Business owners from Ashland and around Oregon want the state government to invest $100 million to help new businesses start and established businesses grow.

Business owners from Ashland and around Oregon want the state government to invest $100 million to help new businesses start and established businesses grow. Rather than investing money out of state or funneling money into just a few large businesses, entrepreneurs want the state to redirect funds from lottery and public employee retirement investments to provide $250,000 for up to 400 small businesses. Ashland resident Paul Mace, who has started several software companies and now advises people on how to win venture capital, said capital for new and expanding businesses has dried up during the recession — especially in Oregon, which has never had a broad investor pool. Investing $100 million in hundreds of businesses around the state would spur economic growth and create about 2,500 jobs directly, with about 1,000 more created because of the economic ripple effects, he said. "Oregon doesn't need three or four big ideas. It needs 300 or 400 ideas it can nurture," Mace said. With a $250,000 cash infusion, Josh Bradley said he and his business partner would hire three to five people and pay them $50,000 to $70,000 annually to work in software development, information technology and customer service. The two founders of ShopDragon, LLC in Ashland have created software that integrates business functions, including managing online and in-store sales. Some stores are already using and testing the software, Bradley said. "We've proven the concept. Now we're looking to take it to the next level," he said, noting that they have raised about $100,000 — or 25 percent of what they need. 'Shovel-ready workforce' Jim Teece, head of the Project A software and Internet company in Ashland as well as Ashland TV, said federal economic stimulus money has been aimed at "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects that are ready to go. Oregon has businesses that could hire a "shovel-ready workforce," he said. "If we invested in organizations that are ready to go, it would have a big impact," Teece said. With $250,000, he said he could hire four to five engineers to develop new forms of technology related to the convergence of television, Internet and cell phone use. "It would be great for the economy. If they chose the right organizations, people would be hired, go to work and start creating cool things," Teece said. Mace said he would expect 60 percent of the businesses that received state investment funding to fail. But 40 percent would likely succeed, and 10 percent would probably become very successful. "The payback from the successful companies makes up for any losses. It's actually a conservative way to invest money," he said. Wearable art At Ashland-based Doodlebra, Randy Segal and his wife launched a kit in March that combines a white bra, markers, stencils and an idea booklet so that teens and women can create their own designs on their bras. The $14.95 kit is being sold throughout America and in other countries like Canada, Germany and Australia. The couple hope to enter the market in India this week or next week. "We're definitely at this time — because of the attention and publicity we're getting — in need of capital," Segal said. Funding would allow the company to send out more samples to possible distributors and increase its marketing, he said. The company sources material from India and has an assembly and distribution center in Texas. Eventually Segal and his wife would like to use an embroidery shop they own in Ashland as a Doodlebra boutique and have a facility in town handling assembly, shipping and customer calls.
Startup Now! Oregon Medford Meeting (Part 2) from Ashland TV20 on Vimeo. "In today's economy, if you can provide any sort of facility where labor is involved — whether it's on phones, computers or an assembly line — a lot of people would like to have jobs and a steady income," Segal said. "If you could provide that, they would do very well." Investing in Oregon businesses would tap into the energy and creativity that exists here, he said. "Oregon is a place for creative thinking and commerce can come out of that," Segal said. Waste-to-energy For Marc Baraka Strauch, one of four partners with Ashland-based Clean Solutions, $250,000 in funding would mean he could hire more people to fan out and give presentations on the benefits of turning garbage into energy. Clean Solutions helps communities with projects that do just that. Baraka Strauch said one facility already exists in southern California that can handle 40 tons of municipal solid waste per day. Another facility in Washington state can handle 100 tons. The 100-ton facility employs 45 to 50 people and has a $1.5 million to $2 million payroll. For the sake of comparison, Ashland produces about 70 tons of garbage a day, he said. Material that can be recycled is separated to be sold on the commodities market, while inorganic material is still sent to a landfill. But organic waste like paper and food is broken down to the molecular level, with the resulting carbon sold to industry and the resulting fuel used to generate electricity, Baraka Strauch said. "We can divert 75 percent of the waste stream out of a landfill," he said. Clean Solutions has created a regional plan about where to site waste-to-energy facilities. The closest one to Ashland could be at the Dry Creek Landfill in Eagle Point, where Ashland sends its garbage, he said. Along with about 90 other entrepreneurs and investors, Baraka Strauch attended a meeting in Medford last week where business owners spelled out what they would do with $250,000 in capital. "It was a wonderful opportunity to see so many talented people. Normally we're working alone. That was really encouraging," he said. "Local people are teaming up with a statewide plan." The event in Medford mirrored a March event in Portland where entrepreneurs met to push for more state investment for Oregon businesses. The Medford meeting was made possible by a number of groups, including Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., the Software Association of Oregon, Jefferson Grapevine, Capybara Ventures, NW Technology Ventures, NedSpace, Oregon Angel Fund, Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and Starve Ups Reference Capital. Mace said he would like to give special thanks to Teece and Paul Collins for a Webcast of the event and Charlie McHenry for his organizational work. Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.