State of the startups: building Oregon together

How does the tech industry in Eugene influence what happens in Portland? How do Portland startups connect with what is happening in Bend?

These were a few of the questions discussed during the first live event hosted by Built Oregon last week during Portland Startup Week. Founded by Portland tech entrepreneurs Mitch Daugherty, Terry ‘Starbucker’ St. Marie, and Rick Turoczy, Built Oregon is a new platform dedicated to telling the stories of Oregon entrepreneurs.

The event during Portland Startup Week sought to explore the ways entrepreneurs in Oregon are connected, and how we can all collaborate to build on the growing momentum across the state. Panel members included Joe Maruschak, director of the RAIN Eugene Accelerator; Julie Harrelson, CEO of the Harrelson Group and Fund Manager for the Cascade Angels; Paul Utz, Streamside Enterprises and a Roseburg Angel Investor; and Brian Henessey, Founder Thread and cofounder of Talkoot. The discussion was moderated by Vince Porter, Policy Advisor on Jobs and the Economy for Governor John Kitzhaber.

A snapshot of the discussion is below, told through some of the live tweets from the event:

Achieving a high density of startups and entrepreneurs in a community is a key part of creating a successful ecosystem. The challenge in Oregon is that every city—even Portland—is fairly small compared to other startup hubs in the country. To create a critical mass of density, entrepreneurs must be connected and aware of the activity happening hundreds of miles away in another part of the state.

The good news is that important cross-state collaboration is happening, but for the most part, it is not organized or directed. What we need to create in the state is an organized framework where collaboration can naturally grow.

The Oregon Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network (RAIN) is a good example of an organized approach, but it is limited to connecting together Corvallis, Eugene, Albany, and Springfield. The model; however, could be copied in other regions of the state, and at a higher level. If we build local and regional networks, can we connect these together in a meaningful way to build a state-wide network of entrepreneurs and companies?

As a component of creating density, we need to focus on attracting startups and talent to the state—and keeping the ones that begin in Oregon here. Currently, Oregon can out-compete California and other areas in terms of cost of living, but the state has a lot of other advantages to offer.

Perhaps what Oregon has to offer is a completely different ecosystem than what you might find in San Francisco or New York: a place that allows you to mix hard work at your startup you with cultural options—micro breweries, a vibrant music and arts scene—with easy access to stunning outdoor natural areas on the coast, in the mountains, or in the high desert.

A continuing challenge in the state is building enough seed stage, or has Harrelson described it, “patient capital” in the state. Although there is funding for growth stage companies through the state’s angel conferences, these groups tend to fund companies that have already begun to gain traction. We small amounts of seed funding to support entrepreneurs still working through the early stages of their companies. Funding these types of companies takes patience, since the exit dates for investors are much farther in the future. In Eugene, we’re fortunate to have a new source of seed funding in the form of the University of Oregon Seed Fund, but it only addresses a small portion of the need in the community.