Heather Hoell talks a good game, and she puts her money where her mouth is. The nonprofit organization Venture Portland does many things, but first and foremost, it fuels growth in Portland’s established and emerging business districts. Hoell is currently at the helm.

Portland is a city of street fairs and strip clubs. The former owe their existence largely to Venture Portland. Twice a year, business districts around Portland compete for grants designed to support meaningful economic development and build business district capacity. The competition is stiff, but the folks at Venture Portland couldn’t be more encouraging. If there’s one thing to underline about Venture Portland's grant application process, it’s that they want applicants to succeed. The best advice Hoell offers in the way of dos and don’ts is, “Number one, contact us. Number two, follow the directions. Your application needs, above all, to be focused, clear, and compelling.”

Out of more than 50 respective business districts in the city, 34 are members of Venture Portland. With the recent addition of Economic Development grants, which allow business districts to apply for up to $6,000, another annual component has been added to the group’s prospective output. The monies dispensed are carefully calibrated to maximize the success of centers of commerce in the city, emphasizing online presences, organizational efficiency, increased foot traffic, promotional events, and the improvement or elimination of vacant storefronts and other physical blights in promising areas.

Another new funding stream in the works this year is what Hoell refers to as “start-up support.” These micro-grants of up to $250 are aimed at the aforementioned emerging districts in the hope of sponsoring initial organizing and networking events.

Jesse Burke (third from left) and members of the Kenton Business Association
Jesse Burke (third from left), members of the Kenton Business Association, and the metal banners designed by Dan Walker Design.

One representative of recent recipients of Venture Portland funds was in dire straits when she started out. “We were just two people,” says Jesse Burke of the Kenton Business Association. “We used the grants to revitalize our organization. We were able to organize the Kenton Street Fair and a series of banners celebrating local history and points of interest.” Burke is the owner of Posies Bakery and Café at 8208 N Denver Ave. She describes the events that Kenton was able to put on as a result of Venture’s contributions as “better than any print advertisement” in which she can remember investing.

Murray Koodish of the Northeast Broadway Business Association says, “Without the grants programs, we’d have had a very difficult time achieving what we have been able to do in terms of increasing visibility for the business district.” Koodish operates Great Wine Buys at 1515 NE Broadway.

Venture’s capacity isn’t limitless. “There’s never enough money to go around,” Hoell explains. However, organizations willing to avail themselves of the group’s considerable experience and means stand a good chance of cashing in. “The process is really simple,” explains Burke. “The biggest problem is not following directions.”

Upcoming events sponsored by Venture Portland include the End-Of-Summer Cruise-In at the intersection of SE 122nd and Division on Sunday, Sept. 18, and Think Hollywood at the historic Hollywood Theatre on Sandy Blvd from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 22.

Guidelines and a calendar of events and application deadlines can be found at www.ventureportland.org.