Two years ago we put out a hypothesis that Oregon is the Silicon Valley of consumer products, a vital center of entrepreneurship and innovation, and launched the Built Up Festival to further support that hypothesis.
One year ago we wrote about Accelerating Oregon’s Consumer Product Ecosystem from the Ground Up.
All of these efforts were built around that initial thesis — Oregon can “become the focal point for consumer products in the United States. A meeting place where innovative, emerging, and established companies mingle with capital players and buyers — both domestic and foreign. A place where the light will shine brightly upon Oregon, be it for company awareness or economic development perspective or competitive advantage.”
But as with any thesis statement, you have to put in the work to determine if there is validity to it.
So over the past two years, we’ve organized two festivals around consumer products that have engaged nearly 2,000 people, met with hundreds of founders of companies and industry leaders to get a sense of the real opportunities and challenges, engaged and listened to people around the state who are working with product companies, worked to connect founders to resources to build their businesses, worked on access to capital issues, and collaborated on a program to get entrepreneurs of color onto retail shelves so we can learn about the specific challenges and barriers they face so that we can more effectively support them.
From what we’ve learned, the opportunity to make Oregon the hub of consumer products can now move beyond hypothesis to be Built Oregon’s driving thesis. But in order to put that thesis into practice, we will need an end goal. A horizon we can point towards. We believe this will ultimately help align the focus and energy around collaborations, connections, awareness, and outcomes.
So two years in, Built Oregon is ready to take up the mantle on making Oregon the place for consumer products, and that begins with the launch of the Built Consumer Product Accelerator. (Info and Application at that link).
We see this accelerator as being a focal point upon which we can:
- Support some of the most innovative and promising consumer product companies in the state via a mentor led accelerator program that takes no equity and costs nothing to participate in.
- Create a connected and collaborative brand around Oregon consumer product companies; one that amplifies our unique competitive advantage and community.
- Work to connect the state’s resources around a shared vision.
- Build bridges to, and awareness around, founders from historically underrepresented communities.
- Be a conduit to connect the entire consumer product entrepreneurial stack — from established companies to emerging ones — through mentoring, events, and collaborative opportunities.
- Help to make Oregon a leader when it comes to consumer trends and also the challenges associated with the ever changing aspects like shrinking margins, evolving sales channels, and supply chain/distribution.
- Develop unique capital platforms and processes that are specific to consumer product companies.
- Connect the incredible knowledge base through industry peer to peer programs.
So this all sounds good, right? But the question remain around how we execute such a vision. Well, luckily, we have a couple of roadmaps to lead us towards this end goal.
The first is PIE, with whom we will be collaborating on the accelerator program. Over the past 10 years, this ever evolving experiment has created a huge impact in the Portland entrepreneurial ecosystem. By creating a hub around an accelerator program, the organization continues to be a catalyst for awareness, support, mentorship, and an inclusive approach to investing time and resources into early stage companies.
The second is the Boulder Thesis, which is the outline Brad Feld brought to life in his book, Startup Communities. This is based around four core principles that are needed to create a vibrant and sustainable ecosystem:
- Entrepreneurs are the leaders.
- There must be an unwavering philosophy of inclusiveness.
- Events and outreach must engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.
- The leaders must have a long term view.
Entrepreneurs as Leaders
It’s damn hard work to build a company (or not for profit). It is vitally important that, as we evolve Built, we never forget this tenet. Every program must be based on listening to the challenges and opportunities of the founders from around Oregon. Universities, government entities, service providers, not for profits, and foundations all play integral roles within the ecosystem and we look forward to collaborating with them. But they cannot be the leaders.
We see this accelerator program as a way to connect and support new entrepreneurial leaders around a known entity, while also engaging current consumer product leaders as mentors and voices for change. Because those voices have already told us what we do cannot be based on what might get grant funding or might be the easier route to take.
They have told us about the huge access to capital gaps for consumer product companies in the state, and how invaluable early stage debt financing with mentorship would be.
