One venture capitalist’s mission to bring a slice of Silicon Valley to his adopted home with a polytechnic institute.
Like many Silicon Valley escapees, venture capitalist Bruce Cleveland discovered Bend on vacation and began plotting how he could move here. The former Siebel Systems executive and early employee of Oracle could have retired to a quiet life of fly-fishing. Instead, Cleveland dove headfirst into helping build Bend’s nascent tech community. His most recent project—creating BendPoly, a polytechnic institute here in the high desert.
Describe the ethos of BendPoly.
BendPoly is a professional skills academy that helps bridge the gap between a student’s undergraduate or graduate degree program and the skills these students need to compete for jobs. We are specifically targeting liberal arts students. Our inaugural six-week course, which finished in August, focused on digital marketing. Companies of all types need these skill sets, not just technology companies.
You’ve dubbed BendPoly the “ninth semester.” Why do you think it’s necessary?
The types of “vocational” skills that industry needs in a service-based economy have changed dramatically. The industry is looking for people who understand areas such as sales operations, customer success and digital marketing. Since the applications used in these areas change so rapidly, it is virtually impossible for universities to keep up with the latest applications. This is where BendPoly comes in. We are not a substitute for a traditional higher-ed program. Instead, we act as “the ninth semester,” providing students with the additional, practical training they need to acquire great jobs.
Why put a polytechnic in Bend?
We believe that through BendPoly we can create a center of excellence in Bend focused on skillsets that don’t necessarily have to be located at company headquarters. Ultimately, we want to draw students and companies here to Bend; students for the programs and companies that need the skilled labor. We hope to entice both to stay in Bend, thereby building our talent pool and a supply of high-paying jobs.
After a long career in Silicon Valley, how did you land in Central Oregon?
I grew up in Northern California, but my dad and his family were from Salem, so I’ve been coming to Oregon since the early ’60s. We were interested in eventually retiring in Bend, but I wanted to see if there might be a way for me to contribute to the community. Through my research, I learned more about the efforts of others to build the Bend tech community. I partnered with Dino Vendetti (founder of Seven Peaks Ventures) in 2013 to launch the Big Bend Theory in support of the effort
to turn Central Oregon into a regional tech center.
Why do you think Bend has the potential to become a destination for growing tech companies?
Bend easily sells itself. It offers a great outdoor life, fantastic schools, and the personal value systems here closely mirror many of the people who live in the Bay Area—family, education, sports and environment, with a substantially lower cost of living. Young families in the Bay Area are desperate for alternatives and, I believe, Bend could be a superb one. Still, there’s no panacea; we need to put some fundamental elements in place. The primary one is a four-year university— OSU-Cascades. That will be a deciding factor for companies contemplating a move to Bend as it is the “talent factory” companies need for growth.