Gert Boyle did it in ’94.
Phil Knight in ’96.
Al Reser, too.
More recently, entrepreneurial standouts Jason Bolt, Kim & Tyler Malek, Monica Enand, and Tyrone Poole have all done it.
These resilient founders have received awards for entrepreneurship from the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN). So have many others.
Since 1994, OEN has held an annual awards event to celebrate outstanding entrepreneurial achievement and to recognize the positive impacts local startups have on the region’s economy.
New to the startup community? Here is a brief guide to the Portland startup scene by Inc. Magazine. It was published one month before I started at OEN and as a newbie, I appreciated the high-level breakdown. 💡
OEN has spent almost 30 years providing education, access to capital, and recognition to entrepreneurs in Oregon. I was amazed to learn how OEN was early to recognize brands that later became household names. And how much OEN has done to support game-changing innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the state. They even had an outpost in my hometown of The Dalles at one point.
Now, Amanda Oborne, OEN’s new Executive Director, is leading OEN through its most tumultuous chapter yet.
“In mid-January, it became clear that OEN did not have sufficient funds to cover operations in 2020,” she said in an interview with the Portland Business Journal. Three full-time OEN employees, including myself, have re-entered the job market as a result of the reduction in force while the organization regroups. Read Amanda’s announcement here.
The work that nonprofits like OEN do is important because entrepreneurship is important, especially for Oregon.
Why is entrepreneurship important for Oregon?
Entrepreneurship is important for Oregon because our vibrant community of startups and small businesses generates a ton of jobs, reduces unemployment, creates social change, spurs innovation, and strengthens the economy. In fact, the Oregon Small Business Administration reports that small businesses employ the majority (55%) of the private workforce in Oregon.
Can you guess how many Fortune 500 companies have headquarters in Oregon?
Two. Nike and Precision Castparts.
Fortune 500s are more likely to move to Seattle, San Francisco, or Chicago. As a result, Oregon depends on a thriving network of startups and small businesses for most of its job growth.
While Portland has made waves as a top startup city, it seems more work is needed to ensure entrepreneurship continues to thrive here and across the state. In a conversation with a seasoned tech founder, I learned how some startups skip Oregon and move to Austin or elsewhere, and that Oregon needs to attract more talent from outside the state. Otherwise, capital and talent will flow out of Oregon and into other markets.
The good news is there are some amazing companies doing great things right here in the Beaver State—companies like WildFang, BurnCycle, Revant Optics, Salt & Straw, Breedlove Guitars, Dave’s Killer Bread, Tender Loving Empire, Xplane, Blue Star Donuts, CD Baby, and more.
The startup world is complex and while founders, venture capitalists, and officials offer a wide range of opinions about the strength of Oregon’s ecosystem, it’s clear that a strong support system for entrepreneurs is an important part of a healthy local economy.
Now, you may be asking yourself…
How can I help entrepreneurs thrive in Oregon?
There are many ways to help (and new ways are emerging all the time). Here is a short list of easy things we can do today.
Support House Bill 4033
Here’s the number one thing we can do right now. Join Oregonians in supporting HB4033. This bill would improve access to capital for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Read the stories that inspired HB4033 here. Then, send a letter of support using this template created by Business for a Better Portland. I did and it only takes 60 seconds. I also made my first phone call to a senator—to the office of Senator Betsy Johnson—and learned that HB4033 has been referred to the Joint Ways and Means Committee (they determine state budget policy). But it hasn’t been assigned to a subcommittee yet so there is still work to be done.
Donate and/or volunteer
Nonprofits like OEN, Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs (OAME), Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO), Craft3, and others across Oregon rely in part on donations to continue operating. Donate. Volunteer. Tell your entrepreneur friends about these organizations. Join these nonprofits in supporting local startups.
Attend an event
Simply search Google for a list of startup events in Oregon. And here is a popular list of tech events on Calagator but there are non-tech events listed there, too. OEN PubTalks are one of the top monthly networking events in the state and they plan to run them all year, so keep an eye on the OEN calendar. Buy tickets to these events and bring a friend. There are worthwhile events happening all the time!
Be a mentor
Been there, done that? Plug into existing networks and offer to mentor local entrepreneurs. A good place to start is the MercyCorps MicroMentor Program.
When you run across local businesses, buy their stuff! Better yet, seek them out at places like My People’s Market, Portland Mercado, Eat Oregon Now, SnackFest, and other events that feature local and diverse entrepreneurs from around the state. Grocery shopping? The next time you go, try swapping out your usual brand for a local one (they taste better, anyway). Skip the Heinz and try Red Duck. Skip the GTS and buy Humm Kombucha. Skip the Almond Breeze and try nut milk from Hazel People.
If you want to engage a bit more with the community, bookmark the Silicon Florist blog and sign up for the newsletter. Here’s a neat way to ask for what you need and offer what you have to local startups.
OEN is a beloved nonprofit with a long history of lifting up entrepreneurs. With our support, it, and entrepreneurial support organizations like it, will continue to celebrate outstanding entrepreneurial achievement for years to come.
Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash