Filling in some more details on PIE

[Editor: Renny Gleeson, who created the initial concept for PIE (Portland Incubator Experiment) as well as the vision for its latest iteration, provides a guest post today. His hope is that it clarifies details and answers questions that have been raised about the program.]

While we’ve been building PIE, some questions and answers that have cropped up in one-to-one conversations seemed worthwhile to share with a broader audience.

Will working with W+K prevent me from working with any other ad agencies or non-W+K clients?

Nope. Urban Airship came through our doors and takes all comers. Out in the bigger world, non-PIE Facebook is a great example. Interpublic Group (IPG) owns a stake. Interpublic includes agencies like Huge, R/GA, Draft, Campbell-Ewald, Carmichael Lynch, and others. But that hasn’t prevented Facebook from working with pretty much every brand and agency around. Microsoft owns a piece of FB, and you’ve probably noticed you can get to FB through a lot of browsers besides IE.

By getting W+K and brands involved, companies stand a better chance of getting a program executed and their model validated—or hearing directly from the brands themselves what they need to do or how they could pivot for a major brand to be interested in their offering. If a PIE company does go for funding based on a marketer-supported model, a proven model built through interaction with some of the world’s most innovative brands should position them for success no matter what brand or agency they want to work with.

The maze a promising startup has to navigate to get in front of the right people at brands and agencies (and the cash and time burned to get there) can be painful, and if your technology is inconsistent with a brand’s infrastructure you could be DOA before you’ve fired up your powerpoint.

PIE is a way to go deep with some of the world’s biggest brands. Even if it doesn’t work out with them, you’ve at very least gotten input from some of the world’s best marketers informing your roadmap and product.

If you have a good idea and we can help validate your model, VCs/investors will be happy and other brands and agencies will follow.

Nothing inspires emulation like success! We do ask that brands that are participating in PIE and putting their sweat and time into helping and mentoring startups get a first look at activating with those startups on anything cool that comes out of the collaboration. And heck, they may even want to take an equity position in your company when you graduate.

But that’ll be up to the startups to decide.

Equity. What’s up with that?

The new PIE is a business. We had to start somewhere, so we decided to emulate the TechStars model (equity + discrete program window + cash for participating startups) and added a few other twists we believe make PIE valuable for the participating brands and startups. VCs and other investors we spoke with were enthusiastic the opportunity PIE affords to prove out the business models they get pitched (frequently predicated on brand/marketing dollars), and saw the stake as a valuable endorsement, not a deterrent, to subsequent funding. They responded particularly well to the fact we’re not asking for a preferred position, or a board seat, as many accelerators do.

Who are the PIE mentors?

Startups in this new class at PIE get W+K digital strategists, technologists and creatives with silly amounts of global brand experience, but we are particularly excited about the mentors from the brands themselves, who represent a “who’s who” of global marketing, innovation and digital thought leadership. A few folks on the roster include Coca-Cola’s global head of social media, their top mobile folks, their head of sports and entertainment relationships and the global heads of creative excellence, integrated communications, and design. Target has put their head of digital experience, head of emerging business and incubation, and creative vision folks into the mix, and both companies are providing technology infrastructure leads, retail/shopper technology folks and brand experience people. The brand mentors join the existing mentor network drawn from the startup, mobile, and tech scenes. We hope this mix will create a truly unique experience for participating startups.

Why are we doing this?

Because we don’t have all the answers. Because we believe that the people who collaborate to innovate will win. And innovation is core to the business at W+K and for our brand partners. The brand and technology mentors that have come together around PIE, the ability to scale an idea across multiple brands with massive reach and off-the-chart awareness scores, interaction with other startups and W+K involvement is something you can’t get anywhere else but here, and that’s the result of a lot of people who believe PIE represents something truly unique, both for the industry and for Portland.

What experience does PIE leadership bring to the table?

PIE leadership is a bunch of entrepreneurs and folks eager to make things happen. I’ve personally been involved in three startups; Chris DeVore is a VC, founder of Founder’s Coop and Tech Star’s Seattle; Rick has been working in Portland area startups for more than 16 years; and Nick Barham has started two businesses ventures in China and is leading another group here. The extended mentor group has poured blood and sweat into their businesses and are eager to help others succeed. Everyone involved wants to see kick-ass innovation. Help startups and creative, disruptive miscreants succeed. And businesses thrive.

How is PIE v.2 different from the first iteration?

In a lot of ways, but to highlight a few, in PIE v.1, everyone paid into a kitty to support the space and the experience…equity was a discussion with all companies that came through, but we were darn flexible. We didn’t have the formal mentorship program we are building now. Nor did we offer startups cash. Nor did we have brands integrated into the mix. PIE v.2 is a new thing that addresses those gaps. We wanted to better reflect the Open Source and mobile communities native to Portland. Brands in the mix give us huge palettes to work with. The model continues to evolve—that’s why we call it an experiment.

Does PIE prepare all its participants for funding, or only for brand work?

