Every once in a while, I get something stuck in my craw that causes me to get up on my high horse. Sometimes I then convince that high horse to climb up on a soapbox. And then I take on a holier-than-thou stance and pontificate on something which has been irking me.
This would be one such occasion. (And, fair warning, there’s another one coming soon. [UPDATE] And here that rant is.)
Something has been bugging me. And if you’ve got a sec, I’d like to lay it all out there.
And to be candid, remember I’m only taking the time to bitch about it because I think we could be fixing something that would help the Web and mobile startups in the Silicon Forest get the recognition they so richly deserve.
I know Rick’s reach stretches up north, so if you’re near Seattle, check out Lunch 2.0. It’s a blast; I know because we made a little road trip up there a month ago to check it out and spread the Open Source Bridge word. And it was good.
And, if you split time between Portland and Seattle, like Brian Westbrook does, you can enjoy nearly twice the free lunches, and who can argue with that?
Seattle Lunch 2.0 is also in the running for a Seattle 2.0award in the “Best Social Event for Startups” category. The awards are focused on Seattle startups and will be held on May 7, 2009.
So, if you feel so inclined, head over and vote. You can do so until April 28.
We all know that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But what may not be as obvious is that when the going gets tough, the really super awesome tough realize that other folks need some help. And entrepreneurs reach out to help their would-be peers—especially here in the Silicon Forest.
That’s exactly what’s happening with Beaverton-based EasyStreet, one of the original Internet providers here in town. Today, they announced that they’re stepping up to help other startups during these less than satisfactory economic times with their “EasyStreet Stimulus Package for Entrepreneurs.”
Are you an innovator? Entrepreneur? Head of a skunkworks project inside an established enterprise? Let EasyStreet giving innovation a jump-start with free data center and Internet services for qualified Oregon startups through September 30, 2009.
What’s that? Free hosting and email accounts?
But wait. There’s more. Entrepreneurs can also qualify for a free Clear Wireless modem thingamajig if they sign a two year Wi-MAX aggreement.
Best of all? No binding contracts. Well, from EasyStreet, anyway.
“Tough times are great times for entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs are great for the Oregon economy,” said EasyStreet President & CEO, Rich Bader in announcing the stimulus program. “As the economic downturn was being felt here earlier this year, we asked, ‘What can EasyStreet do to best help boost innovation here in Oregon?’”
How does an entrepreneur qualify? All you have to do is apply through one of the partnering organizations that are helping EasyStreet promote the stimulus package.
And they’re names we all know. Well mostly anyway. I mean, one organization just changed its name, so you might not know them. But you know them. If you know what I mean.
So maybe you’re a startup looking to save a little cash. Or maybe you’ve been forced to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams a little more quickly than you expected. Or maybe you simply just need that little push to get your project rolling. Whatever the case, EasyStreet is waiting to help.
Now, you have absolutely no excuse to avoid starting that project. You know the one. The timing is right. And as our old Portland friend Tom Peterson used to say “Free is a very good price.”
Don’t think you’re worthy? Not interested in getting funding? I’d still encourage you to take a few moments to respond. Really, what could it hurt?
The point is this: rising water floats all boats. And our state treasurer needs convincing that we have a viable entrepreneurial environment filled with viable startups just waiting to take form. What’s more, if these folks can pull off putting together a $100 million fund for Oregon startups, it’s going to help all of us.
But don’t just take my word for it. David Abramowski has some great insights about what funding Oregon startups could do for the local economy.
Maybe what you’re really interested in doing isn’t even geeky. Maybe you’re more interested in building out a photography business or covering the Portland scene or building some tangible product or creating a new kind of agency.
But here’s the catch: you need to respond, now. And I mean right now. The team pursuing the fund wants to get this information assembled by Wednesday, March 25.
So take a deep breath and dive in. I’ll keep this form open until Wednesday at midnight. Then, I’ll gather up all of the responses and ship them off to the folks working on this. They, in turn, will crate them up and dump them on the Oregon Treasurer’s, the Governor’s, and the various Mayors’ desks.
Remember, there were some cool ideas pitched, last night. But none of them were as cool as yours.
I’ve spent the last few days in Austin, TX, at SXSW Interactive, the annual gathering of some of the best and brightest Web types sharing their experience and ideas.
But it’s not all about the presentations. Truly, it’s all about proximity. Because every presenter, every leading thinker, and every attendee have plenty of time to talk with one another over meals or over a beer.
Suffice it to say, if you’re looking to get the chance to chat with the folks who are influencing the Web, this is a target rich environment.
This year, I went to SXSW with the intention of learning more about other entrepreneurial communities. To uncover ways that other metropolitan areas were trying to make their communities stronger in order to capitalize on the talent of creative developers.
I managed to make some great connections and learn a thing or two. Here’s what I took away from the conversations.
Portland is not a special snowflake
It’s no secret that I think we’ve got a phenomenal Web, mobile, and open source community. I think the mix we’ve got is special. And there’s little doubt that I think we have the single most amazing technology community anywhere.
But I also admit that I may be a little biased.
Still, for all the love I have for Portland, we’re not unique in our struggles to foster an entrepreneurial community that helps the brilliant people of the Silicon Forest earn a living doing something that they love.
