Local effort to build angel investor network may pay long-term dividends for economic development here
A fascinating conference took place at Wenatchee’s Confluence Technology Center recently may have a profound impact on economic development and the development of the valley’s technology sector in the years to come.
The Flywheel Investment Conference, organized by Jenny Rojanasthien on behalf of the Greater Wenatchee Area Technology Alliance (GWATA), brought together key local civic leaders with financial experts around the Northwest to talk about developing an angel investor network to support startup or fledgling companies here.
The Flywheel Investment Conference was one of the “game changer” actions in the Our Valley Our Future community development plan. Last fall, two civic leaders – Steve Wright of Chelan Public Utility District and Dr. Pete Rutherford of Confluence Health, started looking into growing our tech sector more intentionally. That led to meetings with a couple of angel investors in Seattle with connections to Wenatchee. Other local leaders include a who’s who of leaders — Bart Clennon, Mike Walker, West Mathison of Stemilt, Jeff Ostenson of North 40, Lisa Parks of Douglas County Port District and Rory Turner of Chelan County Port District, among others.
The Flywheel Investment Conference, with the support of Chelan and Douglas County Port Districts, was born, with Rojanasthien and Shiloh Schauer of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber at the helm.
If the Wenatchee Valley follows the path of Seattle, Spokane, Bellingham, Bend and others, an angel investor network would be developed either making individual investments in small companies or collectively investing in various ventures. Angels not only provide financial support but also nurture young executives. Growing small companies with local support can help leverage the cheap power and incredible broadband here to make this region a destination for small tech firms. This is all about a more intentional economic development focus.
One of the highlights of the conference was John Pariseau, the Okanogan County native who graduated from Wenatchee High School. Pariseau started an angel investor network in Spokane. In his down-home style, he said investing in startups is less risky than being in the fruit business. “Risk is not something this community is averse to,” Rojanasthien remarked. At the conference, the attendees heard two simulated pitches from two agriculture-based technology companies. The conference was designed to acquaint local investors about how these networks function. One key message was that those who get involved want their communities to thrive economically and see these investments as a way of making a difference.
The key takeaways, Rojanasthien said, were that our valley has a tremendous opportunity to grow the local economy in an intentional and organic way by developing an angel investor network. She said those who came here from around the Northwest were impressed by the access that Pangborn Memorial Airport provides to the valley, the recreational amenities, low-cost power and the quality of life here.
What excites Rojanasthien most is the potential to help local entrepreneurs develop their businesses here rather than go to bigger cities. Taking charge of our economic future with key civic leaders at the forefront creates exciting opportunities for our valley and the region. I have a feeling that this might be the start of something really powerful for the valley’s future.