Portland: Time to celebrate companies getting big

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Jeff Hardison of Meridian; angel investor Chris Logan;  David Nelson of Giftango; and PIE’s Rick Turoczy

We’re hanging in Portland this week, attending the big TechFestNW conference and hanging with some of our favorite PDX startups. Last night, things got rolling at the Tech Crawl, starting at the awesome new offices of Urban Airship and ending at the after party hosted by GeekWire.

Thanks to everyone who braved monsoon-style rains at On Deck Sports Bar & Grill, and a special thanks to Matter Communications who helped us sponsor the evening.

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Speakers at last night’s panel at Urban Airship before the Tech Crawl.

The night kicked off with a discussion about what happens to startup companies after they’re acquired, with David Nelsen of Giftango; Jeff Hardison of Meridian and angel investor Chris Logan offering some interesting perspectives.

But the chat soon veered into an analysis of where Portland stands as a startup hub. I was personally struck by those remarks, since I’ve closely watched Seattle’s startup ecosystem bloom (after many fits and starts) over the past 15 years. Portland is booming right now, as evidenced by some of the awesome startups on the Tech Crawl. (Cool office space award goes to the purple-themed digs of Puppet Labs).

As I mentioned to several guests at the Tech Crawl last night, Portland needs one of its tech startups to get huge. I mean really huge, like industry dominance, creating an ecosystem unto itself much as Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft have done in Seattle. Or, even something on the scale of a Tableau or Zillow (more than $3.5 billion market values).

Meridian’s Hardison, whose company raised $1 million in funding two years ago and was purchased by Aruba Networks for $26 million earlier this year, offered an interesting analysis in his remarks Thursday night.

“Portland doesn’t really celebrate companies getting big. Two of our biggest companies are Precision Castparts … and Nike, and who gets protested more in this city than those two companies,” he said. “You either grow big and face ridicule, or you sell. One thing I’d like … is for the citizens to look inside our hearts and say: Are we ready to grow big companies?”

It’s a great question, and speaks in part to an entrepreneurial mindset. As Zillow and Expedia co-founder Rich Barton told me at a GeekWire Meetup a few years back, it’s as easy to get up to the plate and bunt as swing for the fences. So, in Barton’s entrepreneurial philosophy, you might as well go for the home run.

It turns out if you set your sights really high — put a man on the moon in 10 years and return him safely to Earth, a computer on every desk and in every home running Microsoft software, becoming the largest seller of travel in the world — it turns out …. people end up surprising you and surprising themselves by rising to those goals. And something I’d love to see more of out of the Seattle entrepreneurial community is this kind of thinking.

The same could be said for Portland. And the question remains: Who’s on deck to step up and swing for the fences?

We met some great companies last night, but I’d be curious who you think is on the path to help define Portland’s tech hub … in a big way?

  • Thomas R.

    Sounders > Timbers. That is all.

    • The Puppet named Swedish Chef

      Lets also not forget:
      Chef (Opscode) > Puppet (Puppet Labs)

  • Chilly

    I think Portland is ready to celebrate big companies, just not Nike specifically. If a company was able to grow to Nike’s size without using slavery and child labor, Portland would be thrilled to support them.

  • RyanGensel

    Awesome summary John.

    You captured Jeff’s quote, which I thought was the most important of the night.