Why is PIE open sourcing its learnings?

Since 2008, PIE has been an ongoing series of experiments. First as a coworking space then as an early stage startup accelerator then as an accelerator for accelerators. Now, we’re embarking on our next experiment: the PIE Cookbook, an open source guide designed to help anyone, anywhere accelerate anything.

We’re excited to share what we’ve learned over the last 8 years — especially with the hopes that we help you avoid the mistakes we made.

To provide more context on the PIE Cookbook and why we’re so motivated to give away what we’ve learned for free, we’ve gathered up some of our Medium content for you:

We’ll continue to publish on Medium and here as we learn from — and screw up with — Kickstarter, as we work to develop and share our content out in the open, and as we collaborate on this new offering with communities around the world.

And if you’re interested in getting more details on the PIE Cookbook and its potential applications — even if you have no desire to start an accelerator of your own — please visit us on Kickstarter. We’re hoping to connect with as many amazing startup communities as we possibly can.


What experiment is PIE cooking up next?

It’s no secret. We’ve been rethinking the Portland Incubator Experiment. (It’s an experiment, after all.)

What began eight years ago as a collaboration between the largest privately held creative agency in the world, Wieden+Kennedy, and the Portland startup scene led to a coworking space, an early-stage and mid-stage startup accelerator, a corporate accelerator, hackdays, startup events, and a hub for community, among other things. And all these iterations have been valuable.

As we’ve been evaluating PIE, we wanted to continue to provide value to the startup community—in the broadest sense—and use our resources in the best way possible.

So after a number of conversations with startups, mentors, advisors, peers, and patrons, we’ve hit upon what we should be doing next. And now we’re ready to share the next phase of the experiment with you.

Introducing the PIE Cookbook


The PIE Cookbook will be an open source guide for creating, building, and improving your startup accelerator. Starting one from scratch? Already have one running? Traditional startup accelerator, new take on the accelerator mode, or corporate incubator looking for inspiration the PIE cookbook will have something for you. Once complete, it will contain everything we’ve learned over the eight years of running PIE—successes, failures, and everything in between. What’s more, it will be completely free and open source so that anyone, anywhere, can put what we’ve learned to good use.

Why are we open sourcing our program and processes?


First, we believe the most efficient way to scale PIE is to provide direct access to our learnings. Second, we believe each and every community—enabled with the right tools and insights—has the potential to assist and accelerate promising folks further and faster toward success. Third, we believe there’s no secret formula to running an accelerator, and that sharing is the best way to help us all help each other.

And that’s just good for everyone.

Even if all we manage to do is simply document the PIE process, we’ll consider this project a success. But we hope the PIE Cookbook is the beginning of something much more meaningful. As an open source project, you will have the opportunity take part in creating the most effective documentation for startup accelerators, ever. And anyone can use the PIE Cookbook as the basis for documenting and running an accelerator program—whether it follows the PIE path or just avoids our mistakes.

If this sounds interesting to you, please take a look at the PIE Cookbook Kickstarter campaign and join us on this project.

More to come…


We realize that many of the folks who follow PIE are founders. And their interests lie not in building an accelerator but in being accelerated. Rest assured, we haven’t forgotten our roots as a program designed to build better founders. There’s more coming in that regard. 2016 is going to be a lot of fun, and a lot of hardwork, and the PIE Cookbook is just the first experiment we have planned for this year.

So please stay tuned. We’re excited to share the next phase of the experiment as it comes together.

Advice, Community

Want to build a startup accelerator?

At PIE, we’re extremely lucky in that we get to talk to amazing founders and startups, day in and day out. But they’re not the only folks interested in chatting with us. We also get a lot—a lot—of inquiries about how PIE came to be. And how they can go about building a startup accelerator for their respective communities or cities.

So we took a few minutes to crank out some content in this regard, featuring the seven easy steps for building a startup accelerator.

This isn’t a guide. Or a regimen. This isn’t the answer. This is simply how PIE became an accelerator. There is no right timespan for this. For some communities, it happens more quickly and organically. For others, it takes a long, long, long time.

For more, read “Want to start an accelerator?


Community, News

Getting an early start on 2016: Accelerator and startup opportunities

Where did the year go? We’ve been meeting with awesome startups. And working with amazing accelerators. And helping our alums. And, and, and… time just flew by.

But we know you’ve been busy too. So we wanted to take a few minutes to highlight some opportunities that you might have missed—both for awesome startups and those who are interested in helping awesome startups.

1776 Challenge Cup Portland

This year, PIE is proud to partner with our peers back east to play the local host for the 1776 Challenge Cup competition. The free, quick pitch competition provides startups an opportunity to showcase their efforts to their local community and the possibility of moving on to larger and larger stages at regional and global competitions.

