The East Metro Economic Alliance devoted its May membership meeting Thursday afternoon, May 11, to small businesses by inviting speaker Stephen Green, described as "Mr. Portland" and "Mr. Small Business," to talk with the assembled group of local leaders.
Green discussed how to thrive as a small business in today's ecosystem while touching on other topics, including how the government can support entrepreneurs and ways to grow opportunities for business owners of color.
"I am excited about what is happening out here in East County," Green said. "Portland has a lot it could learn."
Green works as a community manager for Townsquared, a startup that seeks to connect businesses with the knowledge they need to succeed, and engages with blossoming African American Portland entrepreneurs in the annual competition "Pitch Black."
He has 17 years in banking and finance, and was appointed by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to head up a $258.4 million Affordable Housing Bond.
He is also co-owner of the Oregon Public House, a nonprofit pub.
"I realized the passion I have for helping small businesses and that I enjoy helping people achieve their dreams," Green said.
According to Green, common barriers entrepreneurs face include age and education. Most venture capitalists are willing to take more risks on the highly-educated, Green said, regardless of the value of the idea. The flip side is those without the safety net of a degree must put more thought and effort into their ideas before diving in. They are slower to begin, but have a stronger final product.
There are ways for cities to help entrepreneurs succeed. One important aspect is to work with urgency, as "looking into something" for three months doesn't help small businesses that are trying to find their footing.
The public sector can help navigate available resources, and have empathy while dealing with people.
A lot of the answers come from finding those who have already succeeded in respective fields and using them as sounding boards. For example, rather than going in blind as a new coffee shop, find an existing one and ask what they wish they had known when first starting their business.
"Being an entrepreneur can be an isolating existence, so being able to feed off like-minded people is important," Green said.
Sometimes this can be difficult for minority business owners in the region. Even though the number of black and Latino startups have doubled in the past few years across the Portland area, with 4,000 black businesses operating across the region, it can be difficult for them to link up.
That is one of the reasons Green began "Pitch Black," an annual event where African American entrepreneurs pitch ideas to compete for funding. It also allows the minority business community to come together.
Entrepreneurs also struggle with a lack of perspective.
"Far too often I see people start a push cart, that becomes a very successful push cart, and it ends there," he said. "Entrepreneurs are only looking at how to survive to the next day."
The way businesses can thrive is by identifying the aspect they excel at and then fostering community support. Instead of doing outreach, Green stresses the importance of building relationships with your neighbors.
"The two truths I've learned are people always wish they had started earlier, and that having balance in life is important," he said.