WTF is wrong with the Portland startup community? – Silicon Florist

I receive a question, systematically. The same question I get asked – over and over again – exponentially more than any other question. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone who was born and raised in Portland or if it’s someone who just moved here. It doesn’t matter if they’re super well connected or don’t know anyone. It doesn’t matter if they are employed in a big company or start their own business. And this is one of those questions that seems to confuse pretty much anyone interested in entrepreneurship or startups here. And this question stuck in incessant repetition is the following: How can I connect with others in the Portland startup community…?

Honestly, I get this question so much that I sometimes wonder why I even call it a “community”. Sometimes it seems to be more of a loosely amalgamated group of individuals bumping into discrete silos – or even worse, on their own – who happen to share a particular geographic region in common. Like an office building full of people at different companies who vaguely recognize each other from the elevator but never talk and never collaborate and never connect. Which, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t have the real connectivity to make the community a real community.

And it’s frustrating. Because I know all of these organizations, event organizers, mentors, investors, and individuals who are all doing their part to connect people to the local startup community and other resources and each other. People who give their time to make the community a more accessible and collaborative place. The people who get paid to create the programs and infrastructure needed to support founders and startups. And a plethora of people who are always ready to hop on a Zoom call or grab coffee with anyone who asks. All of this as part of an effort to ensure that startuppers or curious start-ups can access the support and resources they need.

And I know that those individuals who ask me this one question have managed to find their way to me. That they have at least found a foothold or an access point in the proverbial community. That they at least figured that out – probably with a lot more effort than necessary. And in a more devious and inefficient way than necessary.

But I also know – even with this connection point – that I can’t provide everything they need. Often I can’t even provide a semblance of what they need. As much as I want. I need all these other organizations and people and all the value they bring. I need a safety net for people who found me. Rather than a long list of other organizations and people they need, start working to hunt them down.

Because for a community to really work, it takes collaboration. Not a semblance of collaboration. Not to mention collaboration. Collaboration. Strong cooperation. And the commitment to this collaboration.

But above all, something is needed to align and aggregate these collaborators. You need a front door. Or a campfire. Or a hub. Or another platitudinal analogy that talks about being the first stop that anyone, anywhere recognizes as the starting point of their journey. And that everyone in town knows about, promotes and shares.

But despite all our talk of collaboration, connection and collegiality, that just doesn’t exist for Portland. I could write a dissertation on why I think this is the case, but that’s not really the point. (And if you want to know even more how frustrating it is, take some time with Stephen Green.)

Instead, people enter — or struggle to enter the community — through a variety of side doors or random connections or disorganized brawls. Sometimes they do. More often than not, they are frustrated. Or they give up completely.

And I don’t blame them. At all. It’s an inefficient and frustrating quagmire. And it’s a study to make something much more difficult than necessary. Worse still, it’s not conducive to the community. At least. It’s corrosive.

That’s why I’ve been somewhat encouraged by some recent efforts at the state level to begin to address some of these issues. Fund collaboration and infrastructure to make “connecting” less of a chore. And to ensure that organizations and individuals have easy access to the support they need.

You know, like having a community. Who knows, one day we might even panting have a “startup ecosystem”. But I’d settle for the community at this point.

Yes, we have been here before. Probably several times. But you know me, crazy optimist. It is only in its infancy. And there is still a long, long way to go. But it’s a start. And your contribution is essential. So I would like to ask for your help.

I know we are all tired of polls. I understand that you have been asked these same questions over and over again. And I think I managed to make it clear that I share your frustration. (Otherwise I can rant much longer.) But if it’s okay with you, I’d love to hear from you one more time. Or the first time. Or the last time. Hoping that this time we actually do something with your comments.

If you have a few minutes — maybe this weekend — I implore you to share your thoughts on what’s going well with the Portland startup community and, more importantly, what’s wrong and needs fixing. And ask your peers – or your limited connections to the community – to do the same. Because I want you to have access to the community you need. And a bunch of other people too.

Or not. And we can just continue to grope around in the frustrating status quo for generations to come.

Please and thank you.

[Full disclosure: PIE is part of a working group that is focused on creating an “innovation hub” for the Portland metro area. I am the cofounder and general manager of PIE.]