If you’ve been monitoring the Portland startup scene for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed this particular quirk. While there seems to be tons of people and a lot of activity, you generally only hear about the same handful of startups. Or former startups. Again and again. Over and over and over.
You know who they are: Elemental, Janrain, Jive, Puppet, Simple, and Urban Airship with a few others sprinkled in—like Jama, for example, being the most obvious seventh—here and there. They’re the go-to companies to mention when you’re talking about Portland and its potential to grow sizable companies. The Portland Six.
There’s nothing wrong with rattling off these companies. Far from it. But there’s this weird thing that’s happening. We only talk about those companies. We’re not talking about the next generation of promising companies the same way we once talked about those folks. They’re quiet.
I have a working hypothesis as to why this happens. If you’ll bear with me.
I think that the Portland Six came into being at a time when building any sizable technology company in Portland was seen as not even a longshot. It was perceived to be a complete impossibility. Because of that, these companies had to dig in their heels, put a bit of chip on their proverbial shoulder, and be really really noisy about what they were doing. About the fact that you can actually build companies here. About how they were going to remain in Portland come hell or high water. And how if venture capitalists wanted to invest, they were going to invest in a company that was going to remain—and grow—in Portland.
Now that they’ve proven that can be done. The trail has been blazed. And now, the next generation of tech companies is able to follow that trail. Without making a great deal of hubbub about it.
Long story short, they’re quiet. Too quiet.
Well screw that. I want to make hubbub about them. Because they’re doing awesome stuff. And if there’s one thing I’m used to doing after nearly a decade of blogging about the Portland startup scene, it’s singing the praises of those who don’t do it enough themselves.
So with that in mind. Here’s a short list of some of the startups—and why I’m really looking forward to watching them over the course of 2016. (Not like I won’t be trying to watch everyone’s startups, but I had to stop somewhere.)
The biggest and most successful Portland area company you’re not tracking. (Also probably one of the most successful companies with a hyphen in their URL.) Headquartered out in Beaverton and part of the Voyager portfolio, Act-On has been reorganizing at the executive ranks and promises to have a very interesting year.
From humble beginnings in the Nike+ Accelerator, this company has gone through any number of permutations. It’s latest instantiation could be amazing. The product is based on a piece of Oregon legislation that allows for the concept of “micro IPOs.” But guess what? We’re on the brink of that becoming legal throughout the US.
If you’ve been on the Internet, you may noticed that we’ve lost a certain decorum. What YouTube comments portended has now spread across content sites of all shapes and sizes. Comments, once a place for interesting discourse, have become festering cesspools of vitriol. Civil proposes to fix that. And to return comments to the glory they once held.
Some folks lump Cloudability in with the previous generation of well known Portland startups. I see them differently. They were arguably the first company in this generation of Portland startups. Sure. You’ve heard of them. You’re probably tracking them. But I have a feeling that 2016 is going to be a big year for them.
One of the brightest stars of the previous generation of companies was a company that relocated from New York to build their company in Portland. Meet the next generation. Customer.io has been in Portland for a bit now. And with companies struggling to authentically engage with their customers, it’s poised to have a big 2016.
Smart homes. We’ve been hearing about them for years. But they’ve remained a largely hobbyist effort. Plus, if you’re renting, how are you even supposed to partake? That’s where IOTAS comes in. They’re building smart homes and apartment from the ground up. So you walk into a prewired smart environment.
One of the things that always alerts me to potential awesomeness is the addition of talented executive leadership. And with Jeff Hardison joining the talented Lytics crew as vice president of marketing, signals couldn’t be any stronger. Like Customer.io and Act-On, this company is helping Portland develop an incredibly respectable nexus of marketing automation.
Even if some major corporations don’t recognize it, Portland has a growing wealth of knowledge around fixing the broken behemoth that is banking. Simple was just the beginning. Mirador is rethinking how people secure debt financing in a world where 3-5 years of trailing revenue is less and less of an indicator of future success.
In a world where Slack is quickly changing how we digest the world by becoming our dashboard for instantaneous information, Notion sees a similar opportunity. For data that we need to track over time. With new and disparate data source standing up every day—if not every hour—Notion, the second act for CrowdCompass cofounder Dave Shanley—promises to give us the vantage point we’re suddenly realizing we need.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned to trust, it’s Raven Zachary‘s ability to identify and capitalize upon trends before practically anyone else. He was tracking open source before it became the standard for development, he was hacking the iPhone before you could even build apps with it, and now he’s going all in on augmented reality. Trust me, he knows what he’s doing.
Easily one of the quietest successes in Portland. Often met with a “Who?” when I mention them. Opal has built a very successful business helping very big brands. Cofounder George Huff once stood up on stage and told people he was going to build a billion dollar company in Portland—at a time when the idea of a unicorn had yet to be part of the popular lexicon. They’re getting there. Now we just need to hear more from them.
As the FAA gets more and more into the world of drones, Portland’s “air traffic control for drones” startup is poised to become an industry standard. This market isn’t going away. And it’s getting more and more complex by the day. Keep your eyes on the Sky(ward).
One of the questions that always came up with Simple was “When are you going to do business banking?” Well, some Simple alums are answering that. With Seed. This Y Combinator alum promises to be an anchor of Portland’s burgeoning fintech scene. And, in true Portland fashion, a platform on which other companies can build and manage their businesses. Collaboration, it’s what we do.
