Must Reads

On The Scene: On the map and in the future

sceneblogbwAmber Case and Aaron Parecki are from the future—or, at the very least, they are a bit ahead of their time. They are creating a new software product that will track users' locations and give them updates, send SMS messages to their friends and colleagues, and do more things that we might not understand. Case and Parecki presented their project, "Geoloqi," this week at Open Source Bridge.

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On The Scene: Electric future

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Electric cars: it's a big buzz, but do we know where the future is really going? Trucking company Navistar came to Portland this week to launch their new $149,000 all-electric van, and the tone was optimistic.

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On The Scene: Finding Oregon's path to China

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China has been in the black and growing while the rest of the world falls further into the red. There are economic opportunities in our relationship with China, but where are they? The World Affairs Council held a panel discussion last week on "The China Opportunity."

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On The Scene: Bootstrapping your way to success

sceneblogbw Waiting for investors can mean trouble for startups, especially in Portland's capital-starved market. Four successful entrepreneurs spoke at OEN's PubTalk last Wednesday about the pros and cons of bootstrapping, and the benefits of taking orders from your customers instead of an investor.

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On The Scene: Gen Y saves the day

sceneblogbwThe recently released numbers on Portland home prices say it all. With prices falling 21% from their peak in July 2007, the local real estate sector has a long road ahead to recovery. But some say the key to saving the industry, both locally and beyond, is targeting the growing masses of Generation Y consumers who are already on their way to reshaping the economy.

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On The Scene: SplashCast's rise and fall

SplashCast was supposed to be the next big thing to come out of the Portland digital-media scene. Founded in 2007 and supported by over 70 individual investors, SplashCast eventually raised over $4 million in funding and went on to partner with giants like Hulu and Nike. But just a couple of years after launching, the plucky Portland startup was shut down.

What exactly went wrong with SplashCast? Tom Turnbull, the company’s vice president of business development, talked frankly about the rise and fall of SplashCast at the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network’s monthly PubTalk last week. Along with investors Angela Jackson and B. Scott Taylor, Turnbull spoke to a packed house of mingling entrepreneurs at Backspace in Portland’s Old Town, all three of them in remarkably good spirits considering their discussion of SplashCast’s failure. But the premise of the talk was the valuable lessons they learned from the company’s demise, which they shared earnestly.

Originally focused on providing tools to embed video, music and other content into online broadcast channels, SplashCast essentially went through three phases since its launch. It began with a user-generated content product aimed at bloggers and other small online publishers, which never quite took off in terms of both audience and revenue. The second stage was building branded applications within Facebook for companies like Nike and Red Bull, a model that proved to be better suited for a campaign-driven agency business, rather than a service-oriented technology business like SplashCast. The last stage was a promising partnership with Hulu to distribute their TV shows through social media (“social TV”) and build an audience around the content. But SplashCast still needed to raise money, a predicament worsened by the effects of the financial meltdown. The company ultimately was “unable to secure the necessary funding to continue operations,” chief executive Mike Berkeley said in a blog post, and SplashCast announced its closure in August 2009.

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On The Scene: The top brass of the future

When you think of what’s on the minds of most high school students these days, managing finances is probably not as high up on the list as the new car they’re dreaming of or the dress they’re buying for prom. But maybe it ought to be, since only 59% of young adults pay their bills on time, while most parents aren’t teaching their kids about saving and investing for retirement.

Which is what brought me to a business class at Gladstone High School yesterday. I was invited there by Bryan Sims, the 26-year-old CEO of brass|MEDIA Inc., a Corvallis-based media company focused on promoting financial literacy and formed by Sims when he was just 19. Yesterday was the kick-off for brass’ “Money Side of Life Tour,” launched in time for financial literacy month with Gladstone as its first stop. The tour is part of the brass|STUDENT PROGRAM – Oregon, an initiative to get free personal-finance resources (like the company’s flagship magazine) to teachers and students around the state.

The five-school tour has First Tech Credit Union as a presenting sponsor, and financial education officer Ryan McKernan was among the speakers at the Gladstone presentation. McKernan said it’s a good time to be promoting the topic among high school students, with district budgets cutting out financial-education classes as required credits. “And being a member-owned co-op, like all credit unions are, our strength is in our members,” McKernan said. “So as strong as they are, our balance sheet will reflect that as well.”

