Skip Newberry, President of the Technology Association of Oregon, co-authored this post.
When asked for a general perception of what the startup community looks like, all too often people will volunteer information about bespectacled youths wandering around Silicon Valley with bundles of money, wearing ironic t-shirts, sipping single-origin coffee, and creating apps for you to while away time on your commute. It is, in a sense, the same type of reaction to the Portlandia phenomenon. Neither of these characterizations is entirely false–to be fair there is a lot of bird-related art throughout the Rose City–but there is a truth behind both perceptions: a new birth of economic growth and prosperity that cuts across traditional socio-economic lines that can be an enormous force for good in our communities.
Earlier this year, Engine teamed up with the Technology Association of Oregon to tell the story of Portland’s startup community. It’s the first part of the Startup Cities series that will profile more underrepresented communities around the country where startups are taking root and presenting new avenues for cities to capitalize on the innovation of its citizens to benefit the community as a the whole.
Portland was chosen as the pilot first because the city’s long history of entrepreneurship has translated very quickly into a supportive, thriving and prosperous startup community. The technology industry in the Portland Metro Area was the fastest growing in the country during the past ten years. In this same time period, the Portland Metro Area climbed to 9th in the country for startup density, and is attracting increasing levels of talent from Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Denver. Large companies such as ebay, Salesforce.com, Walmart Labs, SquareSpace, and Airbnb are also taking notice and expanding into the area.
And we know from Engine’s research that community benefits extend beyond the high wage tech jobs created. For every person a technology startup hires, 4.3 additional jobs are created in the local non-tradable sector. That’s everything from bakers to bankers, plumbers, and lawyers. Within Portland’s thriving startup community, these effects are visible and powerful.
But even more importantly, the community in Portland knows that to succeed everyone must work together. Serial entrepreneurs are becoming angel investors, helping entrepreneurs new to the scene jump in with both feet and grow products into businesses, and creating staying power that will help Portland succeed for years to come.
While no two entrepreneurial communities are alike, and replication of success stories can be a fool’s errand, the lessons of togetherness and support are ones on which Portland can lead, ones they can export, and in doing so become a leading community.
And Portland is just the first stop. It’s important that we start to look at the technology industry everywhere it exists to build a fuller picture of the community that is fast becoming the American electorate at large.