The Bend Venture Conference showcases the what's what and the who's who of business happening in the region. This year's conference—the largest "angel" conference in the Northwest—takes place on Oct. 17 and 18 and is featuring two companies from Bend that have made it to the finals of the Impact Stage.
- Meli Wraps
- Find more information on Meli Wraps at meliwraps.com
According to the BVC website, the Impact Stage "honors for-profit businesses that are still in early evolution stages of their business. These companies have a social or environmental mission integrated into the core of their business." The winner of the Impact competition could end up with up to $100,000 in investments.
We spoke to some of the folks behind Riff Cold Brewed and Meli Wraps to gain insight into their businesses, and to find out what makes each business deserving of a finalist spot for the Impact Stage at this year's BVC.
Riff Cold Brewed
One of Riff's newest products, the Alter Ego sparkling coffeefruit tea, is changing the process of harvesting coffee beans and eliminating waste at the same time.
As Riff co-founder and CEO Paul Evers tells me, during the harvest, coffee farms de-pulp the beans from the coffeefruit and then the rest is left to rot in the field. Through research, Evers and company estimate that there will be 100 billion pounds of coffeefruit that's wasted this year. If it's not properly managed, the fruit rots and generates methane gas, can end up in streams and destroy ecosystems and cause even more damage. Riff has made it their mission to use the rest of the fruit that gets left behind.
"The analogy I share with people is it's like picking an apricot off the tree, extracting the pit and making a beverage with it and taking the rest of the fruit and throwing it away," says Evers. "Coffeefruit tastes very different than coffee— it's incredibly delicious, naturally sweet and caffeinated. By reducing the amount of waste at the source we're helping the environment, and it requires virtually no additional investment in infrastructure for farmers. But they can potentially double their revenue stream."
- Riff Cold Brewed
- Not only is Alter Ego environmentally friendly, but it tastes good, too.
Through the process of upcycling the fruit, Riff is creating a clean, all-natural energy drink and something unique in this area of the beverage industry. Even through Alter Ego's packaging and shelf life, the footprint left behind by the process of distribution is cut back greatly. From the beginning of the fruit being harvested, to the brewing process and the final packaging, Alter Ego is a product that was built for the environment.
"We're super excited about this because our DNA is about innovation," adds Evers. "We aspire to be a company that does good—in all ways."
Founded in 2015 by longtime friends Melia Foster and Nicole Galchutt, Meli Wraps began with creating reusable food wraps out of their garage. Fast forward to 2019 and now the duo is ready to present at BVC.
"It is such a privilege to get to be a part of this conference and being able to compete with some other awesome companies," says Galchutt. "Getting the congrats email after passing through each stage has led to many happy dances, as we really want to win this so we can grow our company larger—which means making a bigger impact in our environment."
Meli Wraps are designed to serve as an easy alternative to store food using something other than single-use plastics, such as plastic bags or wraps. The wraps are made from GOTS organic cotton, locally sourced beeswax, tree resin, organic coconut oil and organic jojoba oil.
"The beeswax blend is infused into our fabric, which also has preservative qualities to keep food fresh longer when stored in a wrap, which in turn helps to lessen food waste," explains Galchutt.
Users can actually wash Meli Wraps around 150 times. When it looks like their lifespan is up, the wraps can be cut into strips and naturally composted. This helps eliminate plastic from ending up in the oceans and rivers and prevents plastics from sitting in a landfill where the products can produce harmful chemicals. Each wrap features a gorgeous and unique print to make them stand out, and Meli Wraps also come in different sizes to fit various food storage needs.
The other two categories in the BVC include the Early Stage and Growth Stage. The former is dedicated to companies—which don't necessarily have to hail from Central Oregon— that "have a great idea and are close to proof of concept, are pre, or very early, revenue and are in the process of testing their product in the market." The winner of this competition can be awarded a $25,000 investment courtesy of the Portland Seed Fund. Then the Growth Stage showcases companies that "have a proven concept, have generated initial revenues and are prepared to scale quickly with investment." Finalists here could collect $250,000 or more in investments.
Bend Venture Conference
Thu., Oct. 17- Fri., Oct. 18