Speaking of collaboration… with new partnerships and growing traction, Switchboard is poised to take off in 2016. I’m always amused when folks thank me for building Portland Startups Switchboard. Like I’m even remotely as brilliant as these folks. Like Civil, Switchboard has tapped into the essence of what makes the internet magical. And they’re managing to make it an incredibly rewarding place to be, again.
I’m a huge fan of focus. And in the locus of marketing automation in Portland, Teak is, without a doubt, the most focused effort. As the world of gaming and customer retention continue to get more and more messy, Teak holds the promise to help companies survive—and succeed. And with Portland’s growing marketing automation scene and indie video game scene both growing by leaps and bounds, no one is better situated to benefit.
Like Opal, I often get quizzical looks when I mention Vadio. But that hasn’t prevented this Portland company from securing executive talent from major media labels. And quietly building a company that is leading the way for how folks work with video content in new and different ways. If video truly is the killer app for the Web, then Vadio is perfectly poised to take full advantage of it.
Like the Web, open source, and mobile before, Portland is an early frontrunner in virtual reality and augmented reality. But we’re just beginning to see the early glimmers of what’s possible from a business perspective. It’s thanks to our hobbyist culture. Portland tends to thrive in these spaces where mucking around without business drivers is far more compelling. With WILD, Object Theory, Voice of VR, and other companies waiting in the wings, Portland might well be on its way to becoming a hub of any number of realities.
So that’s my current list. I’ll probably add more. And I’ll definitely be watching a bunch of folks. But hopefully, I’ve added some new companies to your respective RADARs.
[Full disclosure: The asterisk (*) indicates that I have a vested interest in these companies either through an accelerator I’ve cofounded or by serving as an advisor.]
I’m unable to locate Seed’s website. Would you be able to direct me to it?
I’m a little curious about how a few of these who have been around a number of years are still being called Startups. I know there are about 86 definitions of startups, but when I recruit, the overall sense is that a startup is very young, still getting their legs under them, in the early stages of funding, not many employees, etc.
I would consider none of the “Portland Six” as startups. They’ve been around for quite a few years, they’ve got tons of employees, and a ton of funding – plus at least two have been acquired, Simple by BBVA in 2014 and Elemental by Amazon in 2015. Puppet took over the office building that used to house the Corps of Engineers and has over 400 employees. Jive has over 650. These are small to midsize companies for Portland, not startups.
I’d agree with most but not all of the companies on this list being termed “startups”. Vadio? Heck yeah. They’re young. I hired their first VP Engineering earlier this year? Cloudability and Opal? Nope. Both have been around 5+ years now. They are fast-growing, yes, but so still are the “Portland Six”.
Also gotta give props to John Brewer for calling out the fact that young tech companies aren’t the only startups here in town, and definitely deserve more media attention. There are a few kickass startups in Central Oregon as well like Hydro Flask and Cairn that are non-tech but experiencing tremendous growth. But hey, this blog has the word “silicon” in it, so this might not be the best avenue for non-tech promotion. That being said – there could be some really amazing partnerships between tech and non-tech at these events in town, promoting startups in a multitude of industries 🙂
Side notes from a busy recruiter in tech? Keep your eye on RADAR (radarfirst.com) and Treetop Commons (treetopcommons.com), both who are growing BIG TIME in 2016 yet aren’t necessarily plastered all over the cool-kids-startup-map like some are. They’re building great products that have big impacts on the world, while providing cultures that have gone much further early on in diversity and work/life balance.
Great list, Rick, and thanks for your great passion & leadership around the PDX startup scene! HealthSparq is another PDX tech startup that’s been fairly quiet, but growing fast (3rd fastest-growing private company in OR this year, according to PBJ). Reach out if you want a tour of our new digs. Thx again & happy holidays!
I’m gonna do everything possible to be on that list next year. 🙂
Without being as flippant as your comment… then someone should start making more noise about that.
For nearly a decade of voluntarily writing this blog, my focus has ALWAYS been software, web, open source, mobile, and the like in Portland. Not because that’s the only thing that’s going on but because I have little to no clue about those other industries.
If there’s a ton of activity in other industries that deserve recognition, then please, by all means, be the cheerleader for that stuff.
But in the future, I’d appreciate if your comments weren’t so derogatory about the hardworking folks in other industries.
Thanks in advance,
It’s time the Portland startup community started recognizing there’s more going on in Portland than software.
Have a look at energystoragesystems,com, tomegavax.com and diatomixllc.com as three examples of Portland-based companies focused on manufacturing products and creating middle-class jobs instead of just coding slots for computer science grads.
There’s a lot more to Portland than just coding…I know, companies that build things aren’t hip, they don’t typically have baristas on staff and there aren’t any beanbag chairs in meeting rooms. But they will be the foundation of re-employing the middle class with career-oriented work instead of juggling multiple consulting gigs.
I think there will be some other interesting startup stories emerge in 2016. It should be an interesting year.
Great list! Thanks Rick. I think I’m pretty informed about the start up scene in PDX and I’ve never even heard of half of these. Are they in the market? Idea phase? Revenue generating?
VC backing? It’s exciting to be in Portland right now and I’d love to hear more about how our fellow travelers are faring.
Rick, as always you are the person to remind us of all the great innovation happening here…this is a great line-up to watch and support!
Completely self serving, but OpenSesame is growing like mad.
Thanks for this list Rick, it’s actually quite helpful to have a “home row” of sorts to know who to keep an eye on.
TOTALLY. They fall into that same odd “in between” space that Cloudability and a few others do. Great point!
Treehouse is another good one to pay attention to
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