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Jobs Watch: Innovation, from A to Z

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Ben Jacklet
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I got the opportunity to sit down with Matt Nees and Bryce Yonker the other day, and within an hour my story idea list had doubled in size. There’s a lot going on with tech innovation in Oregon, and Nees, who’s been president of the Software Association of Oregon for about a year now, and his colleague Yonker have a sharp inside view of not only what’s happening, but also what’s coming.

SAO saw its membership fall in synch with the economy as the recession tightened down its stranglehold, but it’s been gaining back members during the fickle rebound while pursuing some big-scale initiatives that could lead to new hiring.

One major initiative involves the hundreds of millions of dollars that the state spends on technology. For a long time the status quo has been to hire the SAPs and Microsofts of the world while overlooking smaller local companies that may be able to do things cheaper and faster, while hiring locally and in turn bringing more income back into state government through taxes.

That effort got a boost with the election to the Legislature of Christian Harker, president and founder of the Beaverton-based software company Cayuse and a member of SAO’s advocacy committee. Earlier this year Harker and SAO put together a CIO Summit in Salem that introduced the 13 CIOs who control the state’s tech purse strings to 120 people from the private sector.

Nees says his main goal in putting together the summit was to “get involved and provide influence to encourage people to think differently.”

Another goal: to remind public sector leaders that Oregon is stacked with innovative tech companies hungry for business.

Asked for examples, Nees quickly reels off a dozen, starting with the obvious newsmakers and expanding from there. The $30 million that Jive Software just scored is “great,” and the impending Tripwire IPO is “even better.”

And then there’s Spotlight Mobile, founded in 2002, leading the Portland mobile application development bonanza with apps for the Portland Art Museum, Barnes & Noble and Nike, among others.

Another fast riser is Puppet Labs, founded by a pair of Reed College grads in 2008. Puppet received $2 million in venture capital in June 2009 and another $5 million this summer. The company develops open source software that is available for free online, joining a thriving local community of open source developers supported by major institutions ranging from Intel to Oregon State University.

Other bright spots within Oregon’s economic fog that Nees identified:

* Analytics pioneer Webtrends, which has seen its ups and downs over the past 15 years but is definitely on the upswing under CEO Alex Yoder.

* Lake Oswego-based EthicsPoint, which has vastly expanded the scope of its international security solutions with two acquisitions in May and June.

* Portland-based Springbrook Software, which helps small cities streamline their operations, with over 400 clients in 32 states. 

* And finally, Mercy Corps. Oregon's largest nonprofit  recently made use of SAO’s database to recruit 10 new tech staffers to hone a complex network of operations that stretches from Portland to Kyrgyzstan to Niger.

It’s the sort of list that can convince you that Oregon does have a future after all, and there’s more where that came from. As soon as I had finished typing up my notes from that meeting, I noticed that Yonker had sent me a quick list of innovative Oregon companies to keep my eyes on, alphabetized from A to Z for my convenience. That should keep me busy for a while.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.

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