Sam Blackman, one of the more prominent leaders of the Portland technology scene and CEO of AWS Elemental, has died at the age of 41, GeekWire has confirmed.
It’s not clear exactly what happened to Blackman, who just opened a new Portland office for AWS Elemental last week and was planning business trips for the next few weeks, according to emails we exchanged at the end of last week. Blackman’s family is asking the company and investors to refrain from commenting publicly, but GeekWire confirmed the sad news with a person familiar with Blackman and AWS Elemental.
A representative for AWS Elemental declined to comment beyond the following statement: “Right now, we are focused on supporting Sam’s family.”
Blackman was a central figure in Portland’s emerging startup community, and one of the biggest entrepreneurial success stories to emerge in recent years. He was also a huge supporter of growing Portland’s tech ecosystem, telling GeekWire in 2013: “In my opinion, if you are a software engineer graduating from college right now, there is no better city you can move to than Portland.”
He also spoke of the foundation he built at Elemental, and how he was fortunate to work with so many great people at the company.
“It’s a team that’s delivered on the promise that the founding team saw in leveraging GPU for video processing,” said Blackman, who was named CEO of the Year at the GeekWire Awards in 2013. “But we are still a very young, early-stage company. We have an enormous amount to prove. We have 100 people in Portland, Ore. and a long way to go before we actually create a sustainable, significant company. That’s what I want to do: Prove you can build great technology companies in Oregon that people in Seattle have heard of. At some point I hope we will have done that and we’ll be able to take a step back and say we have achieved something. That’s a ways off to me.”
But it was not too far off, as Elemental sold to AWS just two years later, marking a hugely positive outcome for Portland’s tech scene.
Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson summed up the sentiment of many in Portland on Monday morning.
Sick to hear about Sam Blackman's passing. Gave so much to Portland and had so much more to give. Thoughts & prayers are with his family.
— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) August 28, 2017
Others who knew Blackman were devastated by the news.
I am sickened by the passing of my friend Sam Blackman. Age 41, he was one of my mentors, and perhaps the brightest star in PDX tech.
— Gino Zahnd (@gino) August 28, 2017
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and prominent Portland venture capitalist Geoff Entress of Voyager Capital also shared their sorrows on hearing the news.
Devastated to hear about Sam Blackman's passing. He was instrumental in developing the Oregon Investment Act. https://t.co/mu4jacbpv6
— Ted Wheeler (@tedwheeler) August 28, 2017
So sad to hear about the death of Sam Blackman. He was so special and so important to so many. The world is truly a darker place today.
— Geoff Entress (@geoffentress) August 28, 2017
A Portland native, Blackman earned an MBA from the University of Oregon, and was married with two young sons. He co-founded Elemental in 2006 after a stint at Pixelworks, during which that company went public.
Rick Turcozy, who has devoted himself to chronicling anything and everything related to the Portland tech scene, posted these heart-breaking thoughts on Blackman’s death on his Silicon Forest blog late Monday:
Sam had conviction. And passion. And it was infectious. And that enabled him to found and lead a company. But it could have just as easily been used to lead a city, a state, or a country.