Green Week: Rick Turoczy and Stephen Green on Growing Silicon Forest

Stephen Green interviews Rick Turoczy

Kicking off Green Week at Pregame HQ, Stephen Green interviewed Rick Turoczy, a founder of PIE PDX, the tech accelerator embedded at the headquarters of global creative agency Wieden+Kennedy.

Rick’s recent work has moved away from physical educational space and into its own incubation. Currently acting as advisors to other accelerators, those in the idea stage can delve into the PIE Cookbook, an open source guide designed to help anyone, anywhere build the startup accelerator of their dreams.

Right out of the gate, Rick addressed the elephant in the room: in the whitest city in America and in an industry known for being a bastion of young white bros, there is plenty of innovation coming from all populations.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” said Rick. “But I’m hopeful that these conversations will create positive change.”

Stephen, as the founder of #PitchBlack, highlighted the experience of founders from black, Latino, and other communities of color. His work has included encouraging trust and collaboration across lines, especially when it comes to funding.

“We do an incredibly good job of siloing ourselves,” said Rick. “We will never grow this community effectively if we stay in silos.”

Another issue in the startup scene is that Portlanders are not self-promotional by default. Thus, their stories are not getting told on the same level as other places and even success stories aren’t in the primary tech scene spotlight.

Rick and Stephen were both up front about the myth of overnight success. Businesses don’t happen overnight, even when the perception is that startups become unicorns in a matter of months. Stephen’s success formula? “Hard work, grinding, and a little bit of luck.”

“Uber-ization doesn’t hold the cache it once did,” said Rick, advocating for evolving wisdom in regard to startup models. “Portland is small enough and smart enough to figure this out.”

On company culture, Stephen noted that culture starts on day one and inevitably reflects the founders, and that diversity is a strong business strategy for profit.

Perhaps controversially, Rick mused whether Portland is fertile soil to grow big businesses. In local tech, a “big” company is around 500 employees. Nike and Intel (and their respective offshoots) aside, Portland may lack critical components for scaling to the size of tech giants like Google or Amazon.

Rick highlighted social factors as a major reason for the Portland business landscape: people move to Oregon for lifestyle and fulfillment reasons, not to work 20 hours a day. Stephen pointed out that top-level executives may be firmly embedded in the Bay Area and Seattle, and thus difficult to recruit to Portland. One attendee noted the lack of a major engineering school in the area.

“If you like Portland, don’t start a company here because you will never be here,” Rick joked, referring to the need to travel to bigger cities to grow the business.

Portland-based businesses do have an advantage: the culture supports businesses that support lifestyle. Rick encourages new tech companies to explore building businesses with these values, rather than burning through funding rounds.

Does Silicon Forest have the venture capital to support scaling a startup? The question itself may be suspect; Portland is the #3 city in crowdfunding and home to unrivaled DIY spirit, so channeling that creative approach to funding may hold your solution.

Grow Your Startup Strategy

  • What problem are you solving? Clarify the real customer problem that your product or service addresses.
  • Understand the difference between working on your business vs working in your business.
  • Be conscious of culture from the beginning.
  • Identify the benefits of your community. Instead of stressing about what’s missing, find the game-changers you gain from the culture surrounding your business.

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