A week after Willamette Week published this Q&A, the source, Rick Turoczy of Portland Incubator Experiment, took the unusual step of putting the entire text of the Q&A on his blog, Silicon Florist. During the late stages of the editorial process, I had asked WW editors for permission to publish the full text, but was rebuffed.
Why editors would give a green light to a source while saying ‘no’ to a writer is not clear to me. What’s clear is that both Turoczy—who denied my request for a phone or in-person interview in favor of email—and I have a tendency towards verbosity.
Here is what Turoczy put up, including the full Q&A:
You may have seen the print edition or the online version of my interview with Willamette Week, this week. I was humbled by the opportunity to take part in this article. And it was a great way to commemorate the milestone of PIE turning a decade old and Silicon Florist turning a dozen years old. I mean, it’s not every day that your projects reach ages where you can talk about the years in euphemisms, simultaneously. Or something. And stuff.
But I digress. Per usual.
Anyway. To Thacher Schmid and Willamette Week‘s credit, the questions in the original interview were ranging and provocative. But no self respecting newspaper can just print all of the babble I spit out.
But you know what? I can.
And that’s why I checked with WWeek to see if they were cool with me posting the complete interview. And they were. So here we are.
Still here? Cool. Here we go…
To those who aren’t a part of it, the local startup world can seem opaque. How would you describe it to a space alien that just moved here?
First and foremost, that opacity is informed by a specific culture in the Portland startup community. I refer to it as “aggressive humility.” Folks around here seem disinterested—if not completely reticent—to self promote or brag about what they’re building. In many respects, it’s incredibly charming. But it also has the downside of feeling like you don’t really know what’s happening in the startup community because it’s not especially noisy.
Another part of the opaque nature of the Portland startup community—especially in the technology startup community—is that a lot of it tends to happen behind the curtain. Because our community is largely composed of engineers building tools for other engineers. So it’s not a lot of consumer facing technology with the opportunity to become household names. Rather, it’s people building tools that help people build those kinds of products. And often the customers of Portland technology companies aren’t in Portland. So there’s just not a lot of word of mouth in that regard.
But it’s not just technology startups. There are a ton of consumer product startups in town, as well. Food, beverage, apparel, footwear… these companies are tapping into the wealth of knowledge in the region to help inform their businesses. Those companies are definitely on the path to creating a household name sort of brand. Many of them are small and growing. But some of them have broken out into popular culture. Brands like Goodwell & Co., Revant, Salt & Straw, and Wildfang immediately jump to mind in this regard.
Regardless of industry, across the board our startup community is driven by passionate and curious individuals who are driven by a culture of craft. Whereas a Bay Area startup is likely to be driven by the financial outcomes and upside of building a company, Portland founders seem more motivated to build the best products possible or the products that may provide the most benefit to end users. In that same vein, it’s also a community filled with companies that want to ensure that their companies grow with conscience, humanity, and responsibility.
And again, that sort of focus on reality over hyperbole, on meaning over artifice, and on quality over quantity tends to make it more opaque to the general populous.
Your Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) accelerator just turned 10. What’s an accelerator, and what startups have gone through PIE that had a big impact?
Our name is a bit of a misnomer. We’re called an “incubator” but we’ve really morphed into an “accelerator.” That may seem like splitting hairs, but in our industry they’re two very distinct pursuits.
From our perspective, an incubator, as the name would imply, is designed to protect entrepreneurs and their ideas from the outside world, giving them the time and protection they need to mature an idea into a business pursuit, like a traditional incubator does for eggs. Accelerators, on the other hand, are designed to expose early stage companies to the real world as quickly as we possibly can to determine whether they have the potential to survive and excel in the outside world. We’re more likely to be breaking eggs than saving them.
Using an automotive factory analogy, incubators are the design, prototyping, and assembly of a vehicle. Accelerators are the folks putting the crash test dummies in the vehicle and slamming it into walls to see how it performs.
