RAIN Eugene and Oregon MBA: Two Powerful Forces for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Lane County

Lane County has a thriving food scene thanks to good climate and abundant farms. Because of these intrinsic ingredients, there are a lot of resources here that can be used in food manufacturing. Our region also has the ingredients—people, ideas, and capital—for successful entrepreneurship in general, and programs through both RAIN Eugene and the University of Oregon’s Oregon MBA program are making those connections.

The UO’s Oregon MBA provides a Master’s in Business Administration to students who choose to follow one of five paths: Advanced Leadership and Strategy, Finance and Securities Analysis, Sports Business, Sustainable Business Practices, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Oregon MBA graduate Joey Jaraczewski created Sohr, a vegan protein shake made from Oregon hazelnuts after he discovered that it was possible to build a business using sustainable practices, treat the environment well, pay people fairly for their work, and still turn a profit.

“I was attracted to the Willamette Valley by this potential of the force of business as a positive change,” says 28-year-old Jaraczewski. “I think the cool part about the MBA program is that it presents sustainability and entrepreneurship in all of its coursework. The Oregon MBA provided a constructive and competitive environment for me to hatch my idea in and also forced me to not slow down but to also think of all of the contingencies while I was ramping up to start the company.”

Nathan Lillegard is the program manager for the UO’s Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship. Through the Lundquist College of Business’s program, he’s seen entrepreneurs start up many businesses including the following:

  • Animosa, a women’s outdoor gear brand,
  • hatmaker Cowbucker,
  • condiment maker Red Duck,
  • airport gym developers ROAM Fitness,
  • TougHer women’s workwear brand,
  • Bespoke Bride’s curated wedding services,
  • The Tutor Tree app connecting students with tutors (available on The App Store and soon, the Google Play Store),
  • Trail Supply, a resupply service for long-distance Pacific Crest Trail hikers,
  • Algotek, a biodegradable algae-based plastic alternative,
  • Kaubell Vodka, which takes excess whey from the dairy industry and ferments it into a clean vodka,
  • and Captain Soup, making clean soup that meets keto and other dietary protocols.

Some of those brands you’ve heard of, and some you will no doubt hear more about in the future. “Those are all student ideas,” says Lillegard. “They take a class of mine in the fall called New Venture Planning and then they have an opportunity to work on their business plan and funding strategy.”

Oregon MBA Students and RAIN Eugene Mentors Cross-pollinate

During the school year and following graduation, Oregon MBA students can work with RAIN Eugene mentors such as mentor-in-residence and assistant Shane Johnson and executive director Joe Maruschak. Both are serial entrepreneurs and strategists who visit classrooms, review projects and work with undergrads to refine their ideas.

“The Oregon MBA program is a good first step for a startup,” says Johnson. “RAIN Eugene is the next step if you found a company as a student and you plan on staying in the Eugene area. We can show you what a pathway might look like.”

Lillegard says the MBA program gives students a chance to prepare for RAIN Eugene’s business accelerator, in that their programs are similar. Some students feel that if they’ve done one program, they don’t need to do the other. “But when students do the MBA and RAIN Eugene’s business accelerator, in reality, they get a chance to revalidate the things they validated a year ago in classes and then they get to do it again in real life,” Lillegard says. “Typically if someone has gone through my class in the fall they’re nine months removed from their work and they’ll need to do it again. There’s not a competition between our programs because one kind of feeds into the other. For students who come here for the MBA that want to start something and stay, the next logical step is to go to RAIN Eugene.”

Connecting to the Eugene Ecosystem

The key difference between the two programs is that the UO’s is a credit program for students who are already in a master’s program for business. RAIN Eugene can benefit others in the community who are not students, and because RAIN Eugene’s leaders are connected to the community, students can get to know the Eugene ecosystem quite well.

“Both programs focus on moving an idea forward,” explains Lillegard. “The difference is the students with the MBA come at business development with a deeper understanding of a lot of different business concepts but they still are relatively new to many of the ideas of startups. If the student is going to stay local and pursue their startup it makes great sense to go through RAIN Eugene because they’ll make really great connections with the local ecosystem.”

Lillegard has been in with the program since 2012. Over that time he’s seen an increase in the number of students choosing to stay local and engage here in Eugene. This engagement just increases the number of mentors that future students can benefit from.

“RAIN Eugene and Oregon MBA share many mentors and we share some instructors,” Lillegard explains. “Many community members serve as mentors for our programs and the MBA students might serve as interns or research helpers. They might help out some of the students in the RAIN Eugene cohort, so students themselves are actually a really great resource for the companies that might be seeking help.”

Business Fundamentals and Follow-up Support

In the first year of the MBA program, students like Jaraczewski learn the fundamentals of business. Jaraczewski pitched his idea for a vegan protein shake on the first day of class in his second year. Co-founder Drew Ek joined on, they found an advisor and developed a recipe. Jaraczewski graduated with his MBA in June 2017 and launched Sohr on his 27th birthday, July 1, 2017. Sohr is now part of the RAIN Eugene Business Accelerator for 2018. The company recently purchased Real Live Food, and is now making grab-and-go convenience health foods and their protein shakes at a food hub and shared kitchen in Cottage Grove.

Jaraczewski is farther along on his business development than the other participants thanks to his experiences in both the UO and RAIN Eugene’s programs. “The Oregon MBA was focused on all of these business topics in a classroom setting, but the RAIN accelerator takes your concept and tests it live fire,” says Jaraczewski. “Joe says that businesses are like eggs and the program is going to accelerate the unhatched egg of your business at a wall and see if it breaks! If it’s ready it will hatch quickly into a bird and fly.”

Diverse Sector Focus

The food and beverage industry is the second of three industry sectors to receive special attention from the Lane County Sector Strategy Team. The technology sector is benefitting from organizations such as the Technology Association of Oregon. The Food and Beverage is developing structure under the guidance of a 26 member industry advisory board and Micah Elconin, a strategist and consultant with an Oregon MBA and experience as a food entrepreneur. Next up will be a focus on the construction-aggregate industry.

One of the apps that has benefitted from the focus on the technology sector is TutorTree. Founders Eli Ackerman, 21, and Adrian Martushev, 24, recognized a lack of connection between students and tutors. Martushev is a math and computer science major who privately tutored. Ackerman was a math tutor. The pair met as a result of a student looking for a tutor, and connected with resources at RAIN Eugene to develop their idea to allow tutors and students to easily connect and schedule appointments.

TutorTree took third place in the recent Quack Hatch. The University of Oregon’s undergrad business idea competition was held in March and co-judged by RAIN Eugene’s Maruschak. TutorTree beta launched last term for iOs and as of this writing booked 130 tutoring sessions in four weeks, for an average daily growth of 7%. They are planning a full launch for fall and hope to expand the app to other campuses.

“RAIN Eugene has been amazing,” says Martushev. “The connections, the mentorship, the wealth of knowledge they provide is really valuable especially to undergrads who aren’t really versed in business. It’s been enlightening to talk to all these mentors and get a diversity of experience.”

Martushev grew up in Eugene, so the connections he’s making in town are exciting to him. He’s seeing so much more potential in Eugene than he saw before.

“We both believe in what RAIN Eugene is doing and we don’t think this business would be able to succeed as well as we think it will without RAIN Eugene,” says Ackerman.