All of the regional winners and a host of wild cards will be invited to participate in the Challenge Cup Global Finals next June in Washington, D.C. There, they’ll compete for over $1 million in prizes, as well as spend time with the investors, customers, media and other key connections that can help them succeed on a global scale.

PIE is currently seeking startups for the December 10, 2015, local competition at OMSI. We’re looking for startups that are providing solutions for: cities, education, energy, food, health, money, security, and transportation.

Working on something that fits? Please submit your 1776 Challenge Cup application no later than 11:59PM Pacific Time on November 30, 2015.

For more information or to attend the event, visit 1776 Challenge Cup Local: Portland, hosted by PIE.

Interested in helping startups?

Portland is home to a number of incubators and accelerators that support both local startups—and entrepreneurs from around the world.

If you’ve ever been interested in helping startups, there are a number of interesting opportunities to get involved:

(Image courtesy Hockley Photography. Used with permission.)


It’s time for a new flavor of PIE

When Wieden+Kennedy collaborated with the Portland startup scene to make PIE a reality, it was an experiment. A way to test collaboration between the agency and startups. Truth be told, none of us foresaw it becoming an accelerator.

But that’s exactly what we became.

As such, PIE has spent five of the last six years building an accelerator program. Borrowing ideas from industry leaders like Y Combinator and Techstars — and imbuing them with a distinctly Portland flavor. In so doing, we created a platform that continues to explore how to help a wide range of startups and growth-stage companies. We found ways to collaborate with the largest privately held creative agency in the world — an agency with “Fail harder” built into its DNA — and the global brands that agency continues to attract as clients. We even had our share of exits with companies like AppThwack, Nutmeg, and Orchestrate.

So it seems to be working. And we’d like to think that these efforts have had a positive impact on the Portland startup scene. And maybe, even beyond. Hopefully, Portland feels the same way.

Speaking of Portland… wow. Good job, you! We’ve had an amazing vantage point to watch our once nascent startup scene grow, mature, and succeed. New companies. New support vehicles. New investments. And with that growth and maturity, things have changed. And many of the original challenges that PIE was designed to address have been overcome.

But, luckily, a whole new set of challenges have replaced them.

And that got us thinking about the next phase of our experiment — and how PIE should evolve to tackle these new challenges.

You see, we don’t talk about this much, but when we began the accelerator experiment, we designed it with a limited lifespan — like a fund. Or like a Replicant. And with that three-class lifespan in mind, we ran the accelerator as efficiently as we could. Experimenting with our resources to see how much could be done with how little. And how efficiently our capital could be used to help startups and create value.

We did okay. It was neither a raving success nor a miserable failure. But it was a good experiment. That ran efficiently and effectively. We ran it so efficiently in fact, that instead of ending with the three classes we’d planned, we wedged in a fourth. And now, after a lot of late nights, intensive mentoring, tears, cheers, and four graduated classes, we are proud to have had a hand in supporting a diverse portfolio of companies and a dynamic pool of incredible mentors from around the world who continue to be connected to the Portland startup scene.

PIE became an accelerator. Not because we planned it that way, but because we had to. Our proverbial gut said that it seemed like the right experiment to run at the time.


But it’s not that time anymore


You see, despite some pretty kick-ass results, PIE was never meant to be an accelerator. PIE was meant to be an incubator for on-going experiments.

PIE incubates new ways for corporations and startups to work together. PIE tests how those with scale and resources can collaborate with innovators to create mutual value. PIE unlocks the tribal knowledge of entrepreneurial ecosystems to help build better founders — and help some of those founders (predominantly Portland founders) to be more successful. PIE fosters interesting services and technologies — and hopefully, makes it easier to start successful companies in Portland.

PIE enables us to explore concepts. To put hypotheses to the test. To work. To try. To fail. To learn. And to have the wherewithal to get up and go at it again.

First, as a coworking space. Then, as an accelerator.

In our current iteration, the easiest — and most straightforward — thing to do would be to continue running the accelerator as we’ve run it to date. Well, okay, not easy… but it would be us doing what we’ve gotten pretty decent at doing. With outcomes that would be relatively predictable.

But easy is not what we do.

We like to fix problems. We like to try new experiments. We like to make things difficult to make them interesting. Long story short, we like to start new things.

And so, even though it’s going to be scary and messy and rife with uncertainty, it’s time for the next phase of the experiment.

We’re not changing everything, mind you. One thing will remain absolutely consistent: we’ll continue to strive to help Portland startups and the Portland startup scene. Because that’s what makes PIE, well, PIE.

