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Portland Incubator Experiment: Evolving With Its Startups

From a coworking space to an accelerator, PIE, or Portland Incubator Experiment, is focused on creating successful startups in Portland, Oregon. PIE is constantly changing its own methods to better fit the local startups’ needs and has transitioned from a coworking space to an accelerator.

PIE continues to focus on helping startups bring their innovative ideas to life. Rick Turoczy, PIE’s general manager, discussed with 1776 where PIE has seen success and why its evolution is beneficial to the startup ecosystem.

Why did PIE get started?

PIE began as a collaborative experiment between the Portland startup community and Wieden+Kennedy, the largest privately held creative firm in the world and creators of such iconic campaigns as Nike’s “Just do it,” the Old Spice guy, and the new Colonel Sanders.

W+K believed that founders were just another flavor of creative and the Portland startup community believed that we could use a collaborative environment to “build better founders.”

It started, quite simply, as a coworking space for a handful of people from the Portland tech and startup community. Not all were tech startup founders. Some were just solitary outposts for companies like Twitter or Kickstarter. Others were building small consultancies. A handful of folks were building tech companies.

There were bloggers. And early stage founders. There were community builders. There were telecommuters. There were product companies. And service companies. But they were all doing something. Not just talking. Doing.

Portland Incubator Experiment at the Armory (Photo: Aaron Hockley)

Portland Incubator Experiment at the Armory (Photo: Aaron Hockley)

After roughly a year of observing the community, interacting with the PIE startups, observing their hardships, understanding their needs, and recognizing their opportunities, we stepped back and reassessed what we had accomplished. Or, in our minds, what we had completely failed to accomplish.

And so, with the blessing and backing of W+K, PIE transitioned from coworking space to accelerator, as a means of taking a more active role in the growth and development of these promising companies.

What has been the biggest challenge about starting or running PIE and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge with PIE has been remaining true to the “experiment” in our name. We’ve been through any number of instances where we tear down and rebuild PIE from scratch. And each time we’re successful, it gets more and more difficult to do that.

We could easily resort to a “cookie cutter” model, where we replicated our success. But we’re more driven to keep exploring. To try new things. And to make new mistakes. This is an experiment, after all. And to truly be successful, we need to keep experimenting. Rather than simply running with what works.

Portland Incubator Experiment's Demo Day 2014 in the Gerding Theater at the Armory (Photo: Aaron Hockley)

Portland Incubator Experiment’s Demo Day 2014 in the Gerding Theater at the Armory (Photo: Aaron Hockley)

What is it about PIE’s startups stand out most to VC investors or partners?

PIE has been lucky enough to have a number of successful Portland startups among our alumni. And we’re lucky to have the vast majority of Portland startups as part of mentor pool, both successful and failed.

Because honestly, the failed startups often have more valuable lessons than the successful ones.

We’re lucky to have become a trusted partner — a filter — for local investors and partners, helping to identify promising founders and startups, and providing a platform that enables the entire community to engage with our startups in ways that make the best use of everyone’s time.

Applications for Challenge Cup Portland close June 9. Startups can apply through UNION here.