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Elemental CEO Sam Blackman speaks at TechFestNW.
Elemental CEO Sam Blackman speaks at TechFestNW.

Portland is not on the same level as a place like Silicon Valley when it comes to ranking the world’s top startup hubs. But some of the city’s founders and CEOs think that their home can one day become a top destination for entrepreneurial innovation thanks to Portland’s unique cultural qualities.

Elemental CEO Sam Blackman and Context Partners CEO Charlie Brown spoke at TechFestNW on Friday and explained how Portland’s tech industry can thrive.

“We won’t compete with Facebook and Google on starting salaries,” Blackman said. “But we will compete on being a great place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Portland has its share of fast-growing startups — some that have already been swooped up by tech giants, others that are well on their way to huge success, and several more up-and-comers. There’s also a recent pattern of big tech companies like eBay, Salesforce, and Airbnb setting up satellite offices in the region.

techtownportlandBut it’s clearly not quite a global tech hub, both from a venture capital funding side and number of high-powered tech companies. Blackman noted how the city needs another tech titan like Tektronix, which was founded in 1946 and at one point employed 24,000 while churning $3 billion in annual revenue.

“We haven’t built companies yet of the scale of Tektronix,” he said. “We have a responsibility to prove that we can do it again.”

When asked how Portland can avoid the anti-tech sentiment that has become rampant in San Francisco, Blackman made an interesting point about the difference founders in Portland and Silicon Valley.

Context Partners CEO Charlie Brown.

“The people that run Portland tech companies don’t have the hubris in which they try to run the company where they say they are trying to change the world,” Blackman said. “I think Portland is better about recognizing that what we’re doing fits in the scheme of things. As long as we keep that under control, even as these companies get significant, we’ll be in a much better position to have the community share our success as opposed to feeling like they’re left out.”

Both Blackman and Brown touted Portland’s livability as a competitive advantage and a way to recruit talent from out of state.

“Portland has caught the attention of the world because of our culture,” said Brown, who moved from Washington D.C. to Oregon in 2010.

The founders also encouraged Portland’s tech leaders to get involved in public policy and help continue making Portland a landing zone for techie transplants.

“We absolutely have to take responsibility as the next generation of potentially great tech companies here to build solid financial foundations so the public sector can continue to innovate and so we can continue the cycle of making Portland the best city in the world to live in,” Blackman said.


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