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City Club of Eugene: Entrepreneurship In The Emerald City

Program Date: June 4, 2021

Air Date: June 7, 2021

From its founding as a trading post along the Willamette River in 1862 to the testing of the first “waffle” shoe of a plucky start-up called Nike at Hayward Field in 1972 to the dubbing of the area as “Silicon Shire” in 2012, Eugene has long been home to entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, Onward Eugene, and the University of Oregon were recently awarded a $500,000 federal grant to expand programs for the innovation district in Eugene’s Opportunity Zone. The project is designed to foster entrepreneurship and build new businesses in Eugene by expanding the business accelerator and mentor network through the Onward Eugene accelerator program and the mentor experience from the University of Oregon.

While an emphasis on entrepreneurship has helped to diversify the region’s economy in recent years—particularly after the decline of the timber economy in the 1980s—many questions remain. How can we ensure equitable access to entrepreneurial opportunities in Eugene? How can Eugene position itself as a “business friendly” city while maintaining its unique culture?

As Oregon Business wrote, “Can Eugene continue…attracting new businesses and boosting wages, all the while maintaining affordability, public space, and a renowned independent, quirky character?”

We’ll get answers to that question and many more from an all-star panel of guests.


Sally Bell is the Vice President and Executive Director of the Southern Willamette Valley Chapter of the Technology Association of Oregon. A connector and convener at heart and in practice, Sally has spent her career in Oregon, scaling impact with mission-driven organizations in media, startups, consulting, and higher education. Prior to TAO, Sally led Industry Relations for the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon, where she founded the college’s mentoring program and was the faculty advisor for Women in Business. Her work at UO centered around talent development and recruitment strategies for scaling companies, including many technology partners. Sally has also led business development for several tech startups in Portland, taught organizational leadership to MBAs and served on the boards of Portland Net Impact and Portland Family Homeless Solutions.

Matt Sayre is the Managing Director at Onward Eugene, an economic development non-profit that launched during the pandemic. It works to unite local partners and mobilize rebuilding efforts to fully realize our region’s shared potential for expansive and inclusive prosperity. In recent years, Matt has focused on building the infrastructure necessary to support the region’s transition to a knowledge-based economy. He helped establish computer science curriculum in local schools and re-design the physical internet in Oregon.This led to Eugene’s designations as a “Mozilla Gigabit City,” “US Ignite Smart Gigabit Community,” and “Top 10 up and coming tech cities in the Nation.” Matt has been recognized as a “20 under 40 Rising Business Star” by The Register-Guard for helping local startups thrive and successfully recruiting dozens of new employers to Eugene.

Marissa Zarate is the Co-Director of the newly forming Latinx & Immigrant Family Wellness Hub, consisting of Huerto de la Familia, Centro Latino Americano, and Downtown Languages. The daughter of a Costa Rican immigrant mother and Mexican- American father, Marissa is an innovative and passionate leader. Her career has focused on social justice work, and in her current role she oversees programs to support and empower Latino and immigrant families in Lane County. Marissa is a graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law with a focus on human rights work, and she holds a BA in Peace Studies from Chapman University.