Accelerating Oregon’s consumer product ecosystem

And so, the inaugural Built Up Festival is in the books… (Well, it was in the books as of a couple weeks back. But in all honesty, we’ve been playing a bit of catch up since then.)

… which begs the question “What now?”

Now, it’s time to get to work.

At the beginning of 2017, Built Oregon transitioned to a 501c3 not-for-profit organization driven by a mission to connect, support, and accelerate the consumer product industries, founders, and communities in Oregon. Our underlying goal? To establish Oregon as the undisputed world leader in consumer product innovation, collaboration, and community.

From food and beverage to apparel and footwear, our state serves as a beacon for new ideas and product development. To support that, we strongly believe that creating a hub to facilitate collaboration among organizations and leaders throughout our state — and engage industry leaders around the world—will ensure that Oregon continues to disrupt consumer products from the bottom up.

Why start at the “bottom”? Because the bottom is where the magic happens. It’s where you find the founders who are grinding every single day to perfect that next batch of coffee or to design that industry leading jacket. It’s where passion, curiosity, and tenacity outweigh practicality. It’s where Oregon companies engage, flourish, and thrive.

Oregon is home to companies that are at the pinnacle of their respective industries, but what makes our state unique is the incredible amount of companies that form the wide base of that ecosystem. It’s a base of companies and founders that is diverse and inclusive, and one that spans all of Oregon’s rural and urban areas.

As an organization, Built Oregon has always approached challenges with the perspective of an entrepreneur — often with a healthy does of naïveté in a “leap before you look” fashion. Fact of the matter is that we would rather do something than spend a lot of time, energy, and conversation on the finer details. We’re much more comfortable going out on a limb to do something new and then evolving and iterating as needed—or ceasing and desisting, as warranted. And we’re driven to lead by example, rather than talk about what could, should, or needs to be done.

We much prefer taking risks—like launching events like the Built Up Festival—and then building upon the generated momentum. We’d prefer to start programs—like “The 50"—that immediately put products made by local people of color onto store shelves throughout the state. And then figure out how to scale it.

That’s what building efforts from the bottom up is about. But it’s also about listening to the needs of the community. And building on collaborative efforts that focus first and foremost on making positive changes.

It’s more about moving the needle for Oregon founders. And less about who gets credit for those efforts.

In the spirit of transparency, we would like to share thoughts on our next effort of leaping before we look, with a brief outline of what Built Oregon is looking to build and launch. Are the finer details and exact measurements of success established? Nope. But what we’ve learned over time is that the end results don’t matter if the initial concepts fail to even get going.

With that in mind…

Making Oregon home to the nation’s first nonprofit consumer product accelerator

Accelerators have played a critical role in connecting and moving industry sectors forward, largely in the realm of technology businesses. They act as community hubs around which founders, mentors, capital networks, and awareness gravitate.

Built Oregon’s goal is to use this model to accelerate consumer products in Oregon.

The Built Oregon accelerator will be a place where we will look to work with a select group of companies ready to grow and scale, connecting them to the mentors and resources in a focused approach. It will be a program developed on the foundation of learnings from nearly a decade of experimentation, successes, and failures from our own homegrown—and globally renowned—accelerator, PIE (Portland Incubator Experiment). It will be a program designed to drive smart growth, focusing on creating sustainable businesses that have a broad based economic impact in Oregon.

But Built Oregon is driven to do more than adopt existing models. We’re seeking to transform and improve current frameworks to ensure that they best support our unique community of founders.

Unlike many accelerators, therefore, Built Oregon will take no equity ownership in any of the companies that participate in our program. Because we believe that an accelerator should be focused on giving and not taking. Furthermore, we believe that established and sustainable entities should collaborate to help shoulder the burden of raising and supporting the next generation of companies. Because that’s how Oregon collaborates. And that’s how we all win.

We understand, intimately, that building community means being accessible to more than simply those companies and people who are “accepted” into the program. We want the accelerator to serve as the center of gravity for a wide range of connections, support, and community.

We believe that we can help accelerate companies that go through the program — and the entire community. The accelerator will serve as the front door, a hub for Oregon’s consumer product community, one that firmly believes that collaboration beats competition. Every. Single. Day.

And while the Built Oregon accelerator concept is still in its formative stages, we understand that any effort in this regard must be driven by the following tenets surrounding Transparency, Inclusivity, Social Capital, Support, Collaboration, Funding, and Market Opportunity:

  • Transparency — As an organization, we want to be an open book to the community we serve. But beyond that, we want to work to instill those same beliefs in the companies within the ecosystem, companies that hire employees and work to create opportunities for professional and financial growth by inviting employees to be partners in the success of the business. We understand the burdens of starting businesses and recognize that paying lower wages at the beginning can be a necessary evil. But we recognize that the end goal of Oregon’s consumer companies should be to scale with employee empowerment in mind and to be be honest and transparent even with the hardest truths.
  • Inclusivity— Founders of consumer product companies span the entire state and represent every demographic. And while a diverse group of founders have achieved success, others face challenges based on their lack of a connection to the social capital that will give them an equal chance to succeed. We collaborate with an amazing network of organizations who are engaging communities throughout the state to help founders and companies gain better visibility and connectivity. We look forward to meeting these communities where they are and helping to connect likeminded pursuits throughout the state.
  • Social Capital — We are aware that all forms of capital are important in the creation and growth of a company. But in order to accelerate Oregon’s consumer products ecosystem, we are putting a heavy emphasis on social capital along with altruistic engagement, where reciprocity helps build trust and a stronger network. We believe that paying it forward is how we grow these industries, communities, and economies. We know it’s time we work to build the social capital within underserved communities, both urban and rural, by refusing to strengthen social capital networks that are not inclusive.
  • Support — Starting and scaling a company puts a tremendous burden on those who choose that path. The accelerator will be a place where mentors who have been through all the trials and tribulations can support the next generation of Oregon consumer product pioneers. Oregon has a deep network of successful and knowledgeable industry leaders, but their knowledge is many times constrained within unfortunate silos. It is our job to ensure that those connections are made and that support is available.
  • Collaboration — We have an amazing network of organizations and people around Oregon already out there working with consumer product companies and founders. We are not looking to duplicate efforts, but rather be that connection point that is able to pinpoint possible collaborative opportunities and work to reduce inefficiencies.
  • Funding — The capital requirements of product companies can vary drastically — debt, factoring, equity, among others— depending on what is being built and the company’s stage of development. Connecting to the right resources is one key element being built into the accelerator.
  • Market Opportunity — Working with partners, both private and public, we’ll look to help streamline export opportunities for product companies in Oregon. This will require us to meet with and listen to the folks who have expertise in these areas, and then figuring out ways to collaborate in order to better facilitate not only market opportunities, but also how to get a broader mix of companies into the export pipeline.

This is just the beginning. We’re looking forward to sharing more about our accelerator concept in the coming months. If you have questions or ideas in the interim, please feel free to reach out to us.

Will any of this stuff be easy? Absolutely not. But nothing worth doing ever is. Whatever the case, we’d love to have you join us.

Mitch Daugherty is the cofounder and board chair of Built Oregon, a 501c3 not-for-profit focused on a mission to mission is to connect, amplify, and accelerate Oregon’s consumer product companies and ecosystem. For more information, visit Built Oregon.