In the early days, the most recognizable companies to come out of PIE were Airship, AppFog, Geoloqi, Simple, and Uncorked Studios. From our accelerator days, Cloudability was easily the most visible and celebrated company in the PIE family. AppThwack marked the quickest exit when Amazon picked them up. Little Bird was acquired by Sprinklr. Nutmeg getting acquired by Giphy was probably our closest to having a “household name” in the PIE family. From our latest class, AllGo, Krowdsourced, MilkRun, and Workfrom are among the more readily recognized PIE alums.
Admittedly, one of the most incredible and unexpected things about PIE has been the knock-on effect. One founder in our first class, Brad Heller, had his pursuit fail. So he joined Cloudability and helped them build out their product offering. Years later, he left Cloudability with another PIE alum, Alex Bilmes, to found Reflect. And then Reflect wound up getting acquired by local company Puppet. Or there’s the organizations that PIE alum Mara Zepeda has created, independent of her company. Those are Business for a Better Portland and the Zebra Movement. Two incredible organizations that she was inspired to build because she was an entrepreneur with the confidence to create the change she needed in the world.
And that’s not even touching on the threads of PIE that are woven through the community via our mentor network. It’s really humbling to realize the impact our organization has had on the community.
What’s been PIE’s biggest struggle during that decade?
That’s easy. The biggest struggle has been finding ways of sustainably funding our programs.
In your Silicon Florist blog, you include amusing cultural anecdotes about the Rose City, such as when you wrote that the “P” in “PDX” stands for “procrastination.” Can you share a moment in your work that made you appreciate the uniqueness of this place?
Portland is a weird place. It’s driven by different motivations than other regions. It’s ridiculously collaborative. Sometimes to its own detriment. My work is to ensure that our collaborative nature is always more positive and impactful than detrimental. And every time I get the opportunity to connect dots—that is, to introduce one person to someone else in a way that they both benefit—I’m consistently reminded of the incredible support for founders and startups here.
You wear many hats, including PIE cofounder/general manager, Silicon Florist blogger, Autodesk partner, Business for a Better Portland advisor and Built Oregon cofounder. How do you make a living, and which of these are gigs, and which hobbies or volunteer efforts?
PIE is the bulk of my work for sure. Collecting and connecting dots in the community. It’s my day job. Silicon Florist is definitely a hobby. Built Oregon is largely a volunteer effort. (Related: See sustainable funding above.) Sometimes, my advising startups is compensated, but my Business for a Better Portland (BBPDX) work is purely voluntary. In fact, PIE is a paying member of BBPDX. And I highly encourage other businesses to join.
Even with all of that, I make ends meet by working side hustles and side gigs. Because for all of the experimentation around this model, we’ve been least successful on figuring out how to make it self sustaining financially. It’s the classic nonprofit trap. People who need and benefit from your services can’t afford your services. And businesses who can afford to support your services don’t need access to them—and often have a hard time understanding why the services even need to exist.
As I said, Portland does a good job of creating things that are beneficial, but that often comes at the cost of them being financially viable.
How come you haven’t started your own startup?
I’ve started a couple of startups. But what I recognized in that journey is that I’m not a founder. And being a founder isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m a starter. I start stuff. And I’m much better at not being a founder than I ever was at being a founder. I’d much rather be behind the scenes, helping promising founders achieve their respective visions, rather than doing my own thing.
That said, I still struggle with the same thing that every single founder does. And all of the ups and downs. And that’s just with PIE. And then you can compound that with being along for the ride with a bunch of other founders and their respective companies. So I guess I’ve managed to work my way into being in a founding role at an exponential level.
So with that lens, I’ve totally failed at avoiding being a founder. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
PIE’s offices are inside the planned Portland Innovation Quadrant. You also wrote on your blog of the importance of “community building through events and other experiments that get people in the same room.“ Why get people in the same place when online collaboration is so easy now?
In our experience, there’s no single solution. You can’t just be online all of the time. It requires some face-to-face time. Some humanity. That’s why PIE is a residential program where founders work next to one another, day in and day out.
