If you follow PIE on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, you know that we’ve been hinting at some new flavors of PIE. Now, we’re able to reveal one of those new efforts: PIE is among 11 partners who have been chosen to help Prosper Portland (the organization formerly known as the Portland Development Commission (PDC)) on its small business efforts.
Prosper Portland Executive Director Kimberly Branam said, “This network of small business providers will transform the resource landscape for minority and underrepresented business owners. I’m excited to see Prosper Portland take this next step in its support of Portland’s small businesses, especially those owned by people of color and in low-income communities.”
For more, see the press release from Prosper Portland.
Now in its third year, Portland Startup Week is a (little longer than a) weeklong celebration of the founders, companies, and supporters who make the Portland startup community what it is. PIE is proud to have been the founding organizer for this event, and we’re happy to continue as the organizer of the event, this year.
Because it’s important for startups. And for Portland.
From reviving classic Portland startup gatherings to discussing how we become an even better startup community, the week promises something for everyone. If you’re in Portland — or close enough to swing by — we’d love to have you participate.
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.
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.)
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:
- Our on-going collaboration with organizations like Oregon Story Board, BREAKER, and the Startup PDX Challenge are an initial exploration into how local accelerators can collaborate more effectively.
- We’re experimenting with sharing what we’ve learned through things like the content we’ve started creating on Medium and by talking to our peers about their challenges and opportunities.
- We’re working to bring even more attention to the Portland startup scene through events like Portland Startup Week and the 1776 Challenge Cup.
- We’re experimenting with ways to ensure that the Portland startup scene is even more connected with things like the Portland Startups Slack and the Portland Startups Switchboard.
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:
- Beaverton Startup Challenge
- Founders Pad
- Jaguar Land Rover Incubator
- Startup PDX Challenge
- Techstars Seattle
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.)
This whole experiment thing called PIE has been going for five years—constantly changing, continually experimenting and it’s been awesome to see the Portland tech community evolve alongside us. We’ve all come a long way over these past five years and the opportunities ahead are exciting.
The startups in this year’s class have spent three months absorbing everything possible from the PIE mentor network, the Portland community, Wieden+Kennedy and more. The day to share the results of these interactions is finally approaching: October 24th is PIE’s 2014 Demo Day.
This year’s Demo Day will feature presentations from our portfolio companies and highlights from our latest experiments. We’ll also take a look back at five years of PIE and the amazing startups with whom we have had the pleasure to work.
The event, held in Gerding Theater, sold out within a few days—and since we like to think of Demo Day as a community event, we’re always looking for ways to ensure we can get our awesome startup community together in person to take part in it. We’re happy to announce that our friends at eBay have been kind enough to host a PIE Demo Day simulcast. They have room for 100 folks to join them.
If for some reason you’re too far away and can’t join us at the Gerding Theater or the Simulcast, we also have a livestream link for you. Details for the Simulcast and the Livestream are below:
See you in a week!
Duncan Davidson, Managing Director at Bullpen Capital, visited PIE today and shared valuable advice to all of us in the space. While all the startups asked him questions related to their specific businesses, I simply wanted to learn more of what it’s like to be on his side of the table. I didn’t pitch him, but I did ask him five simple questions.
What’s your most recent investment and what was the tipping point that convinced you to go all in with them?
Good question. [Yay, me! Starting off strong.] If I go through the last 5 deals we’ve done, they all have similar tipping points. Here’s a couple of those.
a) SpotHero, a parking company out of Chicago.
Parking is suddenly a hot category, and there’s a bunch of valet deals in San Francisco. SpotHero’s like Uber for parking spots, where they have deals with national garage chains.
We knew parking was big. We’ve watched parking for years. SpotHero was showing two things that was a tipping point.
i) They cut national contracts so they could go to almost any city with masses of available parking slots and parking garages (and with no extra work). They don’t have to go slug city by city.
ii) Their trajectory was taking off. Most of the other people we saw were struggling. We liked SpotHero’s trajectory.
b) StayClassy, a Saas for .org
Again, there are five other companies trying to do this, but it was theirs that had a trajectory that was taking off. That’s a common theme for us. We’re watching companies like they’re in a competitive horse race…when one takes off, that tips it.
