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Launch Ashland hopes to aid local business start-ups

ASHLAND — Entrepreneurs will soon find more help in their endeavors with the assistance of a new project called Launch Ashland.

The grant-funded initiative is part of a statewide program to coordinate services for start-up companies to the point where they can obtain funding and provide employment, said Tim Root, Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.'s venture catalyst.

The program is patterned after the Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network in the Willamette Valley, which pulls together government, higher education and business community resources to aid start-ups. Launch Ashland is designed to provide clients with specific tools, help them define objectives, provide advisory and managerial direction, and help them create a sound business model.

"We don't have the resources Eugene and Corvallis have," Root said. "But we have enough resources to do reasonably robust start-up."

Entrepreneurial efforts don't necessarily have to involve cutting-edge technology.

"We have a few high-tech companies here, but most in this region are more product-oriented," Root said. "Certainly companies with the best possibility for success are in the traded sectors where they can reach markets outside of our area."

The program includes monthly gatherings to network with peers, hear success stories and get assistance with problem-solving to overcome their challenges. Southern Oregon University's School of Business and the Small Business Development Center will participate by offering focused instruction, mentoring and coaching, either individually or in small groups, as entrepreneurs progress. After progressing through instructional opportunities, business incubation and mentorship, new businesses will have grown from concept to maturity, where they will be ready to present to the Southern Oregon Angel Investment Network, apply for bank loans, and begin producing income.

"There are all sorts of start-up models," Root said. "At some point, you need to build a prototype or do market testing to be sure they have a good idea to attract potential investors. Finding that $10,000 or $30,000 to do that is important, and it's hard to come by. Usually at that point young companies have exhausted their friends' and family's, and their own, wallets."

A grant from the Oregon Community Foundation, coupled with funding from the city of Ashland and backing from the Oregon Entrepreneur Network, will enable people with concepts, products and ideas to explore and evaluate the next steps.

"We're trying to get people with ideas to come out of the woodwork and actually identify themselves," Root said. "We're going to start right away with a series of programs, beginning with pub talks and meet-ups to socially engage these people. It's Ashland-centric but not specifically Ashland-focused, people can come from elsewhere."

For more information about the program, follow Launch Ashland on Facebook or email Tim@soredi.org

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/EconomicEdge.