There are communities all over the US trying to make this work. Some of them are taking steps similar to Portland. Some of them are coming up with new ways to deal with the solution. Folks from Asheville, NC, are finding ways to fund projects with government dollars. Boulder is running a series of Ignites that are continuing to draw the community together time and time again. People in Houston and Kansas City are using coworking spaces to get members of the community working together and sharing ideas. DC is using things like Tech Cocktail to help facilitate connections—and the tech scene is getting the opportunity to advise the local government on issues. And the guys at Silicon Prairie News are pulling in some amazing speakers for Big Omaha, an event that will help solidify their entrepreneurial community.
I’m hoping to spend more time with these folks over the coming months, visiting their communities, learning more about what they’re doing, and sharing more about what Portland is doing.
Funding for Portland projects must come from investors in Portland
Another conversation that repeated itself throughout the conference was the discussion about how to fund an entrepreneurial environment. And time and time again it came back to one simple point: for funding to work, it has to be local.
Now this works one of two ways. You either make your locality where the money is—by moving to the Valley for example—or you find local money to fund your project, local angels to invest in startups, and local funds to support larger investments.
You heard me right. Yes, yes. It surprised me, too.
I didn’t intentionally go to the conference to learn about the entrepreneurial environment in China. But as I began to learn more and more about it, I realized that the Portland startup scene had a great deal in common with the Chinese startup environment.
They’re building phenomenal products in China that none of us know about. They’re pushing technology in ways that rival or eclipse our ability to deploy it. China is perceived to have a wealth of development talent that outside companies want to tap. They’re attracting more and more entrepreneurs who see China as a land of opportunity. And the Chinese want to do business—but they want to do it on their terms.
Sounds pretty familiar to me.
Portland can succeed in Portland’s own way
Finally, the overarching theme of the conference sounded eerily similar to something I’ve tried to champion in Portland: Work hard at doing what you love and you will succeed.
No, this isn’t some spammy email. It could prove to be true for startups in the Silicon Forest if everything goes right.
And it all begins with a very simple question: What could you accomplish with $250,000, this year? That’s what the folks at Portland-based Nedspace are asking, this Thursday.
Why? Because you may actually have the chance to get your hands on those funds.
Most importantly, though, the goal of this event is to prove to the State of Oregon that there are enough jobs, compelling ideas and entrepreneurs to warrant an immediate investment of $100,000,000 for start ups that want to hire local talent.
We are working to raise a $100M fund that makes small investments in Oregon-based companies who hire Oregon-based employees. Now, in 2009. Not next year or some point in the future. In growing these new startups, we are investing in innovation, creating jobs and building Oregon’s brand with innovators and entrepreneurs.
Oh, so now that question seems a lot more interesting, doesn’t it?
The event is a combined effort of Capybara Ventures, NW Technology Ventures, NedSpace, Oregon Angel Fund, Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, Reference Capital, Software Association of Oregon and Starve Ups. It will be held Thursday evening at Nedspace—right next door to the Lotus on SW 3rd.
If you would like to participate—and just between you and me, I think you should—be prepared to answer the following questions:
Could your company hire $250,000 worth of Oregon-based talent in 2009 to get it to the next level?
What could your company achieve during 2009 with a $250,000 investment?
How many new jobs would be created if 400 new Oregon startups were funded?
How would you like to see $100,000,000 invested in Oregon startups?
Building a successful startup takes years, right? Well, months? Weeks and weeks? How about 21 days?
That’s about how long it took Scott Kveton and team to build and launch Bac’n, a site that sells high-end bacon and bacon-oriented paraphernalia.
How did they do it in such a short time period? Well, you can find out. On Monday March 2, Kveton will speak at the newly opened Nedspace—a startup coworking space in downtown Portland—about his experience creating Bacn.com:
Come hear Scott Kveton (Bac’n co-founder) talk about how he and his team launched this successful tasty bacon monster in under just three short weeks. You will oink yourself to happiness as Scott weaves true tales of bare-hooved bootstrapping and entrepreneurial maneuvers in the dark.
Tail curling stories designed to share with you what works, what does not, and having the bacon to move ahead like a greased, well you know. This little piggy went to market, and it owns the bacon market online.
And of course, true to form, bacon will be provided.
Pricing is listed as free to entrepreneurs, “$15 to numbskulls, $25 to vegetarians.”
Can Portland become a startup hub? It’s a question that we discuss time and time again.
We have the hackers, but can we attract the right kind of investors? Can we create a startup environment that meshes with the Portland—and Silicon Forest—culture? Can we build a sustainable startup engine?
I believe we can and I know I’m not alone in that regard.
It’s an interesting argument. But what I found most interesting was this (emphasis is mine):
How well this scheme worked would depend on the city. There are some towns, like Portland, that would be easy to turn into startup hubs, and others, like Detroit, where it would really be an uphill battle. So be honest with yourself about the sort of town you have before you try this.
So now, it’s not just obvious to us, anymore. It’s obvious to the outside world, as well.
It seems like there’s an opportunity here. And we shouldn’t squander it.
For many “side project” entrepreneurs, the most difficult part of getting an idea off the ground—and out of the garage or basement—is finding that business partner that complements their skillset.
Business people with good ideas can write all the business plans they want, but they’ll eventually need a developer. And developers can crank all the code they want, but eventually they’ll need some way of approaching the market or getting more funding. But how are they supposed to find one another?
After some networking time, we’ll have each idea person looking for a team give 2 or 3 minute elevator pitch, have each of them head to their own corner of the room, and let people circulate around to check out the startups that sound interesting to them.
The first speed dating event will be held Saturday, February 28 from 1 – 4PM at the OTBC (located in The Round in Beaverton, right on the MAX line). Best of all? It’s all free.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.