News

PIE 2018: What experiments are we cooking up next?

Looking back at 2017, PIE managed to accomplish quite a bit. Even if we didn’t feel like we did. In fact, we only realized what sort of progress we had made because we had taken the time to publish a list of objectives for 2017, and that gave us a yardstick to measure our accomplishments. With that list as a reference, we had to admit that we’d made progress. Which is probably why people make lists.

Bear in mind, we’d made mistakes, too. And failed. But that’s all good in our book.

In that same vein, we now want to have a list to consult in 2019, in case we’re burdened with a similar sense of un-accomplishment. So we thought it might be beneficial to share some insights on what PIE is working to accomplish in 2018.

Besides, it helps keep us honest. About both successes and failures.

As with last year, all of these thoughts come with a caveat:

Let’s be honest. Talking about the past is a lot easier than guessing about the future. Regardless of how sound your strategic thinking. All we know for certain is that we’ll continue experimenting. Because that’s what we’re best at doing. And it’s in our name.

With that in mind, here are some of the areas where the PIE team will be intentionally focusing our time and energy this year.

NOTE: In the spirit of brevity, we’re just going to lightly touch on some of our objectives. Not go into great depth. Because we recognize that each one of these topics deserves a post of its own. And those will be forthcoming. But that desire to provide more detail has simply been preventing us from getting this post out the door. So we’ll work to flesh out each of these topics over the coming weeks.

  1. Build an hors d’oeuvre section to the PIE Cookbook. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, PIE completed the initial version of the PIE Cookbook in 2017. It’s become exceedingly obvious, however, that consuming that entire book is a difficult first step for many folks. It’s way too daunting. That, of course, was not the intent. The intent was to demystify accelerators and to make the concept more accessible. But that clearly requires something that is easier to consume. So we’re going to create something more accessible that helps you quickly determine if you’re ready to start building the accelerator of your dreams before you have to dive headlong into a ton of content.
  2. Experiment with a nonprofit model for PIE. We’ve tried for profit. In fact, we’ve experimented with that model for nearly a decade. But there’s one small problem. PIE is not driven or motivated by profit. We’re driven by purpose. So it’s time for something new. Becoming a nonprofit might not be the right thing to do, but it’s an experiment worth pursuing. If only to help others understand the pros and cons.
  3. Build an accelerator that is more authentic for our startup community. A lot of what PIE has done in the past has been based on prevailing and accepted accelerator models. And to be honest, those models have both structure and artifice that only works within certain environments or with substantial resources and partnerships. We don’t have those same resources. And Portland isn’t the same kind of environment. So we’re reimagining what a Portland-flavored startup accelerator could and should look like. We’ve already got some good ideas about what that might mean. And we’re looking forward to putting those ideas into action in 2018.
  4. Build out a physical space that can serve as a hub for early stage founders. Many of our conversations in 2017 centered around the absence of PIE as a physical space and how that vacuum was negatively impacting the startup community. The prevailing feedback hinted at the role PIE had played from 2009 until 2015. As a center of gravity. So in 2018, we’d like to get back into the role of being that hub. And being the open front door and welcome mat for new founders. And to do that, we’ll need physical space.
  5. Return to building better founders. One of PIE’s founding tenets was “Build better founders.” To us, that meant that we were more interested in helping people than companies. We didn’t care if the companies succeeded or failed. We cared that everyone in the PIE family—founders, mentors, investors, partners, and staff—would be better off for having participated. Our shortcoming? We only focused on the business aspects of making founders better. In hindsight, this was a mistake. So this year, we’re looking to focus holistically on building better founders. From mental health to community engagement to family support, PIE is going to build the best founders we can.
  6. Begin building better staff. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made with PIE in the past is not providing effective and clear paths for the staff to move into leadership positions within PIE. While we’ve provided opportunities for professional growth and enabled staff to propose and execute different experiments, we’ve failed to give them upward mobility. Admittedly, part of this was due to the fact that I didn’t even really understand my role. But whatever the case, this was on me. To make the model sustainable, that needs to change. This year, we are likely to have several opportunities to provide upward mobility for PIE staff. And as we learn how that works, I hope that we can add guidance to the PIE Cookbook about how to more effectively engage and enable accelerator staff to grow into accelerator leaders.
  7. Expand the PIE family with a new class of startups. Once we secure physical space, we’re going to need some activity in that space. And some people. And startups. I mean, if we’re rebooting this whole thing, let’s reboot it. So if you’re building a startup and you think PIE could be helpful, be on the lookout for a whole new PIE application period opening this year.

