Rick Turoczy of Silicon Florist. (Erynn Rose photo)

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?

Listen to the full show below or directly via this MP3 file. 

We’ll be back this weekend with another episode on GeekWire.com and 97.3 KIRO-FM.

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  • Guest

    Generalizing, Portland lacks people who think really big.  There are exceptions, the BankSimple group coming to mind (but those guys are recent imports from CA).  You know, that kind of “I’m going to take over a vertical or create a whole new vertical” kind of thinking.  Doesn’t happen in Portland.  Seattle is more outward looking and more global.  People think bigger.

    The same goes for the investor pool.  Don’t even bother with Portland.  There are still people asking for five year projections before you’ve got a prototype built.  It’s a dull group who seem clueless about the larger market possibilities.  Probably why every consumer-facing endeavor craters (and there have been some good ones).  Seriously, there’s only one Angel in the whole town who has the slightest bit of spark and is attracted by risk. 

    Portland is incestuous to the point of already spawning genetic defects within the tech community.  People are growing calluses on their backs from patting each other too much and saying “awesome” at the drop of a hat.

    Sorry, I don’t think Portland has much to offer Seattle. 

  • Memphremagog

    Quick – name the second largest software company in the Pacific Northwest…..

    It’s Mentor Graphics, at about $1B in revenues. 
    Founded and still headquartered in….drumroll….. greater Portland.

    Granted, it’s not “consumer-facing.”  But is that the only relevant measure here?  They have about 2000 of their 4000 people in Portland, I believe. Doesn’t that qualify as an anchor tenant?

  • Guest

    @4f8fc90776d952e56a14b1cf2055a596:disqus Perspective = To find Mentorgraphics on the list of top 100 software companies in the world, with MS @ #1, Mentorgraphics hovers down around #80.   So it may be an anchor tenant, but it’s in a strip mall.

    • Memphremagog

      OK – Portland does suffer from not having many anchor tenants.  But to say there are NONE does not square with the facts.  Portland lives, and probably always will, in the shadow of Seattle’s overall high tech community.  But, if Mentor is #80 on the top 100 software company rank, Seattle still only has one company above that. (way above to be sure!)

      • Guest

        @4f8fc90776d952e56a14b1cf2055a596:disqus – I’m enjoying the discussion.  I swear, I’ve read my comments 3x and can’t see where I mentioned “anchor tenants” or “numbers” in that regard?  I don’t think I even used the word “none?”

        My gripe is with the limited world view that’s endemic to Portland.  Smart people, but the town’s just too small and incestuous to breed competitive spirits.  Yes, I know there are exceptions.  But having lived in over a dozen cities around the World, believe me, Portland is extremely “small town” resulting in a negative business environment or worse, a not very smart business environment. 

        Seattle may not be perfect in any respect, but there is much more “potential” always lurking about.  Some big ideas come out of here.  Not so much with Portlandians.

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