Our guest this past week on the GeekWire radio show and podcast was Rick Turoczy of Portland-area tech news blog Silicon Florist, and PIE (the Portland Incubator Experiment), who joined us during a visit to Seattle.
After some obligatory gloating about the Seattle Sounders’ recent victory over the Portland Timbers, we dove in for a discussion about the broader Pacific Northwest tech community — comparing and contrasting the Seattle and Portland technology startup scenes.
If you missed the show, or just prefer text, continue reading for excerpts.
State of the Portland tech startup community?
Rick: People looking outside-in to Portland in the past have seen it really as an open-source town. We host OSCON. That’s coming up at the end of July again. We have our open-source event called Open Source Bridge. But what we’ve seen growing out of that is really mobile. A lot of focus on iOS development. The growing Android market. We’re also seeing one of our more successful startups being focused as a kind of middleman on the mobile front, and that’s Urban Airship. If you’re getting push notifications from Groupon or ESPN or you subscribe to Newsweek on your iPad, that’s all Urban Airship doing that work.
John Cook, GeekWire: In my opinion, what’s lacking down there is this anchor tenant of a technology company. Here in Seattle we have Expedia and RealNetworks and Amazon and Microsoft and the list goes on. Portland hasn’t really grown one of those. They’ve imported companies like Intel that have set up large operations there, but there’s no big company that has grown up there.
Rick: I agree, and we don’t really have any consumer-facing apps. Even our most successful services are in-between, where no one sees them. Urban Airship isn’t consumer-facing. PHP Fog isn’t consumer-facing. Puppet Labs is another good example. Shop Igniter builds Facebook storefronts. They’ve all been funded but they don’t really touch the consumer.
Difference between Seattle and Portland tech industries?
Rick: I see a lot of companies coming to Portland for development talent, where they already have the executive talent or the business talent to make things work. Anytime I’m in Seattle I feel I’m less exposed to the development community and I’m more exposed to that business-minded CEO, C-level folks in Seattle, and I think it’s interesting how it seems to continue to filter that way.
Intersection between sports and tech in the Pacific Northwest?
Rick: I think there’s something interesting there. Down in our area, we’ve seen Nike start to work on an open data project, where they want to start to open up some of their data about their apparel. But I think the immediate intuitive leap that people take with that is, sports in and of itself is really an open data project. People sit there and take down scores and stats and that’s all data out in the open that people can work with, and it’s a very statistical kind of thing. They’re both forms of interactivity.
John: My theory on this is, part of the reason why the Seattle Sounders have been so well-received in Seattle is because they’re a new sports franchise, just as the tech community is a new industry in Seattle. So you see the new industry of tech embracing a new sports team. There’s some pretty interesting cross-pollination. Also, Microsoft and Xbox is a big sponsor of the Sounders, and in part because it’s a new league and new teams, you see a lot of social media aspects to both teams, in Portland and Seattle.
Does this square with your view of the two regions? Another question we touched on but didn’t have time to explore in depth: Should the Seattle and Portland tech communities be working together more?
We’ll be back this weekend with another episode on GeekWire.com and 97.3 KIRO-FM.