Innovation comes in many forms: life-saving robots, microbial fuel cells, carbonated fruit, plant-based lubricants and adhesives, and clothing that adjusts to your lifestyle.

These are among the ideas that are fueling start-up companies in Oregon and will be featured at Willamette Innovators Night (WiN) Thursday at Oregon State University.

Mixing research, creativity and business, the event is the Willamette Valley's largest annual gathering of entrepreneurs and "the creative class," said Mark Van Patten, the chairman of the planning committee and director of the Business Solutions Group in the OSU College of Business.

"Young companies emerging from collaboration between the university, investors and creative thinkers are our best hope for jump-starting Oregon's economy," Van Patten said.

This is the second year for the event. More than 1,000 people attended last year, including entrepreneurs from Portland and Eugene. Organizers include OSU, the Software Association of Oregon and the Corvallis-Benton Chamber Coalition, with sponsorship from a growing list of companies including Hewlett-Packard, Silverman Studios, Samaritan Health Services, PEAK Internet, the Coelo Company of Design, Natural Point, the Business Enterprise Center and Chris Nordyke of State Farm Insurance.

Van Patten is the director of the Business Solutions Group at OSU. He's also on the board of the Software Association of Oregon and a member of the Society of Information Managers. He said that the idea for WiN grew out of the SAO's High Tech After Hours events.

"The community needed something bigger, not restricted by software or IT," Van Patten said.

He wanted to give people the chance to see innovation happening across all business sectors.

"WiN creates a space for talent and creative energy to come together," said Van Patten. "The enthusiasm and connections spur new partnerships and business ideas that continue all year. It's all about creating a culture that promotes and supports economic development and quality of life."

The public event is free and is scheduled for the LaSells Stewart Center and the CH2M Hill Alumni Center.

"I'm hoping we have good community turnout," Van Patten said.

At 1 p.m., two Portland entrepreneurs with experience in fostering innovative businesses are set to deliver a keynote address: "Entrepreneurship and Innovation - Overcoming Challenges and the Value of Peer Mentoring." John Friess and Ryan Buchanan of Starve Ups will present lessons learned in their 22-member entrepreneurs network. Wendy Strgar, winner of a Willamette Angel Conference grant, which supports new local businesses with seed capital, will discuss the creation of her company, Good Clean Love.

Following the speeches will be:

• A town hall meeting from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on "Leadership in Economic Development: Where Does It Come from?" led by Prosperity That Fits, a local partnership with a focused plan for economic development. Last year's panel was on economic development on the state level, Van Patten said. This year, the focus will be closer to home.

• An innovation exhibit from 4 to 7 p.m. for companies, researchers and business development groups to connect, share ideas and collaborate on ongoing projects.

• Breakout sessions in three sectors: Wood product innovation led by Steve Killgore of the Calvert Company; nanotechnology energy led by Tomm Aldridge of Intel and family business led by Sheri Noxel of OSU's Austin Family Business Program.

• At 7 p.m., Spark! Corvallis will give groups of students from OSU's business and engineering programs a chance to share their business ideas.

• At 7:30 p.m., Ignite! Corvallis will host rapid-fire presentations about new ideas and potential fuel for the next new venture. Most are business-related, but not always.

• There also will be a political chat corner where local and regional politicians will be available throughout the day to talk one-on-one with those who attend.


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