerator was one of two Oregon winners out of a field of 800 applicants in the inaugural Growth Accelerator Fund competition. Accelerators vying for the award ranged from manufacturing and tech startups to farming.

Sustainable Valley's application scored well with judges because of how it adapted to a relatively rural region hundreds of miles from major metropolitan centers where startups generally find everything from ideas to funding. It was one of a handful of recipients from outside a major population center.

"You don't see many accelerators outside those metropolitan areas trying to do this with a research institution pumping out PhDs, or a Nike or Intel nearby," Stafford said. "It presents unique challenges."

SVTG has addressed those challenges with a new accelerator model encompassing a variety of industries.

"Most accelerators serve one or two kinds of businesses, software, e-commerce or something of that nature," Stafford said. "We have to be open to other things, because we're a mile wide and an inch deep in any particular industry. So we went with an approach that's a little bit virtual. There is no incubator or cubicles involved. Instead, we provide intensive, customized mentoring and then access to capital at early stages."

Companies looking for less than $50,000 in operational capital are in a black hole, she said, unless they know someone who is wealthy.

"We're trying to jump-start the process and provide access to that space between graduating from SBDC assistance and competing at an angel conference level," Stafford said.

The federal funds will help launch a high school business accelerator called BASE Camp, in partnership with the Medford Rotary Club, at high schools in Jackson and Josephine counties. That effort will culminate in a student competition with scholarship prizes awarded on Nov. 21.

Stafford said her organization is searching for more rural entrepreneurs, as well as improving early-stage access to capital for graduates of its 12-week intensive training.

Six of this year's Sustainable Valley Accelerator graduates will present their business vision at the group's inaugural Techtoberfest, scheduled for 5-7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 26, at the Bigham Knoll Campus in Jacksonville.

Accelerators receiving the awards are committed to quarterly reporting for one year. The organizations will report on job creation, funds raised, launched startups and corporate sponsorships. In turn, the SBA said it would create a database to gauge the impact of accelerators and enable the agency to develop long-term relationships with the startups and their communities. 

A panel of seven experts in entrepreneurship, investing and business plans — both inside and outside the federal government — judged the competition.

"We have a lot of things to report about collaborative efforts with SOREDI, Regional Solutions, and Rogue Workforce Partnership to support entrepreneurs and a culture of innovation in Southern Oregon," SVTG Executive Director Heather Stafford said. "It's exciting to have a national platform now to tell our success stories and the special kind of culture we have here."

Portland State University Business Accelerator was the other Oregon winner.

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