But the fresh PIE — the new experiment — will be different. Familiar, but different. Because what’s needed now is different than when we began.

Without giving too much away, this new experiment will tackle how we provide the same type of assistance we’ve provided in the past. But this time, at scale. So we can help more than the handful of startups we traditionally welcomed into the space, every year. So we can help more and more founders. To find new ways to collaborate and create value. And help ensure that this amazing momentum that Portland has harnessed, continues. In Portland… and beyond.

Even better? The next phase of the PIE experiment is already underway. You may have noticed some telltale signs of this next version of the experiment. Such as:

But that’s just the beginning. There will be much, much more. Some of it will work. Some of it will fail miserably. Like any new thing, this is going to be messy and difficult. And full of highs and lows. And along the way, we’re likely to accidentally stumble into some awesome things we never really intended. Because this is — and will continue to be — the Portland Incubator Experiment.

We realize that this is a lot to digest. Undoubtedly, this will raise a few expletives. And probably some questions. Let’s cover the questions:




Will there be an application period for a class, this year?

Nope. There will be no formal application for a new class this year. We are always interested in working with teams building amazing things, so please don’t be shy about reaching out to us. But we will be focusing our efforts on things beyond our traditional three-month accelerator program.

But let’s say that I was really hoping to go through an accelerator. What then?

If you’re seeking an accelerator program, the following applications are either open or opening soon:

How can you help more startups without hosting a class?

Whoa, nelly! Stay tuned.

So you’re never doing an accelerator again?

Never say never. This is an experiment. We’re not ruling anything out. And we’re constantly re-evaluating PIE and its impact. We simply need our time and resources to be completely focused on the next phase of PIE at the moment. After that, who knows?

If you’re not going to do a class, how are you going to keep busy?

Don’t you worry. We aren’t kicking back and taking a break. But we also haven’t hit “the big reveal” yet. One effort, for example, has us focused on assisting our portfolio companies —  helping us understand what growth stage startups need and how an accelerator might benefit that stage of startups. Another has been collaborating with other local and regional incubators and accelerators. Still another has been figuring out how the PIE model might be applied in other communities or industries. But there are a bunch of other things in the works, too.

I see you work with other accelerators in Portland. Do you work with accelerators outside of Portland?

Most definitely. PIE has been lucky enough to chat with accelerators and incubators from all over the world. If you’re running one of those programs or are thinking about starting one of those programs, please — by all means — get in touch with us.

Do you have any podcasts you’d recommend?

That’s a really odd question. It’s almost like we asked you to ask that. But since you asked… we’re in the midst of starting up a podcast by accelerators, for accelerators. It might be worth a listen.

I like Slack. How do I get invited to the Portland Startups Slack?

Seriously? This is just starting to sound like one of those pseudo FAQs that folks make up. Fine. Just head over to the registration page. We’ll look forward to chatting with you.

Is Wieden+Kennedy still involved with PIE?

Oh good. A serious question again. Finally. And the answer is yes, most definitely. W+K keeps looking to increase their impact on the startup ecosystem. And that’s another part of the “Experiment” — capital “E” — you’ll be hearing more about.

Is this simply because you couldn’t come up with a PIE flavor that started with “e”?

No. For the Python (Monty, not the language) fans out there, “Elderberry” is waiting in the wings. (Fun Fact: PIE classes are designated by pie flavors, in alphabetic order. Like Android releases, but better.)

More soon.

Renny & Rick


PIE is now more CENTRL-ly located

Six years ago, PIE began as an idea. An experiment. An experiment that was founded on the idea of helping and supporting the Portland, Oregon, startup community. Since day one—when we walked into an empty retail space at the corner of NW Davis and NW 12th on the first floor of Wieden+Kennedy’s global headquarters—we’ve tried to remain true to that founding principle.

The Portland startup community has grown and changed a great deal over the course of those years. And PIE has changed with it. Serving as coworking space, an early stage startup accelerator, and a home away from home for visiting startup and technology types from around the world.

But we still felt like we could be doing more. Like having more events. Making PIE even more accessible. Helping more startups and founders in Portland. Making more connections.

But to do that, we always felt like we needed a bit more space. And so we’ve been working for the past couple of years trying to come up with a way to pull that off. Now, we’re happy to report that we’ve figured that out.

PIE has relocated to CENTRL Office, a new coworking space in the Pearl District of Portland.

Okay. Admittedly, it’s only a block away from where we were. But it provides us with resources that allow us to get even more involved with our awesome startup community.

As part of the move, PIE gains the opportunity to collaborate with CENTRL on more programming and gatherings for the broader Portland startup community. Furthermore, it presents opportunities to make PIE’s existing resources and alums more accessible to everyone in startup community, whether they have been formally connected to PIE or not.