That sounds like a lot. But it sounded like a lot last year, too. And we managed to complete all but one of those objectives. So we’re tentatively optimistic that we can get it done. Will we succeed? Who knows? But we’ll experiment. And fail. And maybe succeed. And we’re hoping you’ll continue to stay tuned as we do.

Community

PIE 2017: A rebuilding year

We’ve been taking some time to look back at 2017, as most of us are wont to do this time of year. And now seemed like an appropriate time to share some of these reflections. Partially because it was six years ago last week that PIE staged our very first Demo Day, January 17, 2012.

pie-demo-day-1-2012

As with any good reflection, we started with what we promised to do last year at this time. And to my surprise—I say, “surprise” because it didn’t feel like we accomplished much—PIE actually accomplished most of what we set out to do for the year:

✅ Completing the PIE Cookbook
✅ Expanding the PIE Cookbook community
✅ Increasing efforts around diversity and inclusion in our community
✅ Exploring new and different applications of the accelerator model
✅ Continuing to support existing partnerships
❌ Creating more content, publishing more often, and generally being more transparent

And in addition to what we set out to do, we also managed to hire a new program manager; not only support but strengthen our partnerships with Built Oregon, CENTRL Office, and Prosper Portland; organize another successful Portland Startup Week; proudly watch PIE alums like Cloudability, dotdotdash, Droplr, Lytics, Outdoor Project, Supportland, Switchboard, Uncorked Studios, and more have a strong year; and took equal pride as members of the PIE family chased new pursuits like Reflect and Torch.

Looking back, it seemed like it was a pretty productive year. So I had to keep asking myself why it felt so frustrating. Why was I “surprised” that we accomplished these things? And why was it that I still felt like we didn’t get anything done?

And then it dawned on me. It was because I didn’t feel like we had an impact. We accomplished tasks. We nudged projects forward. We kept a few things going. But we didn’t create change. We expanded our community but we didn’t strengthen our community. We didn’t push the experiment forward.

So it didn’t feel very good. It was a year of frustration, a year of questions, and year of reboots. It was a rebuilding year at best. And a gap year at worst.

But that cloud, like many, has a silver lining. The year of frustration and cynicism and disappointment also provided vantage. Enabling us to step back and to objectively reassess what it was we were doing with PIE. It gave us the opportunity to truly question what we were hoping to accomplish. And why were doing it. And what was working.

Now, we’ve realized that the main experiment we were pursuing in 2017 was a failure. Trying to work behind the scenes with other accelerator programs—a move we assumed would allow PIE to scale its impact most efficiently while providing a revenue stream for the organization—was a flop.

That wasn’t what the Portland startup community needed. That wasn’t what founders needed. That wasn’t a sustainable business model. And that wasn’t a viable means of expanding the sort of impact we had hoped to provide. Truth be told, it wasn’t even an effective means of providing the same level of impact we had managed to provide in previous years. At best, we had gone backwards. At worst, we had become completely irrelevant.

That said, like all experiments, it was good to pursue it. To test and to learn. But we’re also completely willing to admit that the experiment was a failed one. Like many experiments we’ve run over nearly a decade of PIE.

To make matters even worse, we recognized telltale signs of bonds weakening in our community. We found fragmentation and confusion. And we found folks feeling detached and disconnected. In reality, we found our community was suffering from many of the same issues that had originally inspired us to start PIE in the first place. Only with an exponentially larger group of people.

And that, to us, seemed like an opportunity.

So we hit the brakes and began listening again. Listening for what the community needed. Listening for what startups needed. And listening for what PIE could do to have a meaningful and significant impact in our community.

