Exploring the Portland Startup Scene at NewTech PDX

By Matter

As a Massachusetts native, I’ve encountered my fair share of smart, scrappy founders working to turn their ideas into reality in a competitive ecosystem. As a transplant to the west coast and working in Matter’s Portland office, it’s easy to see there’s something different in the air here, and startups love it. To date, I haven’t been more reminded of that than I was at a recent NewTech PDX gathering. A monthly networking event, it brings together individuals from across Portland’s diverse business community to make new connections and support the professionals that power this budding startup mecca. This month’s event, hosted at New Relic, was themed after a subject near and dear to Portland’s heart: Food.

Before you start salivating, check out the video we created below that takes a closer look at the individuals and organizations that make up NewTech PDX.

Companies like Intel and Nike give Portland a reputation for top notch tech and consumer goods, but there’s no discussing the best things in Portland without mentioning its culinary culture. It’s also perhaps one of the best ways to understand what drives this city’s robust startup community. Food and drink is everywhere in Portland, from high end steakhouses to Froot Loop donuts; from molecular mixology to gourmet grilled cheese food carts. It’s a boon for diners, but even moreso for entrepreneurs looking to make a splash in food.

During this month’s NewTech PDX event, I had the chance to sample some unbelievable cuisine and to hear from a handful of companies leading the charge in foodtech. As I listened to founders passionately describing their projects, there were some standout takeaways that illustrate why Portland is such a great place for startups, delicious and otherwise.

  1. This is a haven of sustainable and intentional living. It might be the overwhelming beauty of our natural landscapes, or Oregon’s strong farming and craft culture, but the demand for transparency and responsibility in food production is pervasive. Leveraging a regional predilection for farm-to-table with tech-driven convenience, MilkRun has found a willing test audience in Portland to take their fresh, farmer-friendly take on food delivery to a national stage.
  2. Portland’s people and infrastructure are evidence of a community ready to let technology reshape daily life. From bikeshare kiosks to digitized streetcar tickets to iPad cash registers, a night (or day) on the town is unavoidably digital. YouAte, a free food journaling app available for iOS, is finding new ways for technology to help us make healthier choices and enjoy all the great food this city has to offer in a more mindful way.
  3. Portland loves a food fad, but from food carts to underground gastropubs, the people here also know that great dining experiences often come in unexpected packages. Feastly, a company that connects chefs with venues for pop-up restaurants and experimental culinary events, is providing a new platform to make this happen. It’s great for chefs looking for adventurous eaters, and vice versa. I’ve personally got my eye on Food of Guam next month, but there’s plenty of great meals to go around, regardless of your preferred tastes.
  4. I’ve been here for a year, and about half of the people I meet at a given event have been here for less time. The fact is that talented young professionals are flocking to Stumptown in droves, and they need jobs. Poached, another NewTech presenter, is changing the way restaurants hire, providing a platform that opens up a world of new opportunities for those working in the foodservice industry. With new restaurants popping up every day and torrent of professional transplants, business is booming.

While Portland’s startup culture has exploded in recent years, the city has a well established and long standing reputation as a haven for entrepreneurs. Most of us have heard, at least a dozen or so times, the story of Portland’s original deal maker, Henry Pittock, who showed up penniless in 1853 on the banks of the Willamette before becoming a self-made millionaire. In 2017, his sprawling family mansion is still a Portland landmark, and a testament to the fact that if you’ve got a crazy idea and a willingness to work hard for it, this is a great place to be. If only he’d also predicted Portland’s inexplicable obsession with donuts, his house might have been even bigger…