Make it RAIN: State tells UO, OSU and cities to team up, grow jobs

EUGENE, Ore. - The Oregon Legislature commited $3.75 million to organize business creation at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University in an effort to grow more jobs in the southern Willamette Valley.

The South Willamette Valley Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN, will ally UO and OSU with the cities of Eugene, Springfield, Corvallis and Albany. The goal: to tap into research at the universities to generate private economic growth.

"OSU and the University of Oregon have a combined, 10-year track record of creating more than 45 spinout companies and 600 jobs," said state Sen. Lee Beyer, who represents parts of Linn and Lane counties. "We think that's just a fraction of the potential, and the RAIN initiative will ultimately have a significant impact on the Oregon economy."

Two facilities will be created, in Corvallis and Eugene, to house acceleration programs, startup companies and other support services.

The job goals are pretty lofty, 540 new high tech jobs in the south valley in 5 years. Chuck Williams of UO Innovation Partnership Services says, "We're hopefully going to have new starts in biotech, materials chemistry, the I.T. sector, anything broadly in high tech."

At the same time, hundreds of students from the two universities will gain hands-on experience in accelerator projects, Sen. Beyer said.

The governor applauded passage of the bill.

"An incredible amount of innovation is coming out of our Universities in Eugene and Corvallis," Kitzhaber said. Legislative action to create RAIN "paves the way for harnessing that innovation to create great jobs for Oregonians."

During the next two years, RAIN will focus existing efforts at the two universities into cohesive accelerator programs; increase the capacity to move more business ideas forward; and complete the infrastructure needed to make this concept work.

RAIN will also help coordinate the sharing of university laboratory space, other space made available by communities and signature research centers, and other facilities needed for research, development and ultimately manufacture of new products.

OSU already has in place a recently-formed Venture Accelerator. The University of Oregon also has a number of programs aimed at helping tech and other entrepreneurs. RAIN will help weave these programs together.

"Part of what's unique about RAIN is this powerful collaboration between universities, the communities around them and the private business sector," said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at OSU. "This is part of a new and exciting approach for university research. We're going to create technology-based companies that provide high wage jobs, and at the same time our students will learn how to become the entrepreneurs of the future. The Oregon legislature has seen this as an investment that should pay off for Oregon."

"Small, innovative technology companies hold great promise for Oregon," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, vice president for research and innovation and dean of the Graduate School at UO. "They tend to grow quickly and create stable, high-wage jobs that attract and keep talent in the state, and on a broader scale, create the products that are changing our world. RAIN represents a new, regional and collaborative approach to nurturing these kinds of businesses here in Oregon. We thank the legislature for this investment and Senator Beyer for his leadership."

As a next step in the process, the mayors of Corvallis and Eugene will co-convene a designated Oregon Solutions project to create a permanent governing structure and business plan.