"The world has adopted the culture of remote workers. The talent pool is now the whole world, and where you are located is less of a concern. This has been a game-changer for communities like Bend."
For anyone who has even vaguely entertained the notion of starting up a new company in Bend, there's already a gung-ho team player on your side. Kelly Kearsley, a co-founder of StartupBend.com, lives, breathes and blogs about startup companies in Bend.
"I'm very passionate and bullish on Bend as a place to start a company," she says. "I want to tell the world about what is happening with startups in Bend. There is more support than you can ever imagine, with offers to help. Sure, it will be super hard—and that's normal with startups—but you're in a place where people want you to succeed. It's so collaborative, so helpful and not competitive. People are so generous with their time and advice."
Kelly started writing the StartupBend blog in July 2014, when she co-founded it with James Gentes and support from a lot of people in the startup and business community. She recalls one of her first projects was to write a post on "50 Startups" in Bend. At the time, she remembers wondering if there were even that many local startups she could profile. That concern, she now says, is "silly" because there are so many of them. As a solo blogger, Kelly says she has a hard time keeping up with them all. She says she hears of at least one new startup every week and that she could attend startup events every day of the week if she had the time.
Originally from Spokane, Wash., Kelly earned a degree in journalism from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. She and her husband, Justin Johnson, moved to Bend in 2001, when Kelly landed a job covering Crook County and later, health care, for the Bend Bulletin. She remembers the hard decision of deciding to leave Bend and move to Tacoma in 2004 to seek other job opportunities.
"We were really, really sad about it. I literally cried all the way up I-5. But we had it in the back of our minds that if we could live here, we wanted to live here. If we were self-employed, we wouldn't have to be tethered to a larger city." In the meantime, Kelly laid down a solid bedrock of writing experience by working at the Seattle Times and the Associated Press, as well as covering the Port of Tacoma for the Tacoma News Tribune.
In March 2013, they returned to Bend for a visit and by the end of June the couple had relocated back to Bend. By this time, Kelly had established her own freelance writing business, and Justin had started his own software company, Lead Method. As a freelancer, Kelly writes web content and does content marketing for clients such as Morgan Stanley, AT&T and Verizon.
StartupBend, she says, is "a connecting place for startups and a megaphone for startups." She works out of a small office in the nonprofit BendTECH co-working space, on whose board she also serves and organizes events.
"I've been really active in supporting the startup community and sharing their ideas and helping people start up companies outside of metro areas. The passion behind StartupBend is to show people that it's possible to start up a company."
The startup community in Bend has blown up since she returned in 2013, Kelly says. "It was pretty radical back then to think that you could start up a tech company in Bend, Oregon. The world has adopted the culture of remote workers. The talent pool is now the whole world, and where you are located is less of a concern. This has been a game-changer for communities like Bend.
"Bend is an amazing startup community filled with people who want you to be a success. People are always thinking of new ideas and there's always problems to solve." Access to investment funds used to be a problem, Kelly says, but there are now groups and individuals in Bend looking to invest in startups.
When she and Justin are not talking and breathing startups, they like to ski with their 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. "We also spend a lot of time on soccer fields and in gymnastics," Kelly says.
Husband Justin also relishes riding bikes, while Kelly says she's been a lifelong distance runner, so she gets a high out of trail running. "I've always been a cross-country nerd."