But it’s not just the work day. The community has to meet in person at events like Pitch Black and Portland Startup Week and Built Festival. Sometimes, it’s a simple as a happy hour. Or a coffee meet up. Because that’s where the real connections occur. That’s where the bonds are strengthened.
I think we like to tell ourselves online is good enough. But it’s not. I think most times online makes folks feel more alienated and detached than attached. And if an introvert like me is pushing for in-person stuff, you have to assume I believe there’s some unique value in it.
Your blog, Silicon Florist, turned 12 in August. Reminiscing, you wrote about what you called “a very different Portland” of 2007, when open source software was a “fresh take on the power and potential of technology” driven by collaboration and craft, not just “the promise of venture capital.” How much has what Silicon Florist covers changed since then?
I tend to cover the same things I’ve always covered. Granted, my writing style has morphed over the years. And I’ve kind of found a Pollyanna-ish, rose-colored-glass, self effacing voice that I have really grown to like. Which is what I like to tell myself makes my English professors consider me a partial win. Or at least not a complete loss. Because my sentence structure certainly isn’t winning me any fans.
I still try to find the stuff that’s not getting the attention it deserves. Before traditional media starts covering it. Maybe it’s a new event. Or a product that just launched. Maybe it’s people writing compelling content that isn’t getting the page views that I think it should. Or maybe it’s amplifying a more established media piece so that it gets attention from within the startup community. Every once in a while, it’s a rant. But those are few and far between.
Silicon Florist is just a loudspeaker, designed to amplify others. I know how hard it is to be a founder. And how hard it is to get people to listen. If I can help ease that burden with my little soapbox—and help someone rekindle their pride in what they’re building—then all the better.
Some critics see an underfunded state university system that leads to a drying tech talent pool here, while others point to our strategic location between San Francisco and Seattle. Do we have enough skills, education and talent in the local ecosystem to support continued growth?
The challenge isn’t the amount of talent. We have plenty of talent. The challenge is being able to afford to pay for that talent when they’re being courted by far more lucrative salaries and benefits elsewhere. As our once affordable cost of living continues to erode this will become an even bigger issue.
This complaint often comes with the mention of a lack of “senior level executive talent.” But the fact of the matter is that there is a ton of that talent in town, too. Sure, they’re at Intel and Nike. But they’re also hiding in our midst. They just often work elsewhere—commuting to the Bay or somewhere else for part of the week—and then live here in Portland with their family. Some of them work for distributed companies. So they’re working in Portland but they’re not working on Portland or our community.
I think we need to figure out ways to get people working and living here. That’s the opportunity. To create businesses that give these folks the opportunity to enjoy their life here and their work here.
Your LinkedIn profile shows a B.A. from Whitman, a liberal arts college, yet you must work with people with specialized scientific and computer education. What’s your take on the eternal debate about generalists versus specialists?
Anecdotally, I deal with a lot more self taught developers than people with CS degrees. And I’ve found that at the level we’re doing our work—the very earliest stage companies—it’s better for the founders to be largely generalists. Because they have to do a little bit of everything. They can specialize later. At this stage, it’s everyone rolling up their sleeves and trying to figure out how to build the company they want to build.
Do Oregon’s biggest corporations do enough to support the state’s startups and tech fields? Why or why not?
No. The amount of capital required to drastically improve the trajectory for the startup community in Oregon is an insignificant rounding error for most of the major corporations in town. They could probably forego one company picnic and substantially impact dozens of startups and founders.
But the problem isn’t the capital. The problem is that the startup community isn’t telling a story that inspires corporations and government to participate and support what’s happening here. And it’s definitely not doing the work to get those corporations to listen. That’s the biggest problem. The onus is on us to tell corporations and government why they should be participating and supporting the community. And, most importantly, get them to listen and participate by clearly delineating what’s in it for them. And why it’s valuable.