Not all of our companies will go to the market for capital—but some will, and our VC mentors from Intel Capital, Founders Co-op, and Voyager will be looking out for them. Some start-ups may continue to bootstrap.

Some may be acquired. Some may apply to other incubator programs like TechStars or Y Combinator. Some may come from other programs looking to further refine their offerings. We want to support motivated innovators and disruptors and help build great businesses prepared for their next step—whatever that next step may be.

In the spirit of the experiment, one change, effective immediately: We are removing the “per founder” funding calculation. If your startup is selected, regardless of founder composition, it’s entitled to receive the $18,000 stipend.

Thanks for listening, and if you’ve got a great idea, apply to PIE! And hurry! The deadline is August 1. That’s Monday.

Oh. And one last thing. I’d like to thank our mentors for all their hard work to date, and also extend an invite to all interested folks out there. If you’d like to put your name in the ring to be a PIE mentor, please let Rick know!

  1. How do I get to know a PIE alum, mentor or investor? The application STRONGLY suggests having someone ‘vouch’ for me would be preferable…but I don’t know anyone so I can introduce myself. Thank you.

  2. […] Oh. And one last thing. I’d like to thank our mentors for all their hard work to date, and also extend an invite to all interested folks out there. If you’d like to put your name in the ring to be a PIE mentor, please let Rick know! Tweet […]

  3. […] more about PIE in this interview with co-founder Renny Gleeson. Get your application in by August 8, 2011. Posted in Competitons by Rich Brueckner 0 […]

  4. Will do.

    And just to be clear… class runs Sept 1 – Dec 15.

  5. Rachel Schmink July 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks for the prompt replies, Rick. FYI, I’m not asking these just to be a pain: we have important trips scheduled in August, and we’re concerned about our founders’ availability. Also, we haven’t found this info anywhere else: this is the first we’ve heard about face-to-face interviews — although, of course, we assumed you’d want to do that.

    So the time line goes like:

    August 8: Application deadline

    August 15: Notifications for in-person interviews

    August 22 – 26: In-person interviews. ***I.e., founders must be available for in-person interviews.***

    Last week of August: Final decision.


    So that’s the piece I was really trying to determine: founders need to be available the week of 8/22 for interviews, if selected. You might want to consider adding that to your material. E.g., where you describe the requirement for the founders to have the 3 months Oct-Dec free.

    Again, thanks for all the detailed responses, Rick.

  6. Applications now close August 8.

    This crunches our scheduling a bit, given our September 1 start date. However, we felt the addition of Google to the brand mentor pool necessitated giving folks a little more time to consider their applications.

    We will review applications and select teams with whom we would like to meet face-to-face by August 15. All applicants will be notified by August 15 as to their status.

    Face-to-face interviews will occur over the following week.

    We will invite companies who have been selected to participate once the face-to-face interviews are complete and the PIE advisors and mentors have had time to confer.

    As far as NDAs go, all information shared in the form is considered confidential and not to be disclosed to any part outside of the PIE selection team.

    Brand mentors, tech mentors, and PIE management participate in the review of the submitted applications. If a conflict of interest arises, we will deal with that on a case by case basis, asking the mentor(s) with conflicts to recuse themselves from voting.

  7. Rachel Schmink July 30, 2011 at 2:31 am

    Oh! And *another* question:

    The PIE application asks for a lot of confidential information: trade secrets and financial data. But we’re not sure who will be viewing the info. And we don’t know whether they have conflicts of interest, and whether there’s any promise of non-disclosure.

    Normally, I’d do a conflicts check and have the party sign an NDA before handing over this kind of information.


  8. Rachel Schmink July 30, 2011 at 2:10 am

    Hi Rick, another question: Do you know what the judging process will be like and when it’ll be completed? It’ll help us plan out the next two months if we know when we’ll find out yes/no.


  9. Sasha, Totally agree. We’ll make that happen over the weekend.

  10. This information should be front and center on your website, not buried here.

  11. Refreshingly simple, smart and genuinely interesting. Looking forward to the special things that spin out of this.

  12. You have to bring your own machine and peripherals, but all the desks, chairs, and wifi you can use 😉

  13. Rachel Schmink July 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks, Rick!

    We understand that there’s a great workspace for the startups. Does it include full workstations, chairs, everything? Should we take these kinds of costs into our budgeting?

  14. The stipend is yours to use as you see fit. Ideally, you’d be able to work on your PIE project full-time, but the economics of being able to do that aren’t the same for everyone. That’s understandable.

  15. Rachel Schmink July 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm


    Thanks for a great post. We’re wondering what the intent is for the stipend. Is it to cover our living expenses while getting our business ramped up? Or, simply so that we’d need to do less gigging on the side while involved with PIE?

    (This raises the related question of whether the expectation is that we’d be available and ready to devote ourselves full time to PIE. For sure, we’d be excited and want to, but real-world cash-flow needs are there too.)


  16. Well done Renny. If anyone should be driving this it is you.

    Urban Airship is the bomb! What a great poster child for PIE.

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