Portland Ten: Incubating 10 $1 million startups by 2010

After spending the better part of the year researching the Portland startup community, Carolynn Duncan has come to the same conclusion as the many of us: Portland is one huge R&D shop. Which is great for innovation. But not always as good for revenue-generating business.

Carolynn writes:

  1. The pre-revenue, pre-funding entrepreneur community lacks a core understanding of the fundraising process, and perceives that there is a lack of seed capital.
  2. Local investors and funds appear to be few & far between, while investors outside the area fly between Seattle and San Francisco, without paying serious attention to what’s happening in PDX.
  3. Geeks prefer working on their own side projects independently, rather than joining a startup, or taking their technologies to a commercialized level.

In essence, the area as a whole interacts much like a national laboratory or research university, with results being that the entrepreneurial talent neglects to convert side projects into startups, and the geeks, while coalescing as a supportive & sociable community, tends to be underutilized/underemployed.

So how do we address that problem? Traditional venture capital models? No. How about something that better meshes with the existing startup culture? An incubator along the lines of Y Combinator.

Meet Portland Ten.

The goal? Incubate 10 Portland startups capable of generating at least $1 million in revenue per year—by August 2010.

Ten by ’10. Get it?

But Carolynn doesn’t see this as a problem at which one can just throw capital. It requires something more educational. More focused on mentoring. Using the expertise she’s gained on the VC side of the desk and her co-advisors—Mark Grimes and Josh Friedman—have gained running (and in Mark’s case, selling) their own startups.

It’s an intensive bootcamp, but there isn’t any money going to the startups. With Portland Ten, the startups are paying:

[We’re looking for] an entrepreneur right on the cusp of starting a high-growth business. A teachable entrepreneur who will commit to the required activities, and the optional activities when possible.

An entrepreneur who will consider themselves the first investor in the project and raise the funds to pay the $500/month program tuition.

Interested in applying to participate? Portland Ten is currently accepting applications for its first 12-week session, beginning February 23.

If you’ve got a side project that you’re convinced will be a viable business, it’s time to grab those bootstraps, my friend—and check out Portland Ten.

[UPDATE 2/12/2009] This post elicited some great comments and it sparked an interesting discussion on Y Combinator’s Hacker News. As a result, Carolynn has taken the opportunity to address 14 of the questions/critiques about Portland Ten.

  1. […] Portland Ten was originally founded with the goal of fostering 10 $1 million Portland startups by Oc…. How’d they do? Well, a couple of their startups have either hit the mark or are well on their way. Since its founding in 2009 by Director Carolynn Duncan, Portland Ten has seen successes including ShopIgniter’s exceeding $1MM within 18 months and $3MM venture capital funding, a $35,000 grant and pilot project with Portland Development Commission, 40+ alumni successfully completing the Portland Ten and Sprint programs, working with 100+ startups in the Checkups, and Skill Development programs… […]

  2. […] this is a major win for Portland Ten—the startup bootcamp project run by Carolynn Duncan designed to create more viable Portland startups—in which ShopIgniter was a participant. Not a bad success story for the old alumni […]

  3. […] this is a major win for Portland Ten—the startup bootcamp project run by Carolynn Duncan designed to create more viable Portland startups—in which ShopIgniter was a participant. Not a bad success story for the old alumni […]

  4. […] informally announced PDX Ten on February 10. The next day, we were written up by Silicon Florist and HackerNews. We received some good critique and tons of support from the local and national […]

  5. […] Jump to Comments This week, we’ve seen a lot of discussion about Portland Ten, via SiliconFlorist, Hacker News, Twitter, […]

  6. I have to confess that I took Rick’s entire post, and posted it to the TechBoise blog, with the recommendation that Idaho pursue a similar course.

    There is a lot of good feedback from smart people on this topic. Whatever your feeling, though, Carolynn’s plan contains a very important element:


    Sure, Boise has all the requisite stuff – the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) offices all over the state, the Boise State University TECenter, Idaho TechConnect, but in my time in the community here have I ever heard a leader in the private, public, or quasi-public sector ever proclaim an actual target.

    I think that whatever happens, Carolynn has achieved something important here – a real goal – a challenge in fact to all the other incubators/business accelerators in town to set some goals and get after ’em.

  7. Thank you to everyone for your comments & suggestions on Portland Ten. Some very valid concerns & feedback were given, and I appreciate this very much, because it will help us to make Portland Ten better at being/becoming something that is useful and appropriate for the startup community.

