Portland, Oregon, the ultimate startup, began with a coin flip.
The coin was a penny, a big penny, but still a penny.
One man’s loss was another man’s city name. Boston, Oregon never sounds right.
Since then, Portland’s been fertile ground for startups large and small.
First the big, then the bigger to really big.
In the mix of centuries Portland startups either began with natives crossing the Bering land bridge, the fur trade, or Lewis and Clark.
Let’s jump to the uncertainty of the mid-west pioneers loading up their wagons and setting out for new land to farm. Free land. Six hundred and forty acres of free land for each couple and their family.
The Oregon Trail was the conduit, the ox and plow the high tech gear they brought to their farm startups.
Since finding Oregon was such an ordeal, it’s no surprise to find a transportation startup early on. Prospectors didn’t find gold in Lake Oswego, but they did find iron ore, enough for a startup.
Part of that leftover dream sits in George Rogers Park, an iron smelter that looks like something from the middle ages.
Imagine a thriving iron industry in Oregon, the Pittsburgh of the West. Enough local iron could have supported a fledgling auto industry. In 1904 the Benson Automobile rolled out on two cylinders. By 1906 it had two more cylinders. But it wasn’t enough. No Detroit of the West.
Iron startup? Auto startup? You don’t hear about them today unless you visit the Oregon Historical Society.
Fish and timber startups led Oregon to degrees of prosperity. Every town didn’t have a wigwam burner glowing under a sparky funnel, it just seemed like it.
Startups have a record of brilliant ideas that generate their own heat until attention passes to the next big idea. One that started cool and got hotter, a company that could relocate anywhere else and didn’t, set the pace for current startup Oregon.
Phil Knight started Nike with a car trunk full of shoes. The Stanford MBA had a plan that evolved to what you see today. Fitness, sports, and lifestyle carry the brand as much as the Swoosh on the plastic tips of Nike shoe laces. The details are amazing.
The Nike aura is so strong it rebranded Eugene as Track Town, USA. So strong that Track Town mayor Vin Lananna pushed for, and got, the World Indoor Track Championships. They’ll be in Portland, but the kicker is bringing the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships to Eugene at a later date.
The other part of Nike, one of the amazing details, is how many shoe companies relocated to Portland. Farmers came for the startup land, loggers and fishermen for the startup resources, and shoe designers and material researchers for proximity to the master. That’s the pull of a major player.
What’s the next balloon to lift Portland even higher? This is where Baby Boomer entrepreneurs pay close attention.
Puppet Labs, the software startup in NW Portland, is hosting Startup Weekend. The event won’t be held in a hotel ballroom, theater, or sprawling suburban tech campus. It’ll be at Puppet Labs headquarters.
Portland’s Puppet Labs won’t be the only city and company hosting Startup Weekend. The Portland event, powered by the Kauffman Foundation, begins the same day as similar events in other cities. This puts Portland on the map with hub cities. Check here for Portland vs The World on Startup Weekend.
With enough momentum and continued exposure Portland may rise above the rest of the tech hubs, silicon swamps, and backwaters. This is the Silicon Forest with people sharp enough to see the trees grow one by one.
Where would you rather be? Rick Turoczy from siliconflorist.com posted a celebration video on Portland startups.
Call me a homer, but this is the place. You don’t need to flip a Portland penny to name it Tech Town Pdx.