What’s your process look like? How do you actually go about making that decision with the others in your firm?
Somebody comes in and pitches us. Everyone wants to show a demo and how cool their technology is. No, no. We don’t care about your demo. We want to see what’s your business, how well you’re doing, how fast you’re growing, and what’s your plan for the next year.
We start with a fact based–”here’s the reality of the business” approach. If you don’t get passed that filter we don’t take any more time on it.
Then the process after that is to have you answer a few very fundamental questions. We throw questions up at the person driving it. If they can knock the questions off, we go to the next five questions. When we’re out of your questions, we regroup and make the decision.
If we’re following a category (like parking), then we’re already well educated. So when a company walks in the door and shows they’re winning in that market, we can make a fast decision. If it’s a market we don’t know well, we either don’t do the deal or spend a lot of homework (and it’s a very slow process) until we get up to speed.
One of the mistakes venture people make is the grass is always greener. In a market we know very little about, everybody looks like a pretty girl. In a market we know well, everybody’s an ugly chuck. So we’re better off dealing with the ugly children than the pretty girls just because we have experience to tell us what they don’t know.
How do you interact with the founders after investing?
We have two types of founders. One type are experienced, they know what they’re doing. Our interactions with them are occassional and usually on-demand. If they need help, they call us.
We have another class which are newbies—in their first time through—and they just have to learn things. “How do you run a good executive meeting, how do you run a board, how do you deal with problems A, B, and C?” So in that case, we’re a lot more proactive in helping them through their problems. When we talk to the people that we deal with, they almost say the same thing:
“You’re not in our face like a lot of venture people, but you’re there when we need you.”
You’ve been on the other side of the table before–as the founder of a startup with a successful exit. What is the one thing startups should know when looking for investment?
You’ve heard of the three rules of real estate, right? Location, location, location.
For example, you’re McDonalds—where do you put a fast food joint? You find the best traffic pattern.You want a house? There’s a certain logic to why that house is the right house on the street and the next house is the wrong house. Location is everything.
Likewise, there’s four rules of venture capital. Ready?
Too early, too early, too early, too late.
The one thing to know, people, is timing. Timing is everything. All startups build on the shoulders of past technical development. There comes a moment where the technology comes together and coalesces–then new things can happen. If you’re too early, then it’s too expensive—you’ll never get there. If you’re too late, you’re not Whatsapp that’d already sprinted past you. So getting that timing right—when the coalesce of opportunity and technology hit—jumping on it fast is everything.
What do you know / have you heard much about the Portland landscape? What’s the startup culture look like to you compared to other places?
Startup culture is a type of culture that’s prevailing the world. I go to Australia, I go to London, I go to Japan, I go to Singapore and Turkey—you find that the startup culture is pretty much the same. They can read all the same blogs, like TechCrunch. They’re all taking hipster styles. There’s a commonality.
Thomas Friedman, from the New York Times, wrote a book called, “The World is Flat.” It’s actually not true. The world’s actually very spiky. But if you go from spike to spike, like Bangalore to Singapore and you skip over all the places in the middle, it all looks the same. It’s spiky, but there’s a consistency. So when you go from startup community to startup community, they’re similar all over the world.
I find Portland to be very similar. The people are technically really smart, they’re versed pretty much in what’s going on. Their understanding is pretty good. The bad part is that this is a very thin ecosystem—the depth of mentors, the depth of funding, the depth of other people challenging you.
There’s a reason why steel concentrated in Pittsburg and cars in Detroit. There’s a reason why Hollywood is where the studios are. And the reason is, there’s a certain economic force to get all the best people in the same place where they can deal with each other face to face. So people come to Silicon Valley wanting to be king of the hill and deal face to face with the best people they can. That sort of thing is almost impossible to replicate.