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On The Scene: Jumping on the social train

Social networking can take place on everything from YouTube to the iPhone. The amount of time consumers spent on it tripled in 2009; 56% of Americans want companies to be involved with it; and 85% of social media users are expecting companies to interact with them using it. In short, you need social networks.

“You have to have an investment,” said Eric Peterson of Web Analytics Demystified. “If you don’t get on the social train, you’ll fall behind.”

Portland’s Multnomah Athletic Club recently hosted “Social Networks & the Enterprise Unite: Integration 2.0,” a tech innovation conference held by the Oregon chapter of TechAmerica. Representatives from local tech giants like Intel, Jive Software and Tripwire were on hand to share why social networks have played such a large role in their recent successes, and how other companies can implement the same practices to meet the ever-growing demand for instant communication and transparency, within the company and with customers.

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On The Scene: Green debate gets dirty

It started out amicably enough. Between making jokes about their passion for steak and the absence of fellow candidate Chris Dudley, three gubernatorial hopefuls – Allen Alley, Bill Bradbury and John Kitzhaber – participated this week in a peaceful debate about environmental issues. But when Bradbury brought up the implications of a major campaign contribution Kitzhaber had accepted from an “egregious polluter,” Kitzhaber’s angry response quickly changed the mood.

The debate was held in front of several hundred people at Portland State University and hosted by Environment Oregon, the Oregon Environmental Council, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club’s Oregon chapter. Alley, Bradbury and Kitzhaber – or as another attendee nicknamed them to me, “the engineer,” “the college professor” and “the cowboy” – were invited to share their views on the state’s environmental issues and take stances on some of the more controversial topics. And while the Democratic candidates tended to be more or less in agreement about the importance of increasing green energy use and sustainable timber harvesting, Alley made it clear from the beginning that he had a different approach to tackling environmental issues. “I look at it from an economic perspective,” Alley said. “We’ve made trade-offs over the last 25 years between the environment and the economy. I have to focus on getting the economy going.”

Questions on transportation came up several times, with a good amount of time devoted to the merits of mass transit and alternative-energy vehicles. Transportation was brought up again when a panelist asked whether or not the candidates support the divisive, 12-lane Columbia River Crossing plan. Bradbury was adamantly opposed, which incited approving applause from the crowd. While acknowledging the huge transportation issues Oregon faces, particularly for moving freight across the Columbia River, Bradbury said he would support instead a seismic upgrade on the current bridge, the creation of a new smaller bridge for bikes and foot traffic, and the implementation of tolls to control congestion. “I think that is a very sensible future and won’t cost so much and spend all the transportation dollars that we have in this state,” Bradbury said. Kitzhaber said the project should go forward without delay, but that he doesn’t support the current plan, while Alley said he though the bridge should be bigger – before telling the visibly shocked crowd that we was joking.

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On The Scene: Fixing the transportation mess

The Sellwood Bridge is deteriorating as questions arise over whether Multnomah County or Clackamas County is responsible for its replacement. The approval of funding for the Newberg-Dundee bypass is being criticized as a political maneuver. And the fate of the Columbia River Crossing remains unknown while the debate over its size, impact and whether it should even be built keeps its progress in limbo. In other words, the Portland area’s regional transportation governance is a big, gridlocked mess.

The City Club of Portland recently released a report titled “Moving Forward: A Better Way to Govern Regional Transportation.” Several members of the research committee – Leigh Stephenson-Kuhn, Peter Livingston and Richard Ross – presented the report this week as part of the “Crossing the Columbia: What Does It Mean?” forum held by PDXplore and the Architecture Foundation of Oregon. In front of a small crowd at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, the three representatives discussed the conclusions and recommendations the City Club had come up with to solve the tricky problem of moving people at the lowest cost and in the most effective way possible.

What’s tangling up transportation progress so much? The report found several problems with the current regional governance, such as the Oregon Department of Transportation’s control of most of the region’s transportation money (which gives the power to choose and fund projects primarily to state officials). A large chunk of the problem, the report says, also lies in the fragmentation of governance, with federal, state and local government and agencies all having an influence on transportation projects in the area. With so many jurisdictions with a stake in transportation, the result is a lack of clarity on which entity should be responsible for which parts of the system. Many decisions are made on a micro level, Livingston says, when transportation is really a regional issue.

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