    Here are some of my thoughts and responses to specific items discussed:


    For those who are excited about the project, we appreciate the support. For those who have concerns, I appreciate your effort in letting us know, and hope that you’ll continue to follow the project and help us stay on track, or make changes when necessary.

  8. […] Ten, yesterday brought a flurry of unexpected/moderately high profile visibility in the form of a post on Silicon Florist, a discussion on Hacker News, and several comments from entrepreneurs on […]

  9. I’ll offer the same services for $300 a month. Thx.

  10. I don’t understand why we need another one? Doesn’t OTBC already fill this niche? Not to mention Portland State Accelerator? It’s not clear what Portland 10 brings that these others services don’t.

    One of the problems with start-up inclubators in Portland is that they can’t figure out how to work together. Here’s another innovator who knows better than others.

    I wish them well. We can use more successful start-ups in town, but I hope they would consider making this work with other organizations like Portland State Accelerator or OTBC.

  11. I’m really glad to see this discussion taking place. Thanks so much to everyone who has taken the time to chime in with their opinion.

  12. I dont think putting in what little money a boot strapped startup has ($500 per month) is worth sitting in a class learning how to spend more money to get your startup going. That $500 could be spent in better places like building your app out more

  13. As an entrepreneur in Portland, I’ve been looking for this kind of support — however, without funds to back it up (VC money), the offer of $500-per-month consulting is unimpressive at best.

  14. I’m with Geoff and Ryan. I’m not seeing a $500/month value. Actually sounds like those late night infomercials that say “we’ll teach you how to make millions on real estate/foreign exchange”. In this case, you’ll learn how to make millions on your tech startup.

    I’d think I’d exhaust the available free/cheap opportunities available before working with these folks.

  15. $100… Really… Wow.

    How about the $10K Challenge?

    Seriously, it’s sort of insulting to put a call out for entrepreneurs to work with you to start businesses and not have the funds to back it up.

    …Actually as I’ve dug further it seems that you’re CHARGING people $1500 to work with you. So really this is more a consulting framework than a real incubator?

  16. I’m with Geoff K. Not really liking this or seeing this is helpful for the entrepreneur community.

    I’ve not had the opportunity to meet any of the Portland 10 team yet, though I am appreciative that Carolynn took the time to speak at PDXWI. Also, I definitely support the goal here and agree with many of the observations about Portland’s struggle with commercializing projects.

    But, this seems more like a business for the Portland 10 than any type of real investor/incubator program. What am I missing? Portland 10 is taking no risk here. Nothing like Y Combinator. There time is compensated, up to $5000/month. Not a full time business, but I imagine they are not working on this full time. I’d stick with OEN, SAO, and OTBC for now. Plenty of free or cheaper opportunities.

    Would love to proven wrong and have 10 great startups.

  17. Rick, thanks for spreading the word. We’re excited about the companies we’ve got on queue and welcome other local startups to apply if it sounds like a good fit.

    Chris, Rich– I spent a year at the Eastern Idaho Entrepreneurial Center, and would enjoy sharing what we’re doing with folks in Boise.

    JMartens– the program is designed to accommodate our founders’ schedules as much as possible, and help them convert these side projects into a full-time job by generating revenue or securing appropriate funding.

    (We have a $100 challenge– if a founder quits their job while in the program, we’ll give them $100.)

    Feel free to ping me– cduncan at pdxten dot com for more info.

  18. Great spirit of an idea, but a VC that doesn’t bring funding isn’t going to work.

    If you look at any of the great incubators in tech they all had investors and board of advisers from key venture and tech companies.

    Here the staff doesn’t have any real VC’s on it, and while I don’t know Carolynn Duncan, Mark Grime’s track record has some serious bumps… Didn’t Eyescream Interactive crash and burn? I could be remembering this incorrectly…but I do remember some real issues.

  19. I just left a comment over on the Portland Ten blog as well, but anyone know if they are accepting side-project type startups? Many of us in Portland are still working that day job to pay the bills 🙂

  20. Great idea to get more PDX startups going!

  21. If would be 10 start-ups by October 10, 2010, then you’d have 10 by 10/10/10!

  22. Rick: Thanks for getting the word out about this! This sounds like an awesome model, one that we might have to import over here in Boise, even . . .

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