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Sowing the seeds of cash

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Ben Jacklet
Tuesday, July 19, 2011

By Ben Jacklet

Eight local startups won $25,000 apiece from the Portland Seed Fund in an upbeat ceremony Tuesday, and one of those chosen eight, Geoloqi, also announced a larger seed investment of $300,000 from local entrepreneurs.

Both developments foreshadow investments and jobs to follow, as Portland seeks to close the huge gap between the local startup scene and those of Seattle and the Bay Area.

The Portland Seed Fund started as a suggestion from Josh Friedman and other investor/entrepreneurs who pushed the City of Portland to back a new fund sowing small amounts of seed capital far and wide to local companies with strong potential. Mayor Sam Adams, his economic adviser Skip Newberry, and Patrick Quinton of the Portland Development Commission got behind the idea, and with help from the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and other supporters the program launched with Bridge City Ventures managing over $2 million from the City of Portland, the City of Hillsboro, the Oregon Growth Account and 14 individual investors.

Some 128 businesses applied for the first round of investments and 32 received interviews. Bridge City’s Jim Huston says about half of the applicants were strong candidates; he called the winners a strong mix of established, experienced entrepreneurs, younger, “hair-on-fire”-type fast movers and “companies that nobody in this town has invested in or even heard of.”

The winners are:

4-Tell, which does product recommendations for online retailers. This is CEO Ken Levy’s fourth startup. His first sold to Digimarc, and Digimarc CEO Bruce Davis is also an investor in 4-Tell. 

AudioName, which enables users to create an audio avatar in their email signatures explaining how to pronounce their names. Not surprisingly, founder Sheetal Dube, has a name that is hard (at least for me) to pronounce and spell. A former business consultant, Dube quit her day job after winning Startup Weekend in Portland. I spoke with her after the Seed Fund event and she was bubbling with excitement and ideas about incorporating audio into the digital experience.

Geoloqi, a mobile/web platform for location-based applications. Founders Amber Case 0411_Geoloqiand Aaron Parecki (pictured at left, from the magazine's April 2011 issue) are 24 and 26 respectively, brimming with youthful geeky exuberance. In addition to the $25,000 from the seed fund, Geoloqi has also received $300,000 from members of TIE Oregon including Raj Kulkarni, Nitin Khanna and Eric Doebele. TIE stands for The Indus Entrepreneurs, a global nonprofit for entrepreneurship.

Hively, a software tool for measuring the happiness of clients — as in, is the hive lively?

Homeschool Snowboarding, which designs waterproof yet “highly breathable” apparel. Founder Daniel Clancey, 34, grew up surfing in Hawaii and came up with the idea for new snowboard gear after shredding through some typically wet yet warm days in the Cascades. He says of his gear that it works here in the Pacific Northwest, so it will work anywhere. His product is made from the activated carbon from coconut shells, or cocona.

InvestorInMe, a service to help people find investments that match their values.

Vizify, a tool delivering what CEO Todd Silverstein calls “magical ways” to help people get noticed, and ultimately hired.

Zinofile, which seeks to build on Portland’s reputation as a Mecca for independent comics.

Don’t be surprised if and when some of these chosen few crash and burn or simply fade away into oblivion. But if just one or two soars bringing wealth and jobs, the whole endeavor starts making sense. Especially since there are plenty of example of $200,000 being spent more foolishly in Portland.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.



0 #1 Far and WideBizHead 2011-07-28 10:12:44
While we applaud the Portland Seed Fund's accomplishments , we decry the choice to fund only 9 businesses.

The parameters of the fund were specifically designed to exclude entrepreneurs who have other part time sources of income, which of course *lowers* risk to the fund, but which makes it an exclusive club of 9 companies when at least 30-40 were great businesses that needed support.
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