Local who wants to see where we sit? Startup type visiting Portland? We’d love to have you swing by. Come find us at CENTRL Office, 1355 NW Everett Street. We’re up the stairs on the westside. The friendly CENTRL folks will point you our way.

And stay tuned as we start ramping up events and activities. (HINT: We may already have one on the books.) We’ve got a little more room with which to work. And we’re looking forward to taking advantage of that—for all of us.


Filing our TPS reports: What we look for in PIE startups

So… yeah.With the PIE application period officially, officially closing tonight at midnight, we thought it might be beneficial to share some of the reasoning behind our selection process. You know, to help you understand how we’ll be evaluating your startups as we work to select the next class of PIE.

We’ve learned a lot over our five years. And every class, we learn a great deal more about what types of teams excel in our environment. We work those learnings into our selection process with the hopes that we can be as helpful as possible for the founders who come through the program.

The selection criteria can be easily summed up in the three letters: TPS.

Well okay. It may take a little more explanation than that.

So here’s what the PIE selection committee considers in each application.

Team factor

Good, well rounded teams can attack any problem. So first and foremost, we evaluate the team—or individual—who has applied.

We start asking questions like:

  • Is it a diverse group of people?
  • Are there clear roles and responsibilities?
  • Are there clear lines of ownership? For example, does one founder clearly own decisions on technology?
  • Is this actually a team or is it just an amalgamation of highly proficient individuals?
  • Can members of this team serve as mentors and collaborators with their peers?

Three months is a quick, stressful, and intense period. Being able to divide and conquer is one of the traits that helps teams excel at being accelerated. And there always, always, always has to be a builder on the team—someone who can make things. Three months is too short of a time period to rely on contractors and conflicting schedules.

Another thing we try to deduce is the team’s “coachability.” Is the team capable of taking criticism and questions? Do they seem like they can deal with conflicting feedback? Are they willing to accept that there might be another way of attacking the problem? Can they take action with the feedback they’re receiving? Because when you exist in an environment that is full of mentors deconstructing and critiquing your concepts and business, you have to be able to make use of that feedback. Otherwise, it’s just a distraction.

And yes, sometimes we do pass on very promising teams because they don’t seem very coachable. Even when we know the business will be successful. Some founders are headstrong—okay, they’re stubborn—and while they may knock it out of the park, PIE is an environment which could prove detrimental for both the uncoachable teams and the other teams in the space.

Product factor

Once we’ve evaluated the team, we turn our focus to the product. The team is going to be selling something to make money. And we want to make sure that they have the best chance of generating interest, getting traction, and succeeding with that idea.

For product, we ask questions like:

  • What exactly is the team building?
  • How big is the market?
  • Is it a point solution or a platform? (HINT: We tend to do much better with platforms than point solutions.)
  • Are they early or late to market?
  • Can we effectively accelerate a product like this?

Some accelerators shy away from companies that appear to be a feature for an existing product. But here at PIE, we’re equally interested in exploring those sorts of solutions, as well.

One of the most important product qualifiers is actually quite subjective for the committee. That’s the determination of whether it sounds like a product we would like to use or not. And while that doesn’t immediately qualify or disqualify a product, that strong emotional tie can be very valuable in helping us select the product with whom we want to work.

Serendipity factor

The final component of the selection criteria is the most nebulous of the criteria. We try to decide if there is a serendipity inherent in the solution—or if there is someway to manufacture serendipity around the product.

To get to serendipity, we ask questions like:

  • Is this technology interesting to our partner Wieden+Kennedy?
  • Could this technology be influenced or useful to a company on W+K’s client roster?
  • Does this company help PIE explore a space about which we’re curious?
  • Do we have mentors with expertise that will be especially salient to this company? Or, conversely, will the product enable PIE to expand its mentor network by recruiting talent to satisfy this company’s needs?
  • Is there something particularly interesting about having this company work with the other companies in the incoming class or PIE alums?

Yes, it’s incredibly subjective. But that’s important. Because part of our job here is creating community and networks of companies that help one another. So this can be a very valuable means of rating companies on what they bring to the table.

Compiling our TPS reports

No one factor determines a startup’s success in PIE, so we take all factors into account. But they are weighted differently. We may take a strong team that has a weaker product idea. Or we may take a strong product concept that has a less compelling team dynamic.

It’s an experiment, after all. We’re still trying to figure out what works. And it’s constantly changing.

So, if you haven’t completed your application, get it completed. We’re looking forward to reviewing your Team, Product, and Serendipity factors.