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.)
Renny & Rick