[HTML2][Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Dave Chase, a serial entrepreneur who chose Portland for his next startup. Why? Read on.]
I recently relocated to Portland to start my new venture. Though I grew up in Portland (and the Bay Area), I hadn’t lived in the area since the early 80’s and I no longer have family or close friends in Portland. Thus, in many regards, it’s a completely new city to me. Yet, it’s the place I’ve chosen for my new startup. Why?
I have far more friends and relatives in Seattle and the Bay Area. Clearly those are great areas to live and start a company as well and much as been written about that. I think Portland is a dark horse and for people who have criteria such as mine, I think they’ll find it to be a better choice particularly if they are pre-disposed to an active lifestyle.
Naturally, everyone has their own set of criteria and experiences that will sway their decision one way or another. Before I list the 10 reasons, let me give you a bit of context.
- I am starting a company that intends to disrupt the traditional, flawed health insurance model which we believe is the only way in the near term to slay the healthcare cost beast in a meaningful manner.
- I began my career in the Healthcare Practice of what is now Accenture (one of the largest consulting firms in the world) and then moved to Microsoft in 1991 to help get them into the enterprise.
- During my 12 year tenure, I served in senior marketing, business development and general management roles.
- The first chunk of my Microsoft experience was founding their healthcare business that represents over $500MM in revenue. The latter half was spent working on Internet media businesses helping create Microsoft’s next billion dollar business that was briefly profitable before I left in 2003.
- Subsequent to leaving Microsoft, I have been immersed in startups as an advisor, interim executive and investor helping build successful businesses in the travel and digital marketing arena that are on a tear (e.g., LiveRez is one of the hottest companies in the Internet travel sector).
10 reasons to start a company in Portland, Oregon
Now comes the time to start a new business of my own and choose where to locate it. It’s a blend of personal and business factors that drove the decision. The following are the reasons I selected Portland over Seattle and Silicon Valley:
- Cost of living for employees: It’s dramatically less costly for people to live in Portland. Thus, a startup trying to preserve cash simply doesn’t have to pay as much for the employee to live comfortably.
- Food scene: In a word, Portland’s food scene is Epic. From the restaurants to food carts, there’s no doubt there’s more quality dining choices per capita than anywhere in the West. And they won’t break your bank like those in Seattle and the Bay Area.
- Better skiing: Both Mt. Hood and Mt. Bachelor offer very good skiing a reasonable drive away and are better ski areas than what Seattle and Silicon Valley have to offer nearby. In Seattle, you need to drive a long ways to Whistler dealing with border hassles or do what I did when living there…fly to Sun Valley. In the Bay Area, you have a brutal drive to over-crowded slopes.
- Better beaches: The Oregon Coast is a popular tourist destination for a reason. Certainly the San Juans and the Olympic Peninsula are nice but they are further away. In the Bay Area, one needs to travel a good deal further to get to nice beaches.
- Wine: No doubt, Silicon Valley has something to crow about when it comes to access to Wine Country but I happen to prefer reds and avoiding crowds so the Willamette Valley gets to nod. There’s some good wine in Eastern Washington but there isn’t the sort of weekend getaways that are present in Oregon and California.
- Cost of talent: One of the secrets to Microsoft’s success was they had talent that stayed on a long time during it’s critical growth stage without hopping from one company to another like the Silicon Valley. Similarly, Portland isn’t as competitive to find great talent. There simply aren’t as many companies to choose from so there’s less of a bidding war to attract and retain top talent.
- Airport: Portland’s airport is just big enough to fly virtually anywhere but not so big that it’s a hassle to get in and out. Even the Max gets you much closer to the terminal than Seatac and BART.
- Forest Park: Portland’s famed park is the largest in a city anywhere in the country. Whether you want to go for a run, go to the zoo with your kids or visit a world class rose garden, this park has something for you. No city I’ve been to comes close. As an aging middle distance runner, I appreciate all the dirt paths that don’t pound your body like pavement.
- Biking: Portland is one of only 3 communities in the country to receive the Platinum level Bike Friendly Community status and is by far the largest. Many ascribe to my motto: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes” and aren’t phased by a little liquid sunshine. Thus, you see bikers everywhere which helps drivers be more aware and thus make it safer.
- Openness to new ideas: Ultimately, one has to make a business decision in locating a business and Portland is well suited for what we are planning to do which is to fundamentally alter what we believe is a flawed health payment model. Portland/Oregon have proven time and again to be at the vanguard of major behavioral changes. It was one of the first areas to jump on the recycling bandwagon, the jogging revolution was sparked by Nike, it has been well ahead of the curve on non-vehicle commuting choices and it has also been a hotbed of sustainable businesses. When we introduce our offering, we think Portland is a natural testbed that can serve as the foundation for future expansion.
Certainly the lack of startup capital has been an issue for Portland so it helps to have a track record and contacts in Seattle and Silicon Valley beyond what’s available in Portland. Having said that, Intel Capital has been one of the two or three most active venture investors. Many of the folks I know at Intel Capital base themselves in the Portland area. Every area has its areas to work on and Oregon is no different.
Let’s hope that the new leadership at the state level recognizes that it is entrepreneurs who drive the vast majority of job growth. Too often, political leaders chase after yesterday’s businesses as they are the biggest political contributors (but not biggest job creators). As Portland’s startup ecosystem continues to evolve, hopefully it gets the attention of the political leaders.
I’m thrilled to be back in Portland and hope we play our small part in growing Portland’s success as a startup-friendly community. Wouldn’t it be nice if Portland not only was a Platinum level Bike Friendly Community but also was a “Platinum” level Startup Friendly Community?
Prior to working in startups, Dave spent 12 years at Microsoft in various senior marketing and general management roles, including his role as Worldwide Healthcare Industry Director and Managing Director for Industry Marketing & Relations for the Digital Media industry. He both founded industry organizations and served on their board that played pivotal roles in the growth of those industries.
In the aftermath of the dotcom bust, he was selected to take a leadership role within the online ad industry to grow online’s share of the overall ad market in concert with AOL, Yahoo!, DoubleClick/Google and other market leaders. During his tenure, MSN championed three major initiatives that the industry adopted that led to the turnaround of the online ad industry.
Prior to joining MSFT, Dave was a senior consultant with Accenture’s Healthcare Practice working with a wide array of healthcare providers and systems. Dave has also been a successful investor and adviser to several early-stage companies.
He can be found on Twitter as @chasedave.
(Image courtesy darynbarry. Used under Creative Commons.)