Personally, this is my biggest failure in the work I’ve tried to do. It’s the heaviest albatross around my neck.
As you’ve referred to in your blog, the trends in entrepreneurialism, both nationally and locally, are down. Why is it so hard to start a new business?
It’s a series of compounding factors. Student loan debt. Insurance and healthcare costs. Rising cost of living. Lack of risk tolerant early stage capital. Little to no generational wealth. Limited collateral. The erosion of small business bank lending. I could go on and on. Long story short, there is no one contributing factor. It’s a multifaceted issue.
You are an advisor to Business for a Better Portland. What does it offer that the city’s chamber of commerce, the Portland Business Alliance, does not?
First of all, the effort was started by a bunch of folks who were already part of the PIE family, so we were pretty much in alignment from the get-go.
I appreciate that it’s a fresh take on what a chamber of commerce could be. It’s an approach steeped in collaboration instead of conflict. And it’s very much a startup exploring the opportunity to be something that our community needs. Founders are astute at identifying gaps, creating solutions to bridge those gaps, and diving headlong into building those solutions. That’s what’s most appealing to me. It’s a very optimistic approach to the future.
In the long run, we’re all going to have to get there together as businesses in Portland working with government. But in the short term, I’m super appreciative of the way that BBPDX is approaching the problems—and the opportunities.
Some observers see Oregon as home to disproportionate numbers of tech satellite offices, and vulnerable in a market correction to employees being called back to corporate HQ. Others say that analysis is outdated, that cheaper rents and costs here offer advantages over other coastal markets. What’s your take?
From my perspective, it depends on what type of employees are part of the regional office.
Back in the dotcom days, Portland and the surrounding region experienced a very similar uptick in regional office activity. The vast majority of those offices were customer service based. I can remember those offices popping up and suddenly being filled with hundreds of call center workers, seemingly overnight. When the bubble popped, they disappeared just as quickly. Because those were relatively easy offices to close. For those companies, customer service—while critical—wasn’t mission critical. And was easier to outsource to other providers.
This time around, the employee makeup of these regional offices is very different. Companies like adidas, Amazon, Autodesk, Daimler, Google, ebay, and New Relic have engineering, production, and management resources in their regional offices. Mission critical functions. In my opinion, those regional offices are far more resilient and formidable. And a lot harder to shut down at the first sign of market fluctuations.
I mean, don’t forget that Intel is really just a regional office. We may have more Intel employees in the region than anywhere else, but Intel isn’t headquartered here. I don’t think anyone would be complaining about more regional offices like that.
When push comes to shove, corporations are looking to save costs and increase profits. So long as the cost of living in Portland remains lower than other West Coast urban areas, our regional office ecosystem is likely sustainable and, hopefully, good for the overall economy.
Female founders received just 1/20th of local venture capital dollars last year. Yet PIE’s most recent “Demo Day” in March included people of color and women and a new fund called Black Founders Matter Fund. How are we doing on funding startups led by women and people of color here in Portland?
Yes, we have women and people of color in PIE and PIE Shop, but that doesn’t mean that there’s local funding to help those companies grow their business. There’s still a dearth of local, risk tolerant, early stage capital in Portland.
Right now, our capital ecosystem is a moat. No early stage capital. Then a solid amount of Seed and Series A capital. Then no later stage capital. That’s not a critique. That just speaks to the maturity of our ecosystem. And the speed at which the growth of that ecosystem occurs. It takes time.
Raising capital is hard for anyone. Raising capital in Portland is harder still. But all of that gets exponentially harder if you don’t pattern match in an industry that relies on patterns to make decisions. And so founders who happen to be women and/or people of color find themselves unfairly facing insurmountable odds to raise capital in an industry that is constantly claiming to be a meritocracy.
I can’t even begin to empathize with how incredibly frustrating this is for these founders. It’s insane.
