Oct. 26, 2019 — In October, Oregon Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network (RAIN) celebrated four years of partnering with the City of Florence to boost a start-up and entrepreneurial economy. In two events on Oct. 15, an “Art-repeneur” Meetup at The Studios at Jayne Smoley Designs and a women in business tea at The Bodega, RAIN reaffirmed its dedication to rural communities and the entrepreneurial spirit that can uplift economies and improve futures.
“We only enter cities who invite us in. Fortunately, four years ago we got invited to the City of Florence, which was the first rural community to invite us in,” said Caroline Cummings, executive director of RAIN.
In 2015, Florence City Manager Erin Reynolds contacted Cummings about a partnership with RAIN, saying, "We know we have really talented entrepreneurs in this community, but we’re a government. We don’t know how to help them raise capital, think through their finances or realize if there is a market for their great ideas, whether it’s an art project, turning a hobby into a business or a new technology, consumer or food product.”
Cummings said, “Once we started getting calls from rural communities, that’s when we knew there was a real need to help small communities build their entrepreneurial ecosystems."
By working with the City of Florence, RAIN launched into the rural areas of Lane, Linn, Lincoln and Benton counties, following the organization’s successes in Corvallis and Eugene.
According to Cummings, RAIN has now been invited into 20 rural communities in the State of Oregon.
“The size of the territory we cover is about half of the country of Pakistan,” she said.
In Florence, several entrepreneurs have been involved with RAIN since the beginning, including fused glass artist Jayne Smoley. By working with RAIN, she developed a product, planned a business model, shifted plans, and eventually opened The Studios at 1458 First St. in Historic Old Town Florence.
“It’s been a pure joy to work with RAIN,” Smoley said. “I went to the very first meetup four years ago at City Lights Cinemas and met Caroline. RAIN has been a tremendous support throughout, … connecting us with other businesspeople, finding support with financial institutions and introducing us to people who can support and help us grow our businesses.”
Besides running The Studios, Smoley also began selling curated Studio Boxes, filled with themed art and regional products.
For RAIN, Smoley has been a success, Cummings said, because not only did she “pivot” from one idea to another, she has found a way to support her business, create local jobs and find ways to help other artists.
“Jayne has really epitomized what it means to be an entrepreneur, because now it has come full circle and she is giving back, hosting and mentoring. That’s really what we need,” Cummings said. “We want Florence’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to be about you, not about us and RAIN. This is community driven, so it needs to be owned by you and the community to really build the ecosystem. Jayne and many of the other entrepreneurs in the community have really stepped up to the plate to do that.”
The Art-repreneur event was a relaxed meetup, where past RAIN participants were able to visit with people new to RAIN’s model. Smoley also led a fused glass demonstration.
One highlight of the event was the participation of six women visitors from Pakistan, who were able to talk about the economy of their region of Gilgit-Baltistan and show some of the products they are developing.
Cummings met the women on a visit to Pakistan through the University of Oregon (U of O) this fall.
“I was asked by U of O to travel to Gilgit-Baltistan and to share the RAIN model there and help them build their entrepreneurial ecosystem,” she said. “Actually, they’re already doing an amazing job.”
According to Cummings, U of O acquired a grant from the U.S. State Department through the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan to partner with Karakoram International University in Gilgit-Baltistan, the northern region of Pakistan. The grant was to help spur women entrepreneurship.
The U of O then hosted the six women from Karakoram International University for three weeks in Oregon. Two, Sumara Shaheen and Tahira Ali, are instructors, and four — Ingleen Fatima, Nida Hayat, Uxma Shahin and Rukhsana Zaman — have MBAs and came through the program.
According to Tahira, one of the goals of the program is for students to create their own business after graduating so they can go on to employ other people.
“These are smart, talented women working on really cool stuff,” Cummings said. “I’m now in love with all these ladies.”
The four entrepreneurs were able to talk about their businesses and show products while drinking tea with Florence-area women in business at The Bodega before the RAIN meetup. The two instructors spoke of the region’s drive to create employment and how the university there is supporting women in business.
Marianne Brisbane, owner of The Bodega, invited the women to take tea the way she did growing up in Indonesia: black tea with milk, not cream.
Women from the City of Florence and local businesses were able to learn about the products — ranging from bright needlework, delicate gemstones, handmade dumplings and flower bouquets — at The Bodega, and view some of the items again at the Art-repeneur meetup.
The Pakistan delegation also got to visit the Oregon coast, much different than their mountainous home, and talked about it later with Florence Mayor Joe Henry and others who attended the two events.
Henry thanked Cummings and Ariel Ruben, the local coastal venture catalyst, for renewing RAIN’s partnership with the City of Florence.
“I just come on behalf of the city, the city council and everybody, to say ‘thank you’ to RAIN and to all of you who are participating,” Henry said. “RAIN has been with us for four years and there have been quite a few successes — we’re standing in one of them right here for Jayne and her studio — and I know other folks have benefitted from RAIN’s efforts. … You have created a number of jobs, and that has been one of our goals. The community here has benefitted and I think will benefit more in the near future from the efforts of RAIN and from all of you.”
For more information about RAIN’s activities in the Florence area, visit www.meetup.com/Startup-Florence-Oregon -Coast or go to oregonrain.org.