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Have you spent hours on your laptop trying to develop that great business idea that popped into your head a few months ago? Perhaps you’re a little irritated with making money for someone else. Heck, working in a home office sounds like it could be a whole lot better than sitting in a cramped cloth-paneled cubicle next to the guy that won’t shut up about the great band he saw up in Portland last weekend.

Yeah, running your own business just might be the answer.

Of course, it’s a daunting task for anyone who doesn’t know much about it. It can be intimidating with realities like licensing requirements, types of corporations and organizing the books dampening the fun part of the whole project.

But for those who live in Benton and Linn counties, a lot of help exists these days for those who are considering a personal plunge into running their own business. Business classes and workshops are filling up and the inaugural Foundry Startup Resource Fair in Corvallis this past Thursday drew a pretty fair crowd.

“I have been doing this for 14 years and this is the busiest I’ve ever been,” said Anne Whittington, Oregon Small Business Development Center business adviser. “I cannot believe how many clients we have right now. I cannot believe the excitement people have about starting their businesses.”

Whittington said there is a lot of help available for anyone who wants to start a business.

“They can find the help they need — whether it’s financing or working with the Small Business Development Center to start their business or grow their business. There are even things for students here — the Portland State group is here, which I thought was very cool,” Whittington said.

Whittington was referring to the Portland State University Center for Entrepreneurship, one of several exhibitors on hand at the resource fair at Odd Fellows Hall in Corvallis.

Several sat down to listen to a regional economic panel discussion with Gary Marks, Lebanon’s city manager; and economic development managers Tom Nelson of Corvallis, Seth Sherry of Albany and Shawn Irvine of Independence.

“Listening to the four-person panel economic development guys in there, all the towns — Lebanon, Corvallis, Albany, there’s even a guy from Independence here — they’re growing, they’re attracting businesses to their downtowns and we’re getting these really cool, different, unique businesses,” Whittington said.

One business that both the panel and Whittington mentioned was Natural Sprinkles, which uses healthy, dye-free, natural ingredients in their line of baking sprinkles and opened recently in downtown Albany.

“She’s a client of ours — starting out in our ‘Going Into Business’ class, which is free, and then working with us through one-on-one advising,” the Whittington said. “She’s also working with the Economic Development Center in Albany, so she’s reaching out to all of these resources, getting grants from the city of Albany … so there’s a ton of resources, the reality is, for anybody that wants to start a business and run it successfully.”

Corey Wright, Linn-Benton venture catalyst with RAIN Oregon, was among those offering resources at the fair.

“Everyone has a business idea, right?” said Wright, whose organization offers free business coaching. “The really cool thing, I think, about all this is everyone is trying more and more to try to really collaborate with each other. RAIN is about working really closely with the SBDC and we’re working with the Council of Governments and all of these different organizations to really provide a lot of different resources because not every one of us has all the answers.”

RAIN — an acronym for Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network — serves Philomath and seven other cities in Linn and Benton counties that were awarded a grant through Business Oregon’s Rural Opportunities Initiative. Adair Village, Brownsville, Halsey, Harrisburg, Lebanon, Monroe and Sweet Home are also part of the network.

So, what about Philomath? Anything exciting happening in the startup business realm?

“I’m just starting to work with Philomath,” Whittington said, who has been in attendance at RAIN events at Nectar Creek and the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce’s greeters' group. “I’m actually starting a ‘Going Into Business’ class there. … We’ll hold our first one there at the library so we’ll be offering that in October or November and then also again in March. We’ll be reaching out working it Philomath more as is RAIN, so that’s pretty cool, too. All the rural communities have access to everything the other communities have access, too.”

Brad Attig, chief executive officer of the Foundry Collective — which got its start in Corvallis about six months ago — said one of the things he likes over in Philomath is what Softstar Shoes has been able to accomplish.

Attig shared an example of the vision that he has for smaller communities, something he called sector strategies.

“So there’s a real big beverage sector in Corvallis and Benton County but there’s no food wrapped around it,” Attig said. “So it makes sense to start to talk about value-added food. So maybe in Philomath, it’s ‘hey, there’s no shared kitchen space available.’ Maybe a town like Philomath opens up a shared kitchen space and so people can start to take what they’re making in their kitchen and start to bottle it and sell value-added food.”

Softstar Shoes came to mind as another example.

“They’re making an apparel product so maybe there’s an opportunity to start a textiles co-working or textiles-making space or something,” Attig said. “I think part of that is just fleshing out, are there two or three or four people with the kind of ideas that are similar so you can leverage that and I think that’s really important for smaller communities.”

Attig used Independence as an example with that city’s focus on agricultural technology, which has led to related business development.

As Nelson was saying during the panel discussion, Attig believes economic and community development can tie in together to create a positive economic cycle.

“More people are working from home, so they’re starting gigs, starting secondary jobs, and a lot of these people are sitting around and saying, ‘OK, I’ve been making this in my kitchen or in my basement and have had this idea for a while, or it’s a hobby, or I think I can see an opportunity to build something,’” Attig said. “I think because access to the internet, access to tools, access to co-working spaces, access to resources, people are willing to take that risk a little bit now and they’re saying, ‘hmm, can I make a living at this? Can I quit my day job at some point?”

In Philomath, Wright hosts RAIN meet-ups on the first Thursday every month from 1-4 p.m. at Nectar Creek.

“I’ve seen a lot of action in Philomath,” Wright said. “Since I started just a couple of months ago, at least three trade sector startups and then obviously there are multiple other local sector businesses that are popping up as well.”

Attig said he’s seeing in Oregon a resurgence of consumer products.

“There’s a lot of emphases now on really light-scale manufacturing driven possibly by the artisans and the creators that are making things,” Attig said. “Now you’re able to put things online relatively easy and sell … so we are seeing definitely a trend where a lot more people are becoming entrepreneurial.”

Attig said it’s funny to him that many of those entrepreneurs don’t see themselves in that persona.

“In most cases, they could be the most entrepreneurial people because they’re making changes daily, they’re talking to customers and adapting their business model,” Attig said. “It’s really exciting to see Margin Coffee and (Natural) Sprinkles in Albany opening; it’s exciting to see what’s happened with Benny’s Donuts (in Corvallis) in the last year here; you’re seeing the Dizzy Hen in Philomath; you’re seeing new models of existing businesses coming around and driving excitement.”

As Wright said: “It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur in Linn and Benton.”

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Brad Fuqua is editor of the Philomath Express. He can be reached at brad.fuqua@lee.net.

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