Feb. 17, 2021 — Oregon RAIN (Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network), longtime economic development partner of the City of Florence, is creating more ways to encourage entrepreneurs and existing businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. From providing online business support and launching a 10-week sales and marketing accelerator with participants from all over the state, RAIN has been hard at work since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Our mission seems even more relevant right now during COVID,” said RAIN rural venture catalyst Ariel Ruben. “We just want to support all businesses — of all kinds — with diversity, equity and inclusion as well, and make sure that we're reaching out to everybody.”
Ruben’s territory includes six cities in Lane County — Creswell, Coburg, Florence, Lowell, Oak Ridge and Veneta — and her duties bring her to the communities several times a month. During COVID, she and the rest of the RAIN team have been working primarily online.
“Businesses have been struggling, but some folks have been doing better and some have even been launching businesses and finding success with the virtual world,” Ruben said. “I think there are silver linings in this whole crisis. People are getting more savvy online and learning how to offer their product or service in a different way, which I think has some positive effects.”
RAIN itself had to change its business model. While previously it focused on in-person meet ups and courses, it now offers online workshops and virtual one-on-one mentorships.
At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, RAIN began offering weekly workshops to help businesses who had to shift their business plans to include online sales and working from home. This led to the RAINmaker, a sales and marketing accelerator, which ultimately assisted 140 organizations find resources to stay in business during COVID-19.
It also brought attention to RAIN, a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Eugene, and the way it works with communities after being invited in. The City of Florence was the first community partner and celebrated five years with RAIN last October.
“I think our model becomes more relevant to have the voices of entrepreneurs heard in our communities,” Ruben said. “Elevating the work of entrepreneurs — I think that's what we're really excited about right now. And making sure that that they're all supported, getting their needs met and have resources wrapped around them in the most effective way.”
One way RAIN is working even closer with its communities is by initiating a new Entrepreneur in the Community (EIC) position. Ruben called it “an evolution of RAIN’s model,” shifting some of the workload from the venture catalysts to local businesspeople.
“Someone in the community should really be leading this work,” she said. “To have someone there whose eyes and ears are on the ground, and who is so much more invested in the community and who can be a champion, makes so much sense. That income is going directly back into the community — which is also what we are into.”
Currently, Ruben is only able to dedicate one or so days a week to each of her six cities. Now, bringing in local people will help RAIN provide relevant resources to each community.
“Essentially, the EIC will be activating events, supporting entrepreneurs and putting them in the top end of the funnel (for resources),” Ruben said. “The EIC will also be good for business activity, support the efforts of the chamber and the city at large and just add another layer of local activity for businesses.”
Ruben will still be the venture catalyst for the region and provide mentorship and support, but the EIC will work with her to create excitement and build relationships at the local level.
Florence is the first city to establish an EIC; in fact, RAIN selected two local entrepreneurs to assist the coastal community: Elaine McMillan and Lynda Colter-Bergh.
McMillan owns Beauty By Delivery Wellness Spa and Homegrown Public House & Brewery in Florence. Lynda Colter-Bergh is a consultant and personal coach.
“It's awesome, and they're both very different, which is great,” Ruben said. “Elaine is a mile a minute and has so many responsibilities and a huge network. Lynda is pretty well plugged in as well but has in a quieter temperament, so I think we’ll be able to reach a broader audience with the two of them.”
Veneta is also in the process of hiring an EIC.
“Florence, being our flagship city, always gets to do things first,” Ruben said. “This is definitely an evolution for RAIN, where we feel like we're still going to be in the community as much as we can, but it's so nice to have someone there full time.”
RAIN has also worked to create another new position to support coastal communities. Partnering with Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University’s marine laboratory located in Newport, RAIN announced the hiring of Laura Furgurson as the first blue economy innovation catalyst.
According to Ruben, Furgurson will be working to promote “marine science, blue tech or anything to do with ocean innovation. It's really exciting to have support for marine businesses.”
The position will serve the whole central Oregon Coast region.
“It’s nice to allocate resources in one direction and provide places and resources for people more cohesively,” Ruben said. “(RAIN) just goes where we’re needed. … Overall, I think we are skyrocketing and RAIN is in for some big growth.”
The network is also working on a calendar of events for 2021. These include some smaller, one-time events like “Talk to the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission)” on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 10 a.m., and “Climate Action in Lane County & Emerging Opportunities for Entrepreneurship” on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 3 p.m., both over Zoom. People will also get the chance to meet Florence’s two EICs via Zoom.
Additionally, there will be a course in financial literacy.
“After the sales and marketing accelerator, we realized that there are a lot of entrepreneurs who lack financial understanding,” Ruben said. “We're pulling together a 12-week MONEYmaker course focused on financial literacy for small businesses.”
The program will run from March 31 to June 30, with weekly meetings from 9 to 10 a.m. on Wednesdays. RAIN is accepting applications now online at www.oregonrain.org.
“RAIN is just more and more excited to offer exciting programs and activities to local entrepreneurs,” Ruben said.
Learn more about RAIN and its programs at www.oregonrain.org and www.meetup.com/Startup-Florence-Oregon-Coast.