The main problem with Portland is you could have a very good startup culture, but you’re never going to match what’s down there. The answer is two fold:
a) either accept that and just do really cool companies (and maybe they get funded in Silicon Valley), or
b) find something unique in the Portland ecosystem that you can be the world class center of. You have some skills here to do that.
Seattle may become the cloud center because Amazon, Microsoft are there. I think of Portland as the new Tuscany. Dealing with different food ideas, craft coffees, beers (you’ve got the great Hops here). You’re in the magic latitude for hops and things like that. The point is: food. You might be the great advances in food if you want to be.
Or another is you have cheap energy here. You could become a great data-center / cloud place. You have economic advantages for that. If I were in the Portland community, I would try to figure out what we could do better than anybody else in the world, own that, and become the place that attracts people from all over the world for that because you have a great city, a great lifestyle, and a lot of educated people here. People want to live here.
Well, Portland…what do you say? The new Tuscany of the States? The data-center capital of the West? What makes Portland so unique? Let us know with a comment below.
It is officially fall. Demo day is a mere 30 days away and school is back in session. It really is crazy how quickly time flies by when you’re
having fun … accelerating a new class … err, having fun. It’s even crazier that in May I was saying to you, dear reader, that I was “looking forward to seeing how the impact of the Breaker program continues to ripple through the educational institutions here in Portland, for both the student and the educators.” Why so crazy? Because a mere 5 months later, Project Breaker + the Construct Foundation are back in the saddle with an awesome lineup for Design Week Portland.
Unfamiliar with Design Week? Well, during October 4th-11th, Design Week Portland explores the process, craft, and practice of design across disciplines as seen through the lens of our city’s most vibrant independent programming. For more information on the talks, workshops, panels, and other happenings check out the events schedule here: http://www.designweekportland.com/events
And if you’re interested in the future of education right here in Portland (because you should be), sign up for a Breaker related event here: http://www.designweekportland.com/events?d=46
Oh, and one more thing. Check out this awesome video recap from PIE’s time with Project Breaker back in May.
There’s a lot happening around the Portland startup community so here’s a roundup of some news and interesting reads:
- Congratulations to an original PIE founder Jason Glaspey for “selling out“
- Orchestrate’s Antony Falco wrote a great post on Usability Testing.
- Join Team Shelley at the Portland Brain Tumor Walk to support Shelley Gunton’s fight against brain cancer.
- Cloudability outlined emerging themes from the AWS Summit NYC in a recent blogpost here.
- Stublisher moved to a new location. Now it’s quieter here, but we miss them.
- And if you’re looking for an excuse to leave work early and a way to stay healthy, look no further.
- Procrastinators rejoice! Oregon Story Board has extended their application deadline until July 28th. Lucky you—you have 10 more days to apply.
So before we get started I want you to go and visit another three incubators’ websites. Just the first three that pop into your head. Go on. Take a look around. Check out the photos. Watch the videos. I want you to ask yourself this question: what is the culture of this incubator? Go ahead. I’ll wait here.
Are you back? Hi again.
Here’s the thing: the word incubator is problematic. It implies that you are going to enter into an isolation tank of like-minded, ambitious entrepreneurs. You’ll sleep under your desk, subsist on ramen, and meet all day with people in t-shirts and blazers. A white board and marker will be the most creative tools at your disposal. Here’s the other thing: companies are shaped by the culture of their incubator. Just like an artist (we’ll get to that part in a minute), the technology you create is a reflection of the ecosystem you are in. If you are in a sensory deprived cubicle tethered to your laptop mindlessly inhaling processed noodles in an office of people doing the same what you create will be informed by that environment. And until I discovered PIE, that environment looked bleak, homogenous, and unstimulating.