I don’t know that it’s up to existing players to solve that. They have their own theses. They have their own risk tolerance. They have their own patterns they’re seeking. They have made their own promises to their LPs. If they feel motivated to do that work, that would be welcomed. But I don’t think this is something we can expect current funds to fix.
I think it’s time for some new players—following the lead of innovators like Black Founders Matter Fund, Color, and XXcelerate Fund—to step up and get into the game, either through Angel investing, syndicates, or smaller organized funds. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be an equity based investment model. It could be debt. It could be grants. It could be revenue share. It just needs to be tolerant of risk. Because the earliest stage is super risky.
Because I can guarantee that the deal flow is there. And waiting.
Without getting into a dissertation, just know that there’s a huge—seriously huge—opportunity to be a catalyst at the earliest stages here. Especially with startups founded by women and/or people of color—which metrics tell us are far more likely to drive compelling returns.
And there’s plenty of room for multiple players to be doing that work. But I don’t know that we can expect the current funds to take on that work. They need to keep growing so that we can eventually mature into an ecosystem that has local later stage institutional capital. What’s needed now is new people and new models at the earliest stages. Then they need to grow. And then more new people need to start funds. That’s how you grow a self sustaining ecosystem of capital.
So, do I think there’s a lot of work still to be done? Yeah. I’d say there is. Decades and decades of work.
What about employee diversity at local startups and tech companies?
I hear a lot of talk. I don’t see a lot of work. And therefore, I don’t see a lot of change.
The cannabis industry may give the state its long-overdue first startup “unicorn,” or billion-dollar company, Cura Cannabis. Can you share some thoughts about our cannabis startup scene, from where you sit?
I am fascinated by the cannabis industry. Name any other time in modern history that we’ve had the opportunity to watch an entire industry come into being with absolutely no existing infrastructure. Whether you’re participating in the ecosystem or not, you have a front row seat for watching an entire industry being built from the ground up. It’s super interesting from an academic perspective.
Longer term, I have to assume that the industry is going to mature like the beer, coffee, distilling, and wine industries—where we move from being concerned about the immediate effects of ingesting product to being more enamored of the experiences, flavors, and unique takes on product. If that holds true, I’d say Oregon is pretty well positioned with a ton of expertise in how to take advantage of that opportunity. After all, we’re all about the craft and the experience. We’ve done this, time and time again. And I think we could easily do it again.
In a February post on Silicon Florist, you wrote about founders being “stressed out, never sleeping and always on,” and in another you wrote of their susceptibility to “burnout,” “depression” and substance abuse. How do you support people’s mental health at PIE?
No one tells you how shitty it is to be a founder. It’s awful. And lonely. And soul crushing. Even if you have cofounders. It’s just rough. And every founder is on this horrendous roller coaster of manic depressive imposter syndrome.
Being a founder is hard. And draining.
The prevailing mythology convinces every founder that they should be raising venture capital, that they should be “crushing it” and “killing it” every single day, that they should be capable of solving any problem that comes their way and capitalizing on any opportunity they see, and that they should be insensitive and impervious to everything that doesn’t move their business forward. And that they should be capable of doing this, single handedly.
It’s all bullshit.
And for a long time, PIE, admittedly, bought into that mythology. But over time, we realized that creating stress for the sake of stress wasn’t good for anyone. So we doubled down on something that we were accidentally pretty good at doing: creating an environment of trust where founders felt comfortable dropping the veneer and getting real with one another. And talking about the struggles and the hardships and the doubt. And about the very real and overwhelming nature of being a founder.
But we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. There’s so much work to do to create an environment that truly helps build more resilient and healthy founders. So we’ll keep chipping away at it. In the hopes that, someday, having a behavioral and mental health professional as part of accelerator program staffing is as natural as having a program manager.
From my perspective, modern day entrepreneurship is the most mentally gruelling thing many people will ever experience. We owe founders the support that gives them a realistic chance of succeeding.
