Group hopes grant contest will lure high-tech firms here

Group hopes grant contest will lure high-tech firms here

The tech Meccas of Silicon Valley and Puget Sound are just a day's journey from Southern Oregon. In terms of economic opportunity, however, they might as well be on the dark side of the moon.

The billions of dollars generated by the industry creates nary a ripple of promise as key players skip over the Rogue Valley looking for research and development, or funding opportunities tied to academic institutions filled with labs and entrepreneurs.

Jessica Gomez is ready to challenge the status quo, somewhat the way she and Patrick Kayatta did nearly a decade ago when they moved here from Southern California and launched Rogue Valley Microdevices.

The concept is simple: Hold a competition for researchers looking for a financial boost, putting up $150,000 of research and fabrication assistance from Rogue Valley Microdevices and another $25,000 in collateral assistance from Sustainable Valley Technology Group's business expertise. Clarification: See below

Researchers, early-stage startups, and entrepreneurs in the micro electro mechanical systems, biomedical, or nanotechnology fields may apply.

The hope, Gomez said, is for a startup company to begin producing components for the technology world. "It's tough to recruit to this area," Gomez said. "But even in high-tech areas there are companies struggling for funding."

If the program develops the way it's designed, the startup would succeed in producing marketable components and attract venture capital.

"Our seed money can allow a company to increase their value," she said. "And I think that's attractive in this day in age where funding is tougher and tougher to get. You need proof of a concept, some sort of prototype and a customer."

Sustainable Valley Technology Group's Inspiration Grant — a pathway toward technology development and commercialization — is accepting applications through Dec. 31. Five finalists will be named Jan. 31, and the winner announced March 15.

Sustainable Valley, which was founded in 2010, operates a business incubator in downtown Medford that was funded by seed money from various local governments and businesses.

In addition to the $150,000, the winner will receive design and engineering support, business support and development services, including access to investors. The winner also will receive up to $25,000 cash from Sustainable Valley for a one-year period, with the opportunity to reapply for an additional year. "Once the winner is selected, they will want to be here within a month," Gomez said. "Why waste precious time when you are trying to get technology off the ground?"

The distance between prime research institutions that receive millions of dollars in federal funds and Southern Oregon long has been a challenge in attracting developers and entrepreneurs, Sustainable Valley Executive Director Dennis Leidall said.

"Southern Oregon is not exactly a hotbed of technology, and this is a great way to leverage Rogue Valley Microdevices' labs and land researchers, engineers and early-stage companies that need access to a lab," Leidall said.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to convert the ideas into money-making, job-creating enterprises similar to Rogue Valley Microdevices, which was founded in 2003. Gomez and Kayatta began producing silicon wafers for technology customers at their Automation Way quarters in Medford in 2004. The company now employs 18 and has annual revenue of more than $2 million.

"Our company is at a point where we can support this type of model," Gomez said. "We needed to step up and do our part for economic development, and not rely on nonprofits and people like SOREDI to support new economic activity. I really hope other companies like ours will warm up to the idea as leaders in the region as well."

Gov. John Kitzhaber has encouraged technology startups outside the Willamette Valley and seen activity on the Columbia Gorge in Hood River and the Port of Morrow, said his spokesman, Tim Raphael. "We're seeing a real spirit of entrepreneurship trying to tap into and leverage local resources," Raphael said. "We're seeing islands of innovation around the state, including some places folks might think of as unusual."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email

This part of the story has been clarified in the online version.

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