As such, much of 2017 was taken up with rethinking and reinventing PIE and then talking with anyone who would listen. Revising. And then talking with everyone again. Listening to their suggestions and critiques. Revising… You get the picture. We’ve torn it all down. Rethought everything. And all of that—all of that nudging things forward and rethinking everything and listening listening listening—has us prepared to dive headlong in 2018.

What we’ve come up with is a new experiment. With a new version of PIE that we hope will be a better match for the actual needs of the Portland startup community. And one that has a demonstrable, tangible, and measurable impact on both Portland and PIE, itself, this year.

So what does PIE 2018 look like? We’re glad you asked. And we’re looking forward to sharing some of those details in our next post.

Community

Longing for a startup pitch event like PIE Demo Day? Get ready to be happy

It’s been a while since we’ve had a PIE Demo Day. We’ve helped host pitch competitions, sure. But we haven’t had a Demo Day. And Demo Days are different. Attending, you get that feeling that everyone is in it together, that everyone in the audience is there to help everyone on stage, and that every speaker is pulling for every other speaker.

And while we’re a ways off from any future PIE Demo Days, there is an event coming up next week that reminds us very much of our Demo Day dynamic: PitchBlack.

Why: To connect the region’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem with the increasing number of African-American founders.

This event is the brainchild of Stephen Green @PDXStephenG, economist, entrepreneur & strong advocate of CHEATING to support small businesses. By day he is the Community Manager for Townsquared where he is engaging area small businesses to support each other and share knowledge. Stephen, along with others in the community have been looking to spread broader narratives about black founders locally.

The event will be held August 30, 2017, at Instrument in Portland, Oregon. Tickets are available for $22 and all proceeds go to the cash prizes for the winning pitches.

If you can’t attend but are still interested in supporting the event, Business for a Better Portland highlights other ways folks can contribute.

For more information or to RSVP, visit PitchBlack.

Community, News

Not just tech, anymore: PIE explores support for consumer products companies

Historically, we’ve focused on tech companies with PIE — and more explicitly SaaS and mobile companies. Usually with a B2B bent. But that hasn’t prevented hundreds of consumer products companies with compelling concepts from reaching out to us.

From clothing to mead to protein bars to box subscriptions, we’ve had the pleasure of comparing notes with all kinds of startups with all kinds of business models. It’s been educational for us, over time. And it has piqued our curiosity more than once.

Now, we’re moving beyond simply being curious to exploring more of these opportunities. And while we’re still in the planning stages, we wanted to make sure that folks knew a little bit more about our history with consumer products and what we’re doing as we lead up to our expanded scope.

Our first foray into the world of consumer goods was with brand partners like Coca-Cola, Daimler, Nike, and Target where we were fortunate to learn about the ways successful consumer goods companies approached and collaborated with their respective markets — and where curiosity was driving these large corporations to explore other opportunities.

Next, we had the opportunity to collaborate with the Startup PDX Challenge, a City of Portland sponsored incubator that PIE has worked with for the past three years. During that time, we had the chance to see a broader spectrum of the kinds of companies were being built in Portland, what types of challenges were impacting those founders, and which types of companies seemed to generate the highest likelihood of traction and success.

Now, we’re getting more engaged with a broader range of consumer goods through our partnership with Built Oregon, a 501(c)3 not for profit organization focused on consumer goods companies throughout the state of Oregon.

And this year, we’re proud to be sponsors of the inaugural Built Up Festival, a first of its kind event that brings both startups and established companies from around the state of Oregon together to discuss the opportunities and challenges that consumer goods companies face.

To us, it was important in year one to really connect the dots of the consumer product legacy and impact in Oregon. It’s a legacy that is stitched together through stories, insights, and a sense of collaboration. In that vein, we have set up a series of fireside chats, conversations that will look to bridge the rich legacy and highlight the current trends and innovations.

From food and beverage to apparel, footwear, and product design the founders who are participating in these conversations have stories that will not only instigate discussions, but also inspire the next generation of consumer leaders.

Attendees will hear from companies like Deschutes Brewery, Hanna Andersson, Lucy Activewear, and Society Nine, as well as some of the most promising startups in the consumer good industry.

