Big Mix stirs up an array of local innovations.
If you thought the online crowdfunding app Kickstarter was only for tech startups, an upcoming Eugene event could open your eyes to the breadth of campaigns happening locally.
Kickstarter provides crowdfunded access to capital, a need that transcends all sectors of the economy. The Big Mix, an event coming to the Hult Center at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 12, emphasizes the breadth of Eugene Kickstarter projects and highlights crowdfunding projects in food, beverages, film, crafts, games and other areas.
"The Eugene crowdfunding landscape reflects our vibrant community," said Joe Maruschak, chief startup officer and executive director of the RAIN Eugene Accelerator. "The entrepreneurs who live here are not only interested in creating technology for the workplace, we are also into food, culture, crafting and other areas, and those interests are reflected in the companies our residents are founding."
"We are not Silicon Valley and the more we embrace our homegrown ideas for innovation, the better," Maruschak said.
The event includes a panel moderated by the University of Oregon's John Hull, assistant dean for centers of excellence and executive director of the Business Innovation Institute. The panel will feature regional entrepreneurs in food, film, craft, and games, including Mike Whitehead, founder of the Kickstarter- supported Portland cast iron cookwear company FINEX.
Terry Romero, Kickstarter's outreach lead for food and crafts, will present the keynote speech. The event will include opening remarks from Skip Newberry of the Technology Association of Oregon, a screening program by the Eugene Film Society and the opportunity to network with hundreds of creators from throughout the region.
The Big Mix is presented by the Technology Association of Oregon in the Southern Willamette Valley, Fertilab Thinkubator, Eugene Film Society and Lane Workforce Partnership.
The event's sponsors include the city of Eugene, RAIN Eugene and the University of Oregon. For more information, go to is.gd/xjAwYW.
Hacking for a cause
The challenges bore names like the "Parcade Arcade" and "I Heart Red Caps" and included the creation of websites, mobile apps, promotional videos and digital art instillations. Unlike other innovation marathons, this "hackathon" sought solutions to local livability issues such as public safety and homelessness.
Starting Feb. 12 and ending Feb. 14, "Hack for a Cause" drew more than 130 technology innovators to the Downtown Athletic Club to work around-the-clock to develop improvements for social service providers, city departments and other downtown Eugene supporters.
"I'm very proud of our community for coming together, thinking about solutions and taking action," said Matt Sayre, director of the Technology Association of Oregon. "Several tangible innovations came out of this event that can make a very real and positive impact in Eugene."
The only rules of the competition were to think outside the box and to contribute to the greater good of the community.
The event provided a platform to bring together the tech community, local educational institutions, and civic and social organizations. It resulted in some tangible solutions.
"It's a nice example of how the principles of innovation/entrepreneurship can be applied to a wide range of settings, including social challenges," said Andrew Nelson, associate professor of management at the University of Oregon and coordinator of UO's innovation and entrepreneurship programs.
The solutions included:
The South Eugene High School Robotics Team - with support from Stephen Fickas, a professor in UO's Department of Computer and Information Science Department - took on the "Parcade Arcade" challenge and developed a game for the city of Eugene's parking garages using Raspberry Pi devices.
Team Dumpster Fire, more commonly known as IDX, took on the "I Heart Red Caps" challenge and developed a tech solution to make Red Cap safety patrols less labor intensive. It also provided a data trove for policy makers to apply toward public safety decisions.
A team of UO students took on the "15th Night" challenge and built on the functionality of the widely used communication tool Slack to support homeless youth in the community.
A team of mostly freelance software developers built a robust website for CoderDojo, an organization that teaches underprivileged youth in the community to code.
Tech firm The Engine Company developed an interactive touch screen kiosk that could be used for everything from First Friday Art Walks, to large-scale events like the upcoming 2021 IAAF World Championships.
Organizers like Sayre are seeking to triple the size of the downtown tech industry, something the "Hack for a Cause" can help them achieve.
"Our hope is to bring more living wage jobs to our community, attract continued investment from tech companies, and increase the value and appeal of our downtown," Sayre said. "There are many benefits to a growing tech industry downtown, a rising tide lifts all boats."
The biweekly Entrepreneurs column is produced by RAIN Eugene, the local branch of the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network.