Built Up Festival: Continuing the conversation

The beginnings of a connected consumer products ecosystem

Earlier, I wrote a post around the idea that Oregon is the Silicon Valley of consumer products. The idea really circled around the concept for our Built Up Festival, and the reasons for launching it.

But the concept is one that I’ve looked into for years, and one that I welcome a conversation around going forwards — ideally over a great Oregon beer or coffee.

So let’s dive in a bit more.

That original post is based on a strong belief that was initiated by a mentor and informed through volunteering thousands of hours on boards, in committees and economic development discussion, access to capital strategies, and being on the Governor’s small business advisory cabinet — all that to say that the general basis for my post did not come about on a whim.

Is it a massive claim — perhaps? Will it instigate conversations — hopefully.

Let’s start on the apparel, outdoor, and footwear side of things. Much like the Bay Area has the bedrocks like Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Oregon is home to the likes of Nike, Columbia, Adidas NA, and now a large Under Armour presence. But beyond the billion dollar companies lies an incredibly diverse collection of brands like Keen, Dakine, Pendleton, Bogs, Lacrosse, Danner, Olukai, Ruffwear, Wildfang, Nutcase Helmets, Showers Pass, Airblaster, Grenade, Wicked Quick, Massif, Slingshot Sports, Kialoa Paddles, Hydroflask, Leatherman, Benchmade, Gerber, Leupold & Stevens, Metolius, Montrail, Revant, Nau, Korkers, Homeschool Outerwear, Trew, Hanna Anderson, Norm Thompson, Nautilus (Vancouver), Chris King, Hi-Tec Sports, Burley, Soloflex, Looptworks, etc.

It’s this concentration and diversity which has made Oregon a destination for companies looking to build their business, or lay down a footprint within an area that is not only talent rich, but driving innovation across a broad spectrum of products.

Under Armour had a small group of people here for years, and is now cementing its presence through the purchase of the old YMCA building in SW. In addition, Chrome bags, Smith optics, Mizuno USA, Icebreaker, Aunt Fannies, Dr. Martens, Yakima Racks, Snow Peak, Dyne, and many more have either moved here, or set up large/influential presences in the state to draw on the talent and innovation happening.

But the idea of Oregon based consumer products as a center of innovation is not isolated to apparel, outdoor, and footwear. For decades our food and beverage companies have redefined categories and ways of doing business.

If we start on the beverage side of things, it’s hard not to recognize the huge impact these companies have had not only in Oregon, but the industries as a whole.

Oregon is currently home to 230 breweries that are located in over 70 cities and towns throughout the state with an economic impact of over $4 billion and have seen an over 60% increase in the number of barrels exported overseas. It’s an industry that, even with the frenzied growth, has remained collaborative and innovative as it was back in the 80s when the McMenamin brothers, Richard and Nancy Ponzi (Columbia River Brewing), and Kurt and Rob Widmer worked to get a bill passed to allow for breweries to make and sell their product in the same place — a bill that once passed, laid the groundwork for the current brewery experience.

In addition to craft beer, there are over 700 wineries throughout the state producing some of the most world renowned varietals including Pinot Noir and creating an economic impact of over $3.5 billion. While the craft spirits industry continues to grow, up 120% since 2010, and ciders, given the access to a great variety of orchards is exploding. Earl Blumenauer also helped pass the CIDER Act, which will make the industry more profitable.

Oregon’s love for beverages extends outside of alcohol too. The fast growing kombucha market is being led by brands like Humm and Brew Dr. who are taking what was once considered a niche beverage to the shelves of Target, WalMart and Costco. And those kombucha brands have their roots in a world class tea community. The likes of Tazo and Oregon Chai led the charge and resulted in the growth of companies like Stash, Steven Smith and Townsends. And less we forget the legacy we have in coffee with the likes of Stumptown, Dutch Bros., Black Rock, Kobos, Nossa Familia, Ristretto, Coava, and the offices of Coffee Bean International.

And once we look to the food side of things, the list is even bigger — and to be honest, is worth about 10 more Medium posts. But here is a sampling.

Tillamook, Nancy’s Yogurt, Kettle Foods, Juanita’s Chips, Bob’s Red Mill, Dave’s Killer Bread, Pacific Seafood, Reser’s, Dagoba Chocolate, Franz Bakery, Blue Star Donuts, Western Family, Voodoo Donuts, Salt and Straw, Moonstruck Chocolate, Pacific Foods, Ajinomoto Frozen Foods, So Delicious, Tofurkey, Pacific Superfood Snacks, Umpqua Dairy, Bridgetown Natural Foods… and on and on.

All that to say that my original post was designed to start a conversation around not only the importance of consumer products to the state’s economy, but also as a center of innovation and industry. There is a plethora of companies that move to Oregon to start a business, or to simply have a presence in the talent rich ecosystem. They do this many times without a lot of fanfare and a vast majority of these companies are as we like to say ‘aggressively humble’ in their success. They are homegrown and hustled to make it without the support of a strong angel or investment network for them. The support, experienced talent, proximity to the outdoors, access to Asian markets, etc have enabled them to scale up without the need for a lot of hype.

But make no mistake, there have been a lot of success — from 10 Barrel to Hydroflask, and Dave’s Killer Bread to Stumptown, and Hop Valley to Nutcase Helmets. Are we minting consumer product billionaires and millionaires? Not like the Bay Area. But is that truly the measure of a regions capability or status as the leader?

I believe the measure of our ecosystem can be seen beyond the measure of valuations and fast scaling. It can be seen in the diversity of our companies and the unique community that creates projects like the Pensole Footwear Academy. It can be seen in the the immense concentration of makers and consumer companies that is bridging the gap to new retail trends by using tech and design in innovative ways, which can be traced back to the legacy of places like W+K and Ziba Design. These same folks are now looking to start accelerators that bridge manufacturing to retail and teaching product design here in PDX with an eye to an inclusive and broad approach to increasing the amount of small and advanced manufacturing companies in Oregon.

We recently turned Built Oregon into a 501(c)3 not for profit with a mission to become the conduit for a diverse and sustainable consumer products economy here in Oregon. With an entrepreneurial mindset at the Board level, our goal is to engage the full consumer products ecosystem at various levels: reaching out to early stage consumer companies and founders to connect them to the business support needed to move forwards; building out a not-for-profit accelerator a la Mass Challenge that does not take equity from the companies accepted into the program and focuses on building a solid mentor network; working with trade partners to create export opportunities; looking to connect rural companies to resources and opportunities; and increasing the awareness, access, and availability to capital options for consumer product companies.

So, not really that much, right?

But one thing that will never change is a willingness to have a conversation around the notion that Oregon is a worldwide leader in consumer products. A conversation that’s not built upon how many billionaires or millionaires the industries create (bad sense of impact in my mind). A conversation about our state’s collaborative and community-focused founders know that a rising tide truly lifts all boats.

Which reminds me, we have a ship building legacy that is awesome too… so much to discuss and celebrate.

Let the conversation begin.

If you’re interested in discussing this further, we have a great opportunity for you to do so. On May 1, 2017, you’re invited to join the cofounders of Built Oregon for a discussion about the Built Up Festival.