In my reporting for a July WW story, two local startup cofounders told me there’s a lack of early “seed” stage venture capital in the local ecosystem. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
See the rant on capital above
In one interview you noted that “a bunch of white guys aren’t going to solve the world’s problems.” How can people in socially dominant categories—white men, in particular—help foster more equity, inclusivity and diversity in tech?
I’m the wrong person to ask. I don’t know how to tell anyone how to do the work. I can just tell you what I do.
I try to shut up and listen. I empathize as best I can. And then I learn to empathize more. I show up in other communities. I support members of communities who are doing the work. I realize my seat is in the back. I work on being an ally. And, when needed, I step up to be an accomplice. Or step aside to provide the space for someone who should be heard.
I do that because it’s my work to do. I can’t outsource that emotional labor to someone else. Or expect that someone is going to do it for me.
And I try to do that work every single day. But, let’s be honest, I don’t. And that’s my privilege. The privilege of choice. And that’s a failure on my part.
And it’s obviously not the only way I fail. I know I’m screwing up a bunch. Quite regularly. So when I recognize that I have—or when someone calls me on it—I apologize for my mistakes. And try not to make those mistakes again. And then I make some new mistakes. Day after day.
Most of all, I fully recognize and understand the privileges and systems that favor me—a CIS white heterosexual enabled male—are very real. And very entrenched in our society and community. As is racism and sexism and all kinds of other awful –isms.
Long story short, even the most empathetic, intelligent, and talented bunch of white guys only truly know how to solve problems for other white guys. To build a truly scalable company that appeals to the broadest market possible, you need to have the broadest number of perspectives within your company. And I would love to help anyone and everyone build those companies. Because that’s the best possible outcome for all of us.
A recent local job posting for a fast-growing local tech startup requires applicants to speak “human (not management jargon).” Any idea why a startup would feel a need to require applicants to speak human?
Tech is like any other industry. It’s a social club. Complete with its own jargon and language. If you stay within the bubble of tech long enough, you start speaking in a different language, littered with a litany of acronyms, that is all but unintelligible to most of humanity. Because it makes you feel like you’re part of something. It makes you feel special that you know the lingo. And it makes things more efficient because you can speak in shorthand.
For many tech companies, their customers don’t live in that bubble. So they need to know how to speak like a human to effectively communicate with their customers, who are most likely human.
Some who steer the Oregon tech and startup worlds insist there’s no local impetus to try to be more like the Bay Area or Seattle—things are different here. But a 2018 Portland Monthly story says the Autodesk HQ where PIE has offices “went full San Francisco.” How are locals not trying to be like San Francisco?
I think there’s a distinct difference between Class A office space looking similar in San Francisco and Portland and the people and culture that inhabit that office space being exactly the same as San Francisco. I just don’t see it.
This is almost platitudinous at this point, but I’m old and I like tried and true analogies. So Oregon Trail analogy. Back in the day, there’s a fork in the Oregon Trail. One path leads to the Bay Area and the Gold Rush. One path leads to the Oregon Territory for homesteading and settling down. Folks who were motivated by financial gain and getting rich quick took one path, and those who were more interested in building something personally meaningful took the other.
I’m a firm believer that those cultures still permeate both regions today. And that the cultures are so entrenched that people self select out of the region that doesn’t match their motivations. We don’t have a lot of San Francisco mentality here, because people with that mentality get frustrated here. We don’t move fast enough. We don’t relish in breaking things. We don’t always chase the financial outcomes as our primary motivator. So they move to San Francisco where they feel more at home. And aligned with the culture.
I’m not saying that’s good or bad. I’m just saying that’s what seems to happen.
I think the most tangible example of us not being like San Francisco in the tech world is the rise of the Zebra Movement, a counter to the pursuit of Unicorn businesses. It’s a movement predicated on the idea that you can do good and be profitable. I think the prevalence of B Corps in town is another example of this kind of ethos.
Portland is much more of a “move with intent and fix things” than it is a “move fast and break things” sort of town. And to be that way, we have to create new models and movements to support that thinking. Which is good for everyone.
