Oct. 28, 2020 — The nonprofit Oregon RAIN (Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network) held a virtual commemoration of its five-year partnership with the City of Florence on Oct. 21. Held over Zoom, the meeting brought together some of the people that have made the partnership possible over the years, including officials from RAIN and the city and representatives from the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Florence.
As people logged into the chat, one person said, “This feels like a family call!”
“This is so fun,” Coastal Catalyst Ariel Ruben agreed. “We’ve got to do this more often.”
The group in attendance was small, just under 30, with many people announcing their connections and RAIN Executive Director Caroline Cummings greeting most by name.
She started the celebration by saying, “Thank you so much for joining us for the five-year anniversary of RAIN being invited into the Florence community. I can't believe it's been five years. … And even with COVID and the fires slowing things down, I still feel like time is flying.”
The partnership between the two entities started in October 2015 with a meetup at Homegrown Public House, and a “Call of Interest” event at City Lights Cinemas on Oct. 28.
In “Ready for RAIN?,” published that October in the Siuslaw News, Cummings said, “We want to wrap resources and services around you.”
The event reached out to not only entrepreneurs, but also mentors and funders.
“This is the piece that focuses on our innovators,” said Florence City Manager Reynolds at the Oct. 19, 2015, Florence City Council meeting. “It’s just one aspect of our economic development initiative to help bring together the network and the ecosystem that will help stimulate innovative thinking.”
The event also brought together 87 people, Cummings said on the Zoom call — “a phenomenal turnout.”
Even more surprising was the number of new faces, who up until that point hadn’t been involved in many events in Florence.
“Super exciting to see that kind of momentum,” Cummings said. “And it just really grew from there. … That really set the tone for what it feels like to have a culture of entrepreneurship in the community.”
The call of interest launched the next five years, in which time RAIN has worked with 70 entrepreneurs from the area. Entrepreneurs began 36 startups, created 33 jobs and generated nearly $500,000. In these five years, RAIN held 102 physical events in the City of Florence and 73 virtual events since the pandemic started alone.
Florence Mayor Joe Henry said, “I really appreciate the efforts that RAIN has made over the past five years. We have seen so much change and transformation in the city due to the relationship that RAIN has been able to build with our local small business community. And we appreciate the support they shown throughout the highs and the lows in our economy.”
He was part of an initial meeting held with RAIN in Corvallis before the nonprofit partnered with Florence. He also met Cummings at that time, as she was the area’s first venture catalyst.
“When I found out that your tagline was ‘A City in Motion,’ I thought that was the coolest city tagline I've ever heard,” Cummings said. “And it really matches the culture of what you've all created in the City of Florence. You truly are a city in motion and you truly are doing innovative things.”
Florence was the first rural community to partner with RAIN. Now, RAIN’s community partners include Adair Village, Albany, Brownsville, Canyon City, Coburg, Creswell, Florence, Halsey, Harrisburg, John Day, Lebanon, Lowell, Monroe, Oakridge, Philomath, Prairie City, Sweet Home and Veneta, as well as Benton, Grant, Lane and Linn counties. RAIN also receives funding from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oregon Community Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation, Banner Bank, Oregon Pacific Bank, The Collins Foundation, U.S. Economic Development Administration and Business Oregon.
“It really truly does take a village to raise an entrepreneur,” Cummings said.
She also named some of the mentors who have stepped in to support local entrepreneurs, including Jack and Bettina Hannigan, Dan Lofy and Jesse Dolin, who were all part of the Zoom call.
“The stakeholders that are on this call, and several others who couldn't make it, you really demonstrate what it's like to pull together and really stand behind everyone and help the community grow,” Cummings said.
Partnerships also helped RAIN with the RAINmaker, a 10-week virtual sales and marketing accelerator led by Ruben and fellow RAIN venture catalysts Raj Vable, Stephanie LeQuieu and Corey Wright, along with Cummings and lead business representatives.
“We particularly want to commend Oregon RAIN on how they have pivoted to support our business community through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Henry said.
Reynolds agreed, saying, “In 2020, RAIN really shined. They were able to show us what they are best at by supporting businesses and meeting them where they're at. And in this case, it was the COVID-19 crisis.”
