Starve-Ups Nourishes Embattled Entrepreneurs

Dotcom refugees have pink slip parties to commiserate, network and job hunt. Now another group of tough-luck entrepreneurs has a support group to call their own.

The Oregon-based group, aptly monikered Starve Ups, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs create and sustain successful businesses. Unlike other organizations, Starve Ups says its membership is open to executives of young companies, which it calls “true” entrepreneurs. The group does not permit investors, consultants and vendors to join its ranks, and encourages all its members to provide full financial disclosure. Members are expected to share angel and VC information, business plans and presentation techniques.

Nonetheless, the group is a harsh reminder to entrepreneurs of just how difficult it is to raise money for new companies these days.

“We?re all strapped for cash,” said John Freiss, a Starve Ups member who helps lead Wired.MD, an e-health company based in Portland, Ore. “We don?t have a second thought in calling [one of the members] for a digital camera or asking to borrow a laptop.”

Will Neuhauser, a co-founder and managing partner with CoMotion Venture Capital?s Portland office, added he was in a similar networking group called the Oregon Young Entrepreneurs Association. “Such groups are an invaluable resource for developing contacts and getting a better feel for the fund-raising process,” he said.

Freiss said the companies of a few Starve Ups members are already profitable or using funding to expand their companies. In fact, nearly half of the Starve Ups members are in the process of closing a Series A deal or raising money for a Series B round.

The average age of Starve Ups members is 28 and membership, for now, is limited to 15 member companies. New entrants must meet certain criteria and be enrolled by an existing member.

Despite its exclusive membership, the group has gained the appreciation and support of VCs as well as entrepreneurs.

“Finding ways to survive to play is an important trait we look for in entrepreneurs,” Neuhauser said. Moreover, Starve Ups recently hosted its own forum publicly in Portland. Sponsored by local businesses and academic institutions, as well as KPMG Inc., the forum drew hundreds of entrepreneurs from across the Northwest searching for business plan advice.

In the future, Starve Ups expects to expand beyond Oregon and support additional chapters in other equity-starved areas.

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