BY KEVIN MANAHAN
A new year means a fresh start, and the business community could certainly use one after the bleakness that was 2009. Any signs of inspiration or progress are welcome, and one needs to look no further than the startup community to find examples. And in Portland, the web/software scene has already started cooking up ideas, both big and small.
This week I stopped by the home base of the Portland Incubator Experiment, a glossy workspace that fits right in with the glitzy Pearl District surrounding it. PIE was launched just last year as a way to bring the web community together and give them a space – provided by Wieden + Kennedy – to collaborate and share resources. PIE held its Demolicious! event last night, a quarterly showcase for Portland’s web innovators to share their latest ideas.
Among them was Jason Glaspey, founder of membership diet website Paleo Plan. As an active participant in CrossFit exercise programs, Glaspey knew there were many in the community who were interested in the Paleo diet, but there wasn’t a good deal of user-friendly information about the diet available. Glaspey began putting together a website using WordPress, a Suma plugin, WooThemes, Adwords, Campaign Monitor and a handful of recipes that fit the Paleo standards; $2,500 in out-of-pocket expenses and a few weeks later, Paleo Plan was launched at the end of last year. With downloadable meal plans and shopping lists available in addition to the constantly updated recipe roster, Glaspey says the site is already close to turning a profit thanks to the new partnerships – and free promotion – he developed with some CrossFit gyms shortly after launching.
Mickey Slater recently launched OMGFRIENDS! as a side project, and said he was always curious about the people who followed him on Twitter and how they might be connected with other people he knows. Inspired by the “Mutual Friends” feature on Facebook, Slater developed OMGFRIENDS! over the course of a few weekends. And while he has no significant future plans for the project yet, Slater hinted at the implications the tool could have for discovering shared audiences among different businesses.
But the innovation that seemed to have the biggest influence – enough to attract the attention of Good Morning America, The New York Times and our local KOIN news channel – was Ken Westin’s ActiveTrak (formerly GadgetTrak). The company’s software helps locate stolen or missing laptops, phones, iPods and even flash drives – a highly valuable tool given the 12,000 laptops that go missing in U.S. airports every week. Using Wi-Fi positioning and even web cam photography through Flickr, ActiveTrak can locate a device anywhere in the world and even help identify the thief. In fact, with a 95% recovery rate, Westin said ActiveTrak has been able to unveil entire theft rings – an impressive feat for a Portland company that started just three years ago. What’s in the works in 2010? A larger, more sophisticated platform for the enterprise IT market, for starters. And while finding investment within Oregon hasn't been successful, Westin said they've found investors outside the state that should kick things up even higher in the next year.
It's a promising start for 2010, and Portland Mayor Sam Adams even expressed his confidence in the software community at the end of last year, saying the city will work hard to invest in economic development strategy for the sector – historically the weakest part of Oregon's tech market, according to OregonLive's Silicon Forest blog. Easier said than done, but at this point, we'll take it. Saving the web/software community could be key for helping save our economy this year.