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.]