Portland has a pretty amazing tech scene, but it is often overlooked in favor or our big sisters to the north and south (Seattle and the SF Bay Area). Don’t worry, this isn’t another post about how Portland is the best city in which to base your start up. I don’t know if Portland is the best city to base your start-up in, or to move your company to, or to try and make a life in. Those decisions are highly dependent on a lot of factors that are personally unique.
What I do want to talk about is all that Portland tech does have going for it, what we’re lacking, and how we could do better. Portland tech folk do some pretty amazing things, but we could be doing even more.
What we do well
One thing Portland has going for it is a robust support structure for the software community in the form of a grassroots network of user groups and events. Our community-driven network provides mentoring, skill and job development, not to mention camaraderie. Dozens of technologies, languages and platforms are represented across several user groups that meet monthly. We also get a whole lot done. We put on events ranging from weekend unconferences like BarCamp, WhereCamp and CodeCamp to week-long professional conferences like Open Source Bridge. We launch and maintain projects like Calagator and CivicApps. We gather to work on projects together at regular, twice-weekly hackathons.
We’re an open source and open data hub. Oregon State’s Open Source Lab has a presence in Portland. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux lives in Portland, along with many, many other prominent open source contributors. Portland is home to projects such as Calagator, Open Conference Ware, AutomateIT, PDXAPI, Puppet and Concrete5. For several years the biggest conference about open source technology, OSCON, has been hosted by Portland. We’ve also hosted RubyConf and PyCon and will be hosting Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing next year. Open Source philosophy is embraced deeply here, even in how we interact with our local government as evidenced by the CivicApps initiative.
We have a lot of software companies and they create significant economic impact. Notable software companies in the Portland metro area include: Jive Software, Webtrends, Survey Monkey, Tripwire, Inc., OpenSourcery, Sage Software, eRoi, AboutUs, Coaxis, Textronics, Oracle, Intel, Mentor Graphics, Google (via Instantiations), Microsoft, Galois. I could go on and on.
And, yes, I realize I’ve included companies that are not headquartered here in Oregon. I’ve done this intentionally because these companies still have a tremendous impact in terms of the folks they employ and the events in which they are involved.
In 2006, high tech employed 60 out of 1,000 Oregonians in the private sector and offered wages that were 101% higher compare to other private sector jobs. And 31% of these jobs are based in Portland. In 2005 software companies created $9.20 billion in economic impact across the state. These numbers are a few years old, but you get the idea: the software sector is a large slice of Oregon’s economic pie (source).
We have a rich start-up culture that includes: Puppet Labs, Urban Airship, ShopIgniter, Elemental Technologies, Second Porch, JanRain, Active Trak, Small Society and more. Portland start-ups have received roughly $130 million in Venture Capital in the last year (source). Additionally, we have support organizations for start-ups such as: Portland Ten, the Oregon Entrepreneur Network, the Oregon Technology and Business Center, and now the Portland Seed Fund.
What we need to do better
We need better public relations. We have a compelling story and we need to start telling it on a national level. Portland is a viable competitor on the national tech scene and people should know this.
One of the reasons to tell our story better and to more people is to attract business as well as engineering talent to Portland. We need to get folks who have experience creating successful exits for start-ups. We need folks that have experience nurturing small- and medium-size businesses. We also need more of the executive- and director-level expertise that companies need in order to grow. I have heard more than one start-up CEO lament about struggling to find qualified people locally and instead having to import it.
However, importing folks is not the only way to solve a talent shortage. We also need to grow executives and directors locally.
We can do this by better supporting the grassroots knowledge network that I mention above and by creating a way for individuals become experienced at running companies. The business incubators we have already are a good start, but we can do better.
How You can Help
Software Town Hall
Start by coming to the Software Town Hall discussion next Thursday, 11/18, 4:30pm at City Hall. You should RSVP here.
A bit of background on this event: Earlier this year, the Portland Development Commission identified four sectors for economic growth. Software was one of them. Over the last six months, the PDC has conducted three surveys, each building on the previous, in order to find out how the software sector could best be supported for economic growth. Three target areas were identified:
- supporting Portland’s knowledge network
- creating a business mentor network
- fostering a financial network
“Conveners” have committed to shepherd each of these three targets:
- PSU, via Warren Harrison, will take the lead on supporting Portland’s knowledge base.
- The SAO, via Matt Nees, will take the lead on creating a business mentor-ship program.
- The PDC, via Gerald Baugh, will take lead on the financial network.
Next week is the beginning of the conversation about how we grow and improve the three targets above. It’s your opportunity to weigh in with your issues, ideas and concerns, and to say how you will contribute.
If you are concerned about the future of software in Portland, you should be there and lend your voice to the discussion.
Join the Stumptown Syndicate
Reid, Audrey and I are starting a project that will help support Portland’s knowledge network: the Stumptown Syndicate.
Briefly, our mission is to support education and career development for technology professionals through fundraising, space and resource coordination, and other activities.
We have two immediate goals:
- to maintain and provide a central meeting and event space for individuals and groups.
- to provide financial support to such individuals and groups in the form of fiscal infrastructure and/or grants.
But first we need to incorporate as a non-profit and that’s where you come in. If you help with these start-up costs, let us know.
We’re still working on pushing content to our website, so if you have any questions about the Syndicate, want to know when we get up and running, or want to help in other ways, contact me (or Reid, or Audrey) directly.
Run for the Legion of Tech Board
Legion of Tech is the organization that brings you BarCamp, Ignite and other events. We’re the welcoming committee to Portland’s tech scene, and we’re recruiting board members. Read more about how to apply and then get your application in! (The deadline is coming up quick: 11/17).
Go to a user group. Start a user group. Run an unconference. Write about your experiences with Portland tech. Seek out and welcome new members of the community. Got questions about how to do any of these things? Just ask! I’m happy to answer your questions and I know others leaders in the community are as well.
Enough about what I think, what do you think?
What can we do to make Portland’s tech scene strong? How can your business and/or career be supported better? Have I neglected to a person, company or project above? Let me know in the comments.