She said that the pandemic has been hard on people as people learned about the virus, the government shut many businesses down or required people to work from home and subsequently allowed for reopening. RAIN provided guidance to not only small businesses but the city government on finding sources for funding for those hit hardest.
“Oregon RAIN has been able to provide essential mentorship, support and guidance to our local businesses,” Reynolds said. “As we were all stalled out in the chaos and responding to the public health crisis of COVID, RAIN pivoted and went on their merry way to providing virtual COVID safe training, mentorship and other business support. … RAIN took their local in-person model and made it a model that encompasses the entire state, national at times, and brought those resources all to the table here in Florence.”
What made that possible was the strong partnership between RAIN and the City of Florence, Reynolds said, as well as the guidance of the Florence City Council.
“I just was so thankful that we have that support from the city council all these years, and have grown that relationship with RAIN to be able to take full advantage and share that with our business community,” she said.
Several Florence-based businesses graduated from the RAINmaker, coming away with real-life tips for surviving the pandemic and thriving in the changing economy.
“Who knew five years ago what we were setting in motion, just to play off of our tagline, and what this partnership would do for our community?” Reynolds asked. “Over the last five years, you really have been an essential part of our economic development strategy. … We are eternally grateful for your dedication to our community, to small businesses, to all of Oregon, and the passion that you bring to the table to support entrepreneurs.”
Some of those local entrepreneurs gave their testimonies during the event: Jayne Smoley of The Studios and Harriet & Pine; Patrick Looney of the Florence Maker Space; Lindsey Phillips of Meant Manufacturing; and Maya Moore of Maya Moore Holistic Health Coaching.
This was followed by Lane Community College Florence Center Dean Russ Pierson, who decided that RAIN could also stand for a new acronym: Rural, Allies, Introductions and Ninjas.
He talked about the risk involved in pairing with a rural, coastal community, and how RAIN and the City of Florence partnered to bring resources not yet available here.
“This opportunity lifted the spirits of this community,” Pierson said. “The good folks of RAIN brought us to the table and sat us down next to successful entrepreneurs, prospective funders and investors, fabulous mentors and decision makers at every level of government. You helped put Florence on the map of economics development in our state that will continue to pay handsome dividends for years to come.”
He concluded by referring to RAIN and city staff as “a wicked band of entrepreneurial ninjas” who are willing to get a lot of work done with the resources available.
“I am so happy to join you all here in a moment in this toast to our rural allies to leverage the power of introduction and continue to bring their ninja magic to Florence and beyond,” Pierson said. “Cheers to you all.”
His new acronym brought laughter and words of support from the other attendees.
Following this came the virtual toast to RAIN and the City of Florence, led by Reynolds. She talked about how the fifth-year anniversary is celebrated with wood presents, and said that myrtle wood gifts were shipped to RAIN.
In response, RAIN had sent sparkling cider to Reynolds and prosecco to Henry for the toast.
“So five years,” Reynolds said. “We all know time goes by so fast. Who knows what the next five years will bring, but I hope it includes rain. And cheers.”
To conclude the meeting, Ruben talked about what is next for the Florence entrepreneurial ecosystem.
One event is a Virtual Sales Expo featuring women-owned businesses from the area. This will take place on Monday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m. via Zoom. People can learn more and register at www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-sales-expo-featuring-women-owned-businesses-from-florence-oregon-tickets-118392271471 to purchase fine jewelry, custom handbags, artisan gift boxes and crafts for kids from Meant Manufacturing, Harriet & Pine, Dragon Art and T&L Fine Jewelry.
In addition, RAIN’s other goals include creating a small manufacturing space with retail storefront for local entrepreneurs, pursuing funding for the Florence Maker Space, activating more capital to business, planning the next RAIN Pre-Accelerator in 2021 and continuing one-one-one mentoring.
Ruben will also continue working with local school districts on encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation among students.
Cummings said, “Our model is to listen first. There are several things that we have heard that the City of Florence wants for the next five years, but we also want to hear from you.”
People can learn more at oregonrain.org or by contacting Ruben at [email protected]