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The NedSpace/Starve Ups ethic values collaboration over competition, giving rise to a tightly knit community of young Portland entrepreneurs.
Here is how Grimes describes his exit from the first of four businesses he has launched: “After about two years I got bored, sold it, started doing other things.”
Here’s his take on innovation: “The half-baked notion where you don’t even know what the product is or what the market will be, that’s what’s exciting to me. That’s where true innovation comes from.”
Grimes says all of the companies he’s founded, including the web advertising agency he launched in 1996, Eyescream Interactive, were profitable within 90 days in spite of not having business plans. But he got hit badly by the dot-com crash and Eyescream collapsed in 2001.
“A handful of really bad things happened as a result of having a five-year lease with a personal guarantee,” says Grimes. “It was not a pleasant time, but we did not have to file for bankruptcy and all the staff was paid.”
Even that grisly business experience could not beat the entrepreneurial zeal out of Grimes. He’s invested in a dozen companies in Portland and San Diego, launched a philanthropic water service, helped organize a Maker Faire in Ghana and placed more than 7,000 loans through Kiva, an online micro-lending program that connects investors from rich countries with entrepreneurs in poor countries. He hopes to take the NedSpace concept, a “cross-pollination of experience and ideas” as he describes it, and expand it nationally along with the high-volume, small-scale seed fund that he believes would complement it neatly.
His vision for such a fund involves seeding between 20 and 50 companies per year with $25,000 to $100,000 each. Grimes insists that spreading the investments widely would produce better results than mega-investments in one or two enterprises (think ethanol plants). “Are a third of them going to fail? Absolutely. We’re going to say that going into it,” he says. “Or maybe 20% or 25% will fail. But plenty will succeed. And what’s fail anyhow? If it employs people for a year and brings in taxes, is it a failure?”
Grimes argues that the successes resulting from such a program would bring further successes, improving Portland’s reputation as a city eager to host entrepreneurs, as opposed to an environment hostile to business. “If money is flowing through the city to start-up companies, people will move to Portland to start up companies,” he predicts. “You can do amazing things for startup companies with just $25,000 to $100,000.”