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Morris shepherds incubator firms

New leader takes over Beaverton Open Technology Business Center

When Steve Morris looks at the collection of small companies in Beaverton's Open Technology Business Center, he sees the future of the region's economy.

Morris, 52, was named July 10 head of the Beaverton small-business incubator that helps startup companies find their economic legs.

He thinks the best thing that could happen for Washington County, and Beaverton, is that the 11 companies in the incubator today grow too big for the center.

Maybe the next Microsoft is busy in the center trying to bust out, he said.

'I think if we can have more startups become successful, that's clearly a good thing,' Morris said. 'My hope is that if we can show some success with the Open Technology Business Center, if they can be successful and prove out a good model, then there's a potential for other accelerators in the region.'

As the state's first software-focused business incubator, the center's goal is to provide participating entrepreneurs and small start-up companies with access to industry leaders and coaching, a network of contacts and flexible office space designed to foster growth and nurture the next great wave of technology companies in Oregon.

To date, 11 companies reside in the center, including seven start-up companies, a couple small support companies and two innovators-in-residence who are working on ideas which may become marketable companies.

Beaverton's Open Technology Business Center is a kind of tiny, but important, cog in Washington County's massive high-tech industry. It's work could produce future big employers, said Rich Bader, chief executive officer of Beaverton's EasyStreet, the Internet service provider and a member of the center's board of directors.

'The cool thing about the center and the results of its efforts is that it has impact locally, nationally and globally,' Bader said.

'And in the larger picture, the center is part of the open technology cluster in Oregon. This growing group includes many of the participants in the center, as well as larger organizations such as Intel, IBM and OSDL.'

Bader said the center's businesses also make valuable contacts with venture capital firms, who are 'swirling around the center.' That in turn helps boost the businesses and the region's economy, he said.

'They introduce our local businesses to other potential clients as well, some of which are local, others in other geographies,' Bader said.

Vital to economy

Pushing small businesses into the deep end of the financial pool is a big deal in Washington County, where high-tech rules.

In its annual Cyberstates survey, the American Electronics Association reported in April that the high-tech industry is edging forward and remains strong in Oregon.

Oregon is the third-largest cyberstate in semiconductor manufacturing employment with 26,400 jobs.

It was 10th in both software publishers' employment (6,600 jobs) and computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing employment (3,600 jobs).

The report also found that Oregon's average high-tech wage is $71,200, putting it 13th in the nation in average tech sector wages.

Oregon also ranked ninth nationally in high-tech goods exports with $4.9 billion in 2005. High-tech exports last year represented 39 percent of total state exports.

'Oregon's reputation as a great place for high tech is growing,' said Bob DeKoning, chairman of the Oregon Council of AeA. 'High tech remains strong in Oregon and is a vital part of the state's economy.'

Coaching businesses

Morris is excited to play a leading role in continuing that trend on the local level.

He is the managing director of OregonStartups.com, a business accelerator that specializes in helping technology startups.

Morris has been with the center as an entrepreneur in residence since January and worked as an executive coach to several of the entrepreneurs within the center.

He has more than 25 years of management experience in the software, service and semiconductor test industries at Hewlett Packard, Cadence Design Systems, Mentor Graphics and Credence Corp.

'I look forward to shepherding the center, and the community of entrepreneurs, into the future,' Morris said. 'The atmosphere at the center is energizing and we all look forward to contributing to a growing regional economy.'