Partners in the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network (RAIN) began painting a more detailed picture of what the initiative could look like, following the news that the Oregon legislature had funded the program for the South Willamette Valley in the amount of $3.75 million. A partnership among the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Eugene, Corvallis, Springfield, Albany, the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce and other regional entities, the program will include facilities adjacent to the state’s two large research universities designed to encourage innovation-based companies and research-inspired startups.
“We are grateful for the good work of the governor, the Oregon legislature and all of our community partners who have been so instrumental in making Oregon RAIN a reality,” said UO President Michael Gottfredson. “We look forward to sharing the future successes of this program — new research innovations, new startups, and new jobs for Oregonians — with our many supporters and with our communities.”
At the state level, Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Lane County Legislative Delegation have been active supporters of Oregon RAIN. Sen. Lee Beyer sponsored legislation to create the RAIN program, and along with Sen. Chris Edwards, testified in support of the initiative before the legislature Ways and Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development. Following the end of the legislative session on July 8, Beyer issued a news release announcing the passage of Senate Bill 241, which funded the program. The accelerator grew out of the Governor’s South Valley Regional Solutions Center as a means of fostering job creation by advancing the creation, support, growth and retention of technology-based startups.
Eugene Mayor Piercy said Oregon RAIN is exactly the type of initiative needed to advance the goals of the Regional Prosperity Plan, an effort led by the Joint Elected Officials of Eugene, Springfield and Lane County to take advantage of regional strengths and resources for business innovation and job development. Similarly, Oregon RAIN will bring together cities, counties, universities, community colleges, chambers of commerce and economic development agencies for such purposes.
"Oregon RAIN will leverage our region's best resources – especially its talented people – to create jobs and long term prosperity," Piercy said. "It's a great idea that will take us to the next level in economic development, putting in place the opportunity for more businesses to find their start here and to stay here, and providing new high quality employment opportunities for our families."
Kimberly Andrews Espy, the UO’s vice president for research and innovation and dean of the graduate school, said Oregon RAIN will create a “seamless ecosystem for innovation” – both at the campus level and the community level.
“By giving emerging companies access to the facilities, equipment and knowledge that they need to be successful, Oregon RAIN will allow us to leverage our best assets – the ideas from our creative community and the research from our talented faculty,” Espy said. “Small, innovative technology companies tend to grow quickly and create stable, high-wage jobs that attract and keep talent in our region, which makes Oregon RAIN a very smart investment in our future.”
The next step will be for Mayor Piercy to co-chair with Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning the committee that will develop the business plan for Oregon RAIN so that centers in both cities will be up and running as soon as possible. The groundwork for the accelerator is already well underway, said Chuck Williams, the UO’s associate vice president for innovation.
“We’ve reached an inflection point where there’s real excitement about what this next level could mean to us and we’re ready to get started,” Williams said. “Oregon RAIN provides a great opportunity for us to see the fruits of our research endeavors, not only within the university community, but within our very creative communities of Eugene, Springfield, Corvallis and Albany.”
The UO’s Oregon RAIN facility will cater to Phase II startups that have gotten off the ground, but are searching for mentors, expertise and funding. Mike Marusich, founder of UO spinouts MitoSciences Inc. and mAbDx Inc., says by offering shared facilities, RAIN will help ease the startup burden not only by providing wet-lab ready space and shared basic equipment, but also by offering new entrepreneurs the chance to connect with other startups and benefit from the expertise of established entrepreneurs and other networking opportunities.
“I think RAIN will help all of us by encouraging growth of more small companies –– reaching a critical mass of biotech and other startups will transform the local business landscape,” Marusich said. “The more startups we have, the better it will be for everybody. It’s extremely helpful and important to have colleagues nearby that have different, but complementary and useful skill sets.”
“Innovation is a long haul,” Williams added. “Entrepreneurship is tough, it takes a team to get a business startup to the finish line.”