RAIN offers free donuts, business help

Scott Swanson

Got a big idea?

Got a business that just can’t get over the proverbial hump?

Got property that would be a great location for a particular industry but can’t quite connect with the right people?

There’s help for you at the donut shop this Thursday, April 20.

RAIN (Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network) will hold an Entrepreneur Meet-Up from 8 to 9 a.m. at Sugar Vibes in Sweet Home, 1302 Long St. Admission is free and includes donuts and a drink.

RAIN is a state-funded consortium of government, higher education, and the business community which aims to help start or grow local business. Staffed by people who have been successful in business establishment and recruitment themselves, its mission is to help entrepreneurs in the South Willamette Valley and Mid-Coast “turn ideas into high impact, innovative, traded-sector companies that can grow and thrive locally.”

Meeting participants will learn how to launch and grow a startup business by gaining access to mentors, advisers, investors and others interested in seeing success.

RAIN held a similar meeting April 4 in Lebanon and recently outlined its activities in a presentation to the Linn County Commission.

Caroline Cummings, a RAIN venture capitalist said those who should be at the Meetup include:

Anyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur or already describes themselves that way, who is a small business owner looking to expand, or who is interested in seeing Sweet Home grow economically, or elected government officials.

“Anybody who’s a ‘wannapreneur,’ who has a big idea and don’t know whether they should quit their day job or what to do next,” she said. “Or if they’re a small business owner who wants to expand out of their current location.”

She said RAIN is also looking for investors – “anyone with a high net worth, who is tired of losing money in the market,” and mentors for small businesses – “anyone who has a skill set, professionally, who think they could contribute.”

“Anyone who watches ‘Shark Tank’ – we train people how to become those investors, said Cummings, who came to RAIN after founding two tech start-ups herself.

She said both she and RAIN Executive Director Marc Manley, who led the expansion of the Small Business development Center at Linn-Benton Community College to effectively grow larger traded sector companies before taking over at RAIN, are “Angel Investors,” a group of investors involved in Willamette Valley and coastal businesses.

“You don’t have to have millions,” she said. “$5,000 is the minimum.”

Prospective mentors who have knowledge in such areas as human resources, marketing, supply chain are encouraged to participate, she said.

In addition to business recruitment and retention, which often are the purview of local chambers of commerce, Cummings said, RAIN focuses on working at the entrepreneurial stage: “with those people who have the dream and are willing to take the risk.”

RAIN’s assistance can take a variety of forms, she said, citing the example of a food cart operator in Florence whose health forced her to adopt a no-salt diet and who created four “delicious” sodium-free salad dressings.

“We helped her figure out how to get it into stores like Whole Foods Market and Market of Choice,” Cummings said.

The hour-long Meet-Up will give participants an opportunity to introduce themselves and talk about what they are doing.

“Our mantra is ‘what’s next?’ she said. “We’re always thinking about what to do next.”

In coming weeks, RAIN will host a Pub Talk, possibly in Lebanon, where entrepreneurs will be invited to talk about their projects.

On May 2, a Mentor Mixer will be held in downtown Albany, “because this is all-Linn County,” she said.

Cummings said there’s a lot of potential in rural communities and that’s what the Meet-Up is about, getting the process of creating businesses started.

“I do this work in four counties. We find angel investors in tiny towns on the coast. Great ideas, great resources can come from anywhere. Typically, entrepreneurs who are disconnected from bigger cities feel like they’re alone. We help them feel like they’re not alone.

“Anyone interested in creating jobs should come.”