If you want a sense of why I thought this this was the work I was doing prior to starting Switchboard, and this was the view from my front yard. Yeah. An isolation tank of geeks was my worst nightmare. I resigned myself to the fact that technology was completely incompatible with humanity, beauty, and delight.
And then I discovered PIE. PIE is the most creative incubator in the most creative company in the most creative building in the most creative city in the world.
There I said it.
So why is creativity important? Because creating technology is an act of art. As Paul Graham put it: “What hackers and painters have in common is that they’re both makers. Along with composers, architects, and writers, what hackers and painters are trying to do is make good things.”And every act of art is about stealing. Austin Kleon, the authority on creativity and stealing, said it best: “You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.” So look for the incubator that will help you become the best thief, and steal from the most creative people, with the most diverse resources, so you can make the best thing.
What do I mean by resources? Well, there’s all the stuff you already know. You will get money. You will get desks in a beautiful light-filled office. You will have access to generous, big-hearted, life-changing mentors. You’ll share the experience with other visionary companies. There’s free beer and lunch. Program directors Kirsten, Rick, and Renny will light the path with a disarmingly effective combination of competence, empathy, ball-busting, and sardonic wit. But if you look around, as I did, you will also get a schmorgasboard of an ecosystem. And you can gorge yourself.
I want to share with you 20 parts of my ecosystem and the profound impact they had on the technology we built. Here, I’ve even made you a map. As you can see, 99% of this ecosystem is within a five minute walk of PIE’s office.
1. Our team is made up of whip-smart students funneled from nearby Reed College and Portland State University. The city is bursting with young, hungry, diverse, creative talent.
3. In this building there is a drawer of glitter and a letterpress in the basement. They emit a sonar of inspiration.
4. On the roof deck there is a hammock. In the summer there are parties and sometimes a chest freezer of popsicles appears. On clear days there is a direct view of Mt.Hood.
5. This is John Jay. His office faces 12th street. I’ve seen his light on at 1 AM. If you are working half as hard as John works you might be on the right track.
6. Wieden+Kennedy commissions artists to make art in their lobby. When I’m sick of staring at my computer I can watch people live paint. Wat.
7. When I’m tired, I can take a nap in the nap room. Or get a massage.
9. There is also a human sized nest.
10. This one time, Pink Martini performed in the lobby amidst 6,000 balloons. I could go on. Let’s leave the building, shall we?
11. A few blocks away is the largest new and used bookstore in the world, Powell’s. I’ve spent entire days reading on the floor.
15. Observing the operations at the Ace Hotel, Stumptown, Heart Coffee, Canoe, Multnomah Whiskey Library, Blue Star Donuts and Tilt has taught me so much about marketing, workflow, and customer experience.
16. I could go on about the city’s cultural offerings: Creative Mornings, ADX, XOXO, TechFest Northwest, DesignWeek, the Yale Union, the Portland Art Museum. Have I mentioned the nature? And then there are the artists and makers. The number of people doing awesome things here is startling. It’s like a 21st-century Florence. It’s intimate, scrappy, collaborative, boot-strappy and on the brink.
17. When I started PIE I didn’t know how to breathe or turn my mind off. I learned both through a daily practice at YoYo Yogi.
18. There is an abundance of crappily written but useful business books. There is no need to buy them. I check them out from the Multnomah Public Library.
19. Then there is Peter. He sells the Street Roots newspaper in front of the nearby Whole Foods. He’s my Patron Saint of Perseverance.
20. When I forget what matters in the world, what really matters, I stand in front of these doors.
So, look. Perhaps making software in an acultural vacuum is your jam. This factory farm incubator model is the rule, not the exception. Switchboard would never have grown, let alone flourished, out of this arid soil.
I’m writing this love letter to the handful of people reading this who dream of something else (this is sounding eerily familiar..it’s different, I promise). You’re a resilient, resourceful, rule-bending scamp who thrives on making something from nothing. You’re more interested in building the world’s best rainbow, not discovering the pot of gold at the end. You can stop looking. We’re waiting for you. Join us.