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Seed synergy

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Articles - November 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Amber Case, Jason Lander, Ken Levy and Nathan Taggart. The Portland Seed Fund united eight teams with varying degrees of experience. Participants find there's lots to share. 
// Photo by Anthony Pidgeon
The fund united eight teams with varying degrees of experience. Some were still refining their ideas. Others were already making sales, with plans for major growth. Ken Levy, CEO of the e-commerce recommendation business 4-Tell, has a five-year plan to grow into an $80 million company with over 100 employees. The serial entrepreneur secured $250,000 in 2010 from angel investors including Vesta CEO Doug Fieldhouse, Digimarc CEO Bruce Davis and Insitu CEO Steve Silwa. That initial prize resulted from some serious legwork: 68 meetings with 51 potential investors by his count.

That’s a lot of experience to share. Others in the group bring experience of a different variety. When Geoloqi co-founders Amber Case and Aaron Parecki were first researching the business end of their shared obsession for location tracking, they traveled from Portland to the Silicon Valley, staying with “random people we met through the Internet,” in Case’s words. They nearly ran out of money but kept the trip going by winning coding contests.

The technology platform that enabled them to win forms the foundation of Geoloqi. Their company has raised $350,000 from local investors such as MergerTech CEO Nitin Khana, former Reliable Remodelers CEO Eric Doebele, Nitin Rai of First Insight and Kanth Gopalpur of Monsoonworks. They also scored a residency at the Portland Incubator Experiment office space provided by Wieden+Kennedy in the Pearl District.

Sheetal Dube works out of a similar space on the other side of downtown Portland, at the Portland State University Business Accelerator. A working mom with a background in user experience consulting, Dube won the top prize in the Portland Startup Weekend contest in April 2011. Her young business, AudioName, enables people to record the pronunciation and roots of their names for online profiles. As is the case with many tech startups, her company’s purpose may not seem immediately obvious to the layperson — until you consider the 7 billion people on the planet with names, and the importance in business and life of getting names right. “It seems like a small idea but look at the scale,” Dube says. “The fact that I could make a small difference to a large number of people, that for me was the hook.”

Once hooked, she began to hook others. The judges at startup weekend convinced her to quit her job and go for it, and she did. The support of the seed fund and its associated contacts validated her choice, and enabled her to bring in contract engineers. “We’ve all gone out and hired people and stimulated the economy,” she says. Eventually her business could prove a tempting target for a social media giant such as LinkedIn. Or it could fizzle, as so many tech startups do. Regardless of the outcome, Dube says she has no regrets.



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