November 5th, 2009

Navel gazing: Picking apart Greg Huang’s article on Boston, Boulder, and Seattle to find guidance for Portland


Navel gazing: Picking apart Greg Huang’s article on Boston, Boulder, and Seattle to find guidance for Portland

Sometimes, it pays to look outside Portland and the Silicon Forest. To poke up our collective heads, take a gander, and assess what’s going on elsewhere. Even if that brief assessment only returns us to the position of navel gazing about what Portland could and should be doing.

Such is the case with a recent post from Greg Huang at Xconomy, “A Tale of Three Cities: How Boston, Boulder, and Seattle Measure Up as Tech Innovation Hubs.”

Like Greg. Like his writing. Figured I’d find a few good morsels. What I discovered, in addition, were some interesting insights that could help Portland find its way to a looming tipping point.

Take for instance, Brad Feld of TechStars recounting the early days of the Boulder startup scene.

When I showed up in ’95, what I found was on the software side you had a lot of smart engineering talent but you didn’t have much else.… Not much in the way of entrepreneurial executive leadership other than from these pockets. In the mid-90s, because of the counter-culture community—and the Internet was purpose-built for places like Boulder—you had a lot of people who were independent, very smart, doing their own things.… Yet there wasn’t a broad wave of entrepreneurial experience.… The other thing was that one of the hardest things for first-time entrepreneurs is to have an engaged relationship with an experienced entrepreneur.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought it might.

What helped fix the situation? A little incubator called TechStars that did two important things. First, it attracted new entrepreneurs to Boulder. Second, it lined those new entrepreneurs up with experienced mentors to guide them and challenge them to build the best startups possible.

Boston, now another TechStars city, has had a great deal of wealth generated by entrepreneurs. But the startups have been traditional tech pursuits.

What’s Boston seeing now? Chris Sheehan of CommonAngels sees a shift toward mobile and Web.

Boston is well known for growing up with hardware and software companies. You’re now seeing other parts of the IT space building clusters around Boston—mobile, gaming, Web, e-commerce, ad tech and marketing.

And finally, Seattle. Our closest metropolitan neighbor and the town with which we are most often compared. Steve Hall of Vulcan Capital highlighted some of Seattle’s shortcomings—which will likely sound very familiar.

The first is the question of whether Seattle has enough capital. It’s a very short list of funds. You need a critical mass of capital to drive entrepreneurs’ willingness to quit their jobs and burn the midnight oil to start businesses. While I think it’s good for us VCs to have the market to ourselves, you need a little more activity to jumpstart the system.

Complaining about lack of capital? Check. What else? What’s that? Lifestyle? Do tell.

People outside Seattle, particularly fund investors, believe that Seattle is a little too nice. We enjoy our lifestyle too much. Boulder may have a little of this as well.

And can we hit the trifecta with “risk aversion,” Andy Sack?

There’s a greater aversion to risk here than in Silicon Valley or Boston.

Bingo!

So for all the similarities among these three towns and what we’re experiencing in Portland, is there anything we’re doing especially well?

I’d have to say there’s one thing that we’re doing that will help solve all of these other problems: building a collaborative community.

Even Andy agrees that that’s important.

As nice as the Northwest is, it often isn’t as collaborative as I’d like to see it. Competition is good, but in terms of building a world-class city of technology entrepreneurship, I think we still have some things to learn.

But don’t just take my quoted-out-of-context snippets, go read Greg’s piece for yourself. Draw your own conclusions.

Does Portland have what it takes? And what’s missing that could help put us on par—or better yet, surpass—these other cities?

Like this post? There are more. Every week.
Plus events, jobs, and community offers.

View previous campaigns.



Background that may help (or may not)

6 Responses to “Navel gazing: Picking apart Greg Huang’s article on Boston, Boulder, and Seattle to find guidance for Portland”

  1. Jmartens says:

    TechStars recently expanded to Boston…maybe we should take up a campaign to woo them to Portland. We have some interesting programs in town, but nothing that really catapults startups like TechStars. Hyde is an Oregon native, might be a good place to start. Heck, maybe the City of Portland should consider leading the charge.

  2. As much as I love Portland (it is where I *choose* to live after all) I notice one thing about all those other cities that Portland lacks — a really great university. Don’t get me wrong, PSU is decent, but it’s nothing compared to what all those cities (and the others that tend to get lumped in as the *next* Silicon Valley all too often) have. Look at some of the other commonly cited examples of strong VC/entrepreneurial communities: Austin, NYC, Chicago, etc. They all have one or more really top-notch universities.

    I’m not trying to get into PSU bashing here, but I do want to make it clear that this may be one of our biggest hurdles to overcome.

  3. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Thomas Completely agree. I always categorize those cities as having “dorm room incubators,” schools where people live and collaborate on startups. PSU has always been more of a commuter campus that, while strong, lacks that dorm room incubator angle.

  4. [...] Navel gazing: Picking apart Greg Huang’s article on Boston, Boulder, and Seattle to find guida… (3) [...]

  5. [...] Navel gazing: Picking apart Greg Huang’s article on Boston, Boulder, and Seattle to find guida… (4) [...]

  6. [...] Navel gazing: Picking apart Greg Huang’s article on Boston, Boulder, and Seattle to find guida… (5) [...]


About the Silicon Florist

Free Pricing | JCPenney Coupons | Pizza Hut Coupons | Home Depot Coupons
Clicky Web Analytics