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|Articles - August 2010|
|Wednesday, July 21, 2010|
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THE NEW DEAL
STORY BY BEN JACKLET // PHOTOS BY ANTHONY PIDGEON
Eric Doebele timed his first major exit nicely.
Doebele and his informal partners in this quest — Josh Friedman and Mark Grimes of NedSpace, John Friess of Starve Ups, Nitin Khanna of MergerTech, and Ryan Buchanan of the Software Association of Oregon, just to name a few — make a lively team. They spend a lot of time at the Backspace Café in Portland’s Old Town, a quirky establishment with abstract art on the walls, video game terminals and vegan baked goods on the menu, and whether it’s a result of all the caffeine or their inherent enthusiasm for ideas and action, they tend to speak extremely quickly and cover a great deal of philosophical territory in their discussions. They are the sorts of interview subjects who can barely wait for the question to finish before letting loose with an answer. Their discourse ventures far and wide, but strong themes rise to the top: the power of collaboration, the importance of peer mentoring and the need for more entrepreneurial support in Oregon.
Perhaps more important than their shared traits and ideas are their shared experiences, of starting a business from nothing, building it into something of value, and, if and when it becomes possible, selling it at the best price, to begin the cycle again, from a position of greater power. They dove into the technology sector during a time of great opportunity, survived the Internet crash one way or another, and have survived the Great Recession as well. They’ve learned how to do a lot with a little bit of money, but they also recognize the importance of fast money, delivered early in the process when the entrepreneur needs it most.
Oregon has never been known for fast money. Compared to robust West Coast startup scenes in Seattle and San Francisco, Portland’s has suffered from lack of capital and aversion to risk. Relatively few venture capital funds operate here, and individual “angel” investors are understandably cautious about pouring their savings into unproven enterprises. Fewer risks mean fewer rewards, fewer millionaires pouring their newfound wealth back into the economy by launching new enterprises or supporting fellow entrepreneurs.
The problem is long-standing and well known. What to do about it?
One idea espoused by Friedman and Grimes of NedSpace involves setting up an aggressive new seed fund supported by the City of Portland to finance multiple early- stage businesses quickly and systematically. Another idea, articulated by Khanna, involves building local startups into acquisition targets and setting ambitious goals for dramatic payouts. Yet another idea, embraced by Friess and the Starve Ups crew, involves collaboration between the founders of local technology businesses and an almost Masonic dedication to a cycle of creating businesses, growing them, selling them for maximum reward, investing those rewards and creating again.
Taken as a whole, their ideas add up to a compelling master plan for reinvigorating the startup scene — and the economy.
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