August 15th, 2014 | by SAMI EