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Don't Shoot the MessengerThroughout the autumn, a small organization with a big idea, Hatch Oregon, has been making stops around Oregon, with early November appearances in Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland at Swing Tree Brewing. At each stop, they highlighted what they call a “rockstar entrepreneur,” in particular, a company that is taking part of a new wave of “community public offerings.”

The goal for Hatch Oregon sounds plain enough—to help close the “capital gap for small and startup business.” But it is a much more involved and optimistic concept that simply raising money.

In some ways, Hatch Oregon seems to be a favorable evolution of the crowd-funding phenomena. Although younger than most kindergarteners, Kickstarter’s principles are well-known; the concept that many donations make light work, as musicians, filmmakers and wannabe businessowners ask friends to chip in $5 or $500 donations to sponsor a good idea.   

That also is the basic premise for Hatch, which brings together community members to invest in a local community. The amounts are usually larger than a Kickstarter contribution, and also come with an ownership component.

What makes Hatch Oregon—and the dozen or so companies currently trying to raise capital through their platform—is that this crowd-funding sensibility is being attached to vestiges of the “slow money” movement, a concept that, in 2008, took its title and some of its mentality from the Slow Food movement when a successful but down-to-earth investor, Woody Tasch, released a breezy 192-page book with a lengthy title: Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as If Food, Finances and Fertility Mattered. Basically, it is about reprogramming an American public that has been trained to invest for quick returns, often by putting money into remote companies. While millions of Americans were hopscotching through the past two decades from one get-rich scheme (dot-com) to the next (house flipping), Tasch calmly shepherded $130 million from angel investors into socially responsible companies.

Not coincidentally, Tasch’s Slow Money was released near the end of a particularly financially bruising decade, one that started with Enron’s massive deception and the dot-com bust and ended with Bernie Madoff scamming investors and sub-prime lending giants like Lehman Brothers torpedoing homeowners from coast to coast.

Hatch Oregon is not directly associated with the Slow Money movement, but it seems to borrow many of its ideals and, like Slow Money, which most keenly focuses on supporting agriculturally-based and socially-conscientious infrastructure, many of the companies associated with Hatch Oregon are food-based—a brewery in Portland; an ice cream company, Red Wagon Foods, in Eugene that recently raised $120,000; and Rogue Rovers, an Ashland-based company with a mission “to build the friendliest, smartest and most sustainable all-terrain, electric utility vehicles for specialty farming.” Their investment drive ends on December 31, and with 14 investors already, they have raised $10,000 towards a $134,000 goal.

As well, TonTon’s Artisan Affection is another local (Talent) company on the Hatch Oregon platform. They call themselves “a value-added food producer,” meaning non-GMO and gluten-free ingredients for homemade hummus, grain-free cookies, and roasted chickpea snacks.  Their investment drive ends in late January, and through $125 notes, they are seeking $150,000.

All told, there are a dozen Oregon companies trying to re-imagine their their financial relationship and responsibility with their community (including non-food companies, like a baseball bat maker in Bend and a saddle-making company in Baker City).

Think this is a crazy idea?

Well then consider that the first CSA started in America in 1986 in New Hampshire. A decade later, there were 600 nationwide, and by the time Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 that number had mushroomed to 4,000.

This could and should be a whole new way of doing business.


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