Entrepreneurs see city as new Silicon Valley for startups

Portland is known for many things around the country. Thanks to the satirical “Portlandia” TV series, some think of it as the city where young people go to retire. It also is known for its land-use planning policies, outdoor recreational opportunities, craft beer and local food scene.

Now a growing cadre of computer-oriented entrepreneurs are trying to nickname the city “Tech Town.” They want Portland to replace Silicon Valley in California as the center of innovative software development and Internet services.

“Portland is becoming Tech Town. It’s going to be that way,” says Chris Denzin, vice president and general manager of CenturyLink for the Portland market.

Denzin made the comment as part of a panel discussing cloud-based Internet services at the Portland Business Alliance’s monthly Forum Breakfast on Wednesday, Sept. 18. Denzin was praising the push by a growing number of local, small high-tech businesses to brand the region as the next center for creative technological research and development. He noted that several companies already have achieved success, including Jive, Elemental and Urban Airship.

Fellow panelist Ryan Schlunz, the chief information officer for the Stoel Rives law firm, agreed. Schulz says Portland-based computer companies used to have to move to California cities like San Francisco to succeed.

“Now San Francisco companies are moving to Portland,” Schlunz told the members of the business organization at the downtown Governor Hotel.

The final panelist could serve as the poster child for Tech Town. He was Lucas Carlson, a programmer who went to Reed College before starting his first company, AppFog. Carlson said he originally had to move to California to find work, but was able to return to Portland when he secured $10 million in investor financing for his first company, AppFog. He recently sold the company, which reduces programming time, to CenturyLink.

“People want to live and work in Portland because of the quality of life. Now more and more, they can,” Carlson said.

According to Carlson, several factors are still holding back small high-tech businesses in Portland. They include the difficulty of raising venture capital locally. He obtained most of his company’s financing from Seattle investors.

“Portland’s ecosystem for venture financing is a big challenge, for sure,” Carlson said.

But Denzin noted that public agencies and nonprofit organizations are beginning to fill the gap for small start-ups. He said they include the Oregon Department of Economic Development, the Portland Development Commission, and the public-private partnership Greater Portland, Inc.

Denzin, Schlunz and Carlson all said the growth of cloud-based Internet services is creating opportunities for Portland entrepreneurs. The emerging technology allows businesses to contract out the most expensive and complex parts of the Internet operations, including on-site servers and Information Technology employees who must maintain them and constantly update their security systems. Those functions are now being performed for lower costs at a growing number of data centers, including those in Portland and Hillsboro.

“Businesses are beginning to realize they don’t want to operate their own in-house data centers,” Schlunz said.

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