They have told us that we cannot ignore the changing grocery distribution, downward pressure on margins, and constantly changing online sales channels that are having (or will have) drastic implications on the viability and profitability of product companies.
The voices of founders have been our guiding light since Built’s inception. Everything we do around the Built Accelerator will be based on getting more entrepreneurs engaged as leaders within their communities. Because they are the ones that will challenge the status quo and drive innovation and job growth.
Philosophy of Inclusiveness
One of the things we’ve held as a core Built tenet from the outset is that we must engage, encourage, and support anyone and everyone who wants to participate in the consumer product ecosystem. When someone new moves to town, let’s welcome them with open arms. If someone has success, exits, or moves away, then let’s continue to support and celebrate with them. We can’t achieve our goals in industry or regional silos, or by focusing solely on “high growth” consumer product companies to the detriment of those launching new endeavors upstream.
After spending time talking to founders around Oregon, we are acutely aware that amazing companies exist outside of the Portland metro area. That any vision to make this state a hub will never be focused solely on companies within Portland. Our accelerator is open to companies from any part of Oregon. Furthermore, we are committed to bringing in companies from our Bridges program, as well. Because we refuse to move forward with any vision if it does not support people of color, female, and rural companies in the same way as every other company. Full stop.
Making Oregon the hub of consumer products will never be a zero sum game for us. That is why we have always looked to collaborate with amazing folks like PIE, Bend Outdoor Worx , Lane County Food & Beverage Industry Cluster , Hacienda CDC/Portland Mercado, APANO, Soul District/BICEP, and NAYA PDX on initiatives. Each and every one of them works with entrepreneurs within their communities on a daily basis. At the end of the day, we want to help product companies throughout Oregon, but if we look to do so through a Built only lens, we will fail.
Engage the Entire Entrepreneurial Stack
At their essence, startup communities are messy networks of people connecting and supporting each other. The hierarchal and top down approach often sounds good in speeches and news stories, but fails to create sustainable impact in those networks.
Oregon’s consumer product entrepreneurial stack includes some of the largest and most influential consumer product companies coupled with a rich and diverse array of growing and emerging companies. In addition, there is an abundance of support resources and supportive local retail entities in the network. But what we have realized is that these networks are, well, indeed messy, chaotic, and in silos.
We see the Built Accelerator as a place where we can start to align and create the network that supports every step of the journey. This means working to engage legacy brands around the state into the networks. Creating meaningful events and programs that connect the nodes within the network including leadership and employees within growing companies.
Long Term Commitment
As Brad Feld states (and is super important to remember), we “have to make a long-term commitment to their startup community. [He likes] to say this has to be at least 20 years from today to reinforce that this has to be meaningful in length.” And we need to think of every day as the first day of the next 20 years.
Making Oregon the hub for consumer product innovation and entrepreneurship will mean tackling some big and complex issues and thus, we can’t look to short term strategies or quick fixes if we want to accomplish our goal. The accelerator will not make Oregon the hub. But we stated earlier, we want to assume the mantle for making it happen. And what could some end goal look like?
- Grow/Support/Recruit — 5 — $20M+ Companies
- Which means we will need to Grow/Support/Recruit — 30 — $10M Companies
- Which means we will need to Grow/Support/Recruit — 200 — $5M Companies
- Which means we will need to Grow/Support/Recruit — 500 — $1M Companies
- Which means we will need to Grow/Support/Recruit — 1000 — $500K Companies
Do we have a timeline to hit that goal? No. Because we know you can’t build a robust and sustainable ecosystem overnight. We know that building a product company takes time. It will take time to address and change the access to capital gaps, and a mindset that organizing angels is the only answer. It will take time for these companies to grow their sales channels in an ever shifting retail environment. It will take time to truly engage the entire entrepreneurial stack within Oregon.
It will take time.
But we know that Oregon, together, can make this happen and when it does, the economic development ripples will be seen across the state and in the communities all of us reside.
Interested in participating in the Accelerator? Apply here.