But it’s not just about presentations, it’s about conversations. The event will feature opportunities for discussions and brainstorming among founders, buyers, and investors, enabling folks to make connections that are often hard to come by in the real world. Because those sorts of connections and peer mentoring are what PIE is all about.

More soon on PIE opportunities for consumer products startups, but if you’re building a company focused on clothing, beverage, food, hardware, tools, vehicles, or any other sort of consumer-facing product, we’d love to hear from you.

For more information on the event or to RSVP, visit Built Up Festival. For more information on the organization, visit Built Oregon. And if you’re a consumer goods startup, please stay tuned to PIE as we ramp up this next phase of our efforts.

Alumni

Want to work for a PIE alum?

We’re always pleased to see our startups growing and hiring talented folks. If you’re looking for a new gig or are simply curious about the roles available at PIE alum companies, please consider the following job openings:

Alumni

PIE alum Uncorked Studios partners with adidas on “All Day”

When PIE alum Uncorked Studios began rethinking fitness tracking technology with adidas, the team was driven to get to the core of a nagging question:

Your health is so much more than just your daily activities. It’s a reflection of your holistic well-being, from getting enough sleep and proper nutrition to practicing mindfulness and participating in physical activity.

So why is it so many digital fitness products only focus on measuring performance with binary, isolated pieces of the puzzle: solely counting steps, calories, or minutes?

The results of that exploration? All Day, a collaboration between Uncorked and adidas that was recently released.

Community, News

Think you can’t make it to the 1776 Challenge Cup Portland? Think again

If you’ve had any experience with PIE in the past — be it events, visiting mentors, or Demo Days — you know that we love our livestreaming. So when it comes to something like the 1776 Challenge Cup Portland, what are we going to do?

That’s right. Livestream it.

Admittedly, we would much rather have you joining us in person, but we also realize that might not be possible for everyone. So if you can’t be at Revolution Hall on July 6, 2017, at 6:00PM PDT, then please join us from the comfort of your own web browser. And it’s all thanks to our friends at Blaze Streaming Media.

1776-challenge-cup-2017

Click to view the Livestream of 1776 Challenge Cup Portland 2017

Or, if you’d like to have the opportunity to “like” (👍) along with the event, please feel free to tune in via Facebook Live.

Screen Shot on 2017-07-05 at 22-02-53

Community, News

1776 Challenge Cup Portland 2017: And the startups pitching are…

Thanks again to all of the amazing startups who applied to be part of the first stage of the global 1776 Challenge Cup competition. We’re proud to be the hosts in Portland. So proud in fact, that everyone who applied was automatically advanced to the second round of the next PIE cohort selection.

Now, it’s time to get down to the competition itself. And we’re very excited to reveal the companies we’ve selected to take the stage:

  • American Leaseback, who is rethinking home buying to make it more accessible
  • C3Backflow, who is improving the water we drink
  • CMDSense, who is transforming modern construction
  • Curio Learning, who is enabling educators to better collaborate
  • Democracy Squared, a democracy toolbox
  • eBundler, who is fighting against big money in politics
  • EVmatch, who is helping democratize electric vehicle charging
  • habu health, who is increasing consumer confidence and knowledge of cannabis
  • Madorra, who is developing a medical device to treat vaginal dryness
  • Mogol, who is helping transportation officials to better understand traffic patterns
  • Paidtogo, who incentivizes commuters to take alternate forms of transportation
    Scopic, who is empowering the freelance economy
  • SmartVineyards, who is using technology to improve vineyard irrigation
  • Sphaera, a P2P knowledge platform advancing Sustainable Development Goals
  • ThermChem Corporation, who is converting low value waste into valuable products
  • Tozny, who is rethinking tools for data privacy and security

Join all of these companies—as well as sponsors like Prosper Portland, Blaze Streaming Media, Built Oregon, CENTRL Office, Development Now, PSU Center for Entrepreneurship, StackPath, and TechfestNW—as they take the stage 6:00PM on July 6, 2017 at Revolution Hall.

For more information or to RSVP, please visit 1776 Challenge Cup Portland. (And if your company is interested in supporting this event as a sponsor, there are still spots available. Simply ping rick@piepdx.com.)