Oregon Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN, helps connect entrepreneurs with resources to get their business ideas to reality. The non-profit works in Lane, Linn, Benton and Lincoln Counties. Next week, a group of start-ups on the Central Coast will graduate from RAIN’s pre-accelerator program.
Caroline Cummings is Venture Catalyst for Oregon RAIN.
RAIN helps start-ups with a business plan, including how they’re going to make their company financially viable. Cummings started reaching out to entrepreneurs on the mid-coast about 1 ½ years ago. She says there are now 11 start-up companies going through a pre-accelerator program.
Cummings: “It’s a 12-week program where, it’s sort of boot-camp style, and we match these companies with mentors, with resources to help them scale their venture in the mid-coast region where the ultimate goal is they can raise some money and create some high-wage jobs in the mid-coast region and bring wealth to those communities.”
One of the start-up companies makes a smart cat litter box. Walt and Sara McGuire of Seal Rock identify as “cat people”. Walt says Sara came up with the idea that he believes is the first true innovation in the cat litter world.
McGuire: “The Pharaohs from ancient Egypt had royal cats and the royal cats had royal cat boxes and they were filled with sand and people have been using sand in their litter boxes for centuries.”
He says scoopable litter was an advance but it has problem of dust and odor. McGuire says they came up with the idea of creating a slotted sub-floor.
McGuire: “Allow the feline, liquid waste to go through the slotted floor into a reservoir, into a drawer. So the liquid waste can then be taken out and flushed down the toilet. Less effort, less maintenance. It was just a great idea.”
The McGuires also came up with a non-absorbent safflower-seed litter that allows the liquid waste to filter through to the base.
Walt says in the U.S. and Canada, there are more than 100 million household cats in more than 40 million households.
McGuire: “So it’s huge. It’s important. It’s beneficial. There’s no harm to the landfills. It’s easier for the cat, easier for everybody.”
While McGuire says they did extensive research for their product. They needed help from RAIN in developing their business model and getting the word out to potential customers and investors.
Another coastal entrepreneur that’s graduating from RAIN’s pre-accellorator program is Bob Frenock of Toledo. His company Oregon Truffle Tryst grows organic vegetables using aquaponics.
Frenock: “Aquaponics is basically growing in water but using fish for fertilizer. The plants clean the water the water goes back to tanks and you have a closed system.”
Frenock says developed a plant support that’s organic and sustainable rather than using plastic net pots and other such items.
Frenock: “So, my product is simply sawdust grown through with mushroom mycelium and once it’s grown through, you bake that and you have a rigid support in which plants can be grown and which you can compost afterwards saving labor for the people that are growing.”
Frenock says thanks to RAIN, things are moving much faster than they would otherwise.
Frenock: “They have been giving me support in the way of finding what questions to ask. Because, when I started out, you have an idea of what a business is but if you’ve never done it it’s hard to get started. They give you resources. They can hook you up with people that can fill any need you have for your business start-up.”
Frenock and the McGuires will make presentations on RAIN’s Demo Day next week. Venture Catalyst Caroline Cummings explains it’s a way for entrepreneurs to pitch their business to potential investors, customers and mentors.
Cummings: “It’s the graduation event, basically, for all of these companies who have gone through the last 12 weeks. And they each get to take the stage at the Florence Event Center and they each get 5 minutes to pitch their business opportunity to the audience.”
Oregon RAIN’s Coastal Demo Day is June 21st at the Florence Events Center.