Because in my mind, there is the Bay Area and then there is everywhere else. Stuff that works in the Bay Area is generally only truly going to work there. But if we can figure out stuff that works in Portland, there’s a much higher likelihood that other cities and regions can adopt our learnings and make them work where they are. Because trying to recreate the Bay Area is a fool’s errand on any number of fronts.
In an August tweet, you wrote about #hustleporn, our hypercapitalist cultural norm of work, grind, win and forgoing sleep. “Cut that shit out,” you wrote, “act like a family and fucking step up. #pdx” Are we acting like a family?
Sometimes. Sometimes we actually band together, collaborate, and support one another in ways that can only be described as familial or, potentially, tribal. But that can also come with the same dysfunction that families impart. Sometimes, I just get tired of my own complaining. And this was me calling myself out on all of my own stupid whiny ass shit as much as anything else. Sometimes, I forget I’m using my outside voice.
You’ve spoken of the importance of mentoring. Why does mentoring matter?
In my opinion, mentoring, if guided correctly, is the single most rewarding and impactful experience in which an individual can engage. From my perspective, there is absolutely no more efficient reminder of how intelligent, creative, and talented you are. How incredible your life experience has been. And how the knowledge you have gathered over time can positively affect the trajectory of another individual or company.
And all of that can happen in the span of minutes over a cup of coffee.
How? It’s because common sense is not common. In fact, it’s only common to you. Because you are thinking about a certain subject day in, day out. Or because you’ve spent years working in a discipline. Things just seem obvious to you. But they’re not. They’re only obvious to you because of your experience.
And that’s what startup founders need. They need efficient exchanges of knowledge. Because they’re juggling way too much. And they’re learning everything at once.
But beyond the warm fuzzy endorphins that the mentor gets and the knowledge that the founder gets, there’s something equally important that comes out of even a single mentoring engagement: connection. And it’s through that activity—connection by connection—that we start to weave together a community. And it’s through repeated connections and collaboration that we strengthen those connections. And through that strength, we find the capacity to bring new individuals into the community. To connect dots. And to grow the community.
And that’s why mentoring is important. Because it’s a crucial component of creating the connective tissue that strengthens our entire community. And makes more knowledge more accessible to more people.
One of your many hats is you’re Cofounder and Secretary of Built Oregon, an accelerator which supports the growth of Oregon’s consumer product industries and just announced its first crop of 15 companies. You told the Business Journal that “After a decade of experimenting with technology companies, we’ve realized that the next logical phase of the [Portland Incubator Experiment] is to expand the types of companies with whom we work.” Has PIE shifted gears away from software towards oral care, coffee, bitters, macaroons and bikinis?
Um. Where is it written that a company can’t do more than one thing? Or have multiple product lines? We haven’t “shifted” views. We’ve expanded our offerings. It literally says that in the quoted passage.
We’re optimistic that PIE can do more—and have a more significant impact—than just helping Software as a Service companies. And so we’re testing that hypothesis. But it doesn’t mean we’re abandoning the stuff we’ve been doing really well over the years. We’re about making new mistakes. Not repeating them.
PIE is platform. And what we’ve learned over a decade of experimenting with that platform is that there is one thing at which we’ve become expert: identifying pockets of knowledge in the region that are not being leveraged effectively to benefit the startup community and then unlocking that knowledge for the benefit of founders. That’s all we do. We bridge existing knowledge with those who need access to it. For mutual benefit. And we’ll keep expanding our purview every time we see another opportunity to form a new partnership or address a new vertical that allows us to unpack that knowledge for startups in Portland.
Your beard seems like it’s become a part of your “startup guru” image. But is there a story there? Ever lose a wireless mic or flash drive temporarily?
Honestly, I just wanted to see if I could grow a decent beard. And I’ve never really wanted a tattoo. So it seemed like a thing to do for Portland cred. I mean, I’ve only been here 25 years. It’s not like I’m a local. I’m just trying to blend in.