Portland invests in local start-ups, entrepreneurs

At the start of this month, the Portland Development Commission announced its involvement in four initiatives designed to support and foster entrepreneurship in Portland. CivSource spoke with Patrick Quinton, Business & Industry Division Manager, at the commission about what the investments mean for economic growth in the area.

According to Quinton, Portland developed a new economic strategy last July and identified the need to provide more support for entrepreneurs and start-ups in order to foster economic growth from inside rather than focusing solely on recruiting companies from outside. The result, was to invest in four new initiatives — the Portland Start-up Fund, Angel Oregon Investment, Portland Ten and Pivotal Leaders. Together the programs will work with entrepreneurs at all levels from concept company to established business and give them the tools to build on their plans and increase sales.

The Portland Start-Up Fund will provide seed investments from the city in smaller amounts from twenty-five to two hundred thousand dollars for companies at the earliest stages of development. The city hopes to help start-ups by providing funding at the earliest stages and build the pipeline for later stage investors. Quinton notes that the city plans to make this a self-sustaining program by making the fund an independent entity managed by an experienced investment team that will work to find additional private capital to match with the city’s investments.

Additionally, the city will be involved in Angel Oregon 2010, an annual investment competition and conference that invests in one launch-stage company and one seed-stage company. The city gave twenty thousand dollars to the competition, in what Quinton calls “an unprecedented show of support for entrepreneurs.”

The city also reached out to and invested in two existing groups in the area with programs for later stage leaders and entrepreneurs. An organization called the Portland Ten received a thirty-five thousand dollar grant from the city to expand the organization’s 12-week, intensive boot camp for start-ups, which seeks to assist ten Portland start-up companies in reaching $1 million in revenue. Quinton noted that when they spoke with local start-ups and business leaders that one of the core issues they faced is managing their sales pipeline, “the dollars are nice but the most constraining factor,” he said, “is that they need to sell more product.” The Portland Ten provides entrepreneurs with tools to understand what is most important for sales and growth.

The city also became a presenting sponsor of Pivotal Leaders a community-nominated and peer-selected network of top prospective clean technology business leaders in the Northwest launched Feb. 23 by Pivotal Investments. Pivotal Leaders will work to identify and establish a business network of entrepreneurial talent in clean technology in the Northwest. Quinton noted the history of clean tech in the region and Portland, “we have a significant head start in clean tech as well as a long history in sustainability which we hope to build on.”

The four programs will serve as a pilot group designed to establish a framework for supporting the local start-up landscape and create investment partnerships with the private sector. “The things we are doing, particularly the seed fund, are meant to be self-sustaining beyond budget and politics,” Quinton said.

So far, finding private sector funding has been successful despite the current economic climate. Quinton noted that the city has gotten a lot of interest from private sector investors, “offering amounts you wouldn’t expect to see.” The city is optimistic that they can get the fund to two million dollars through capital partnerships, which would allow the initiatives to move beyond yearly budget battles. “There is private equity out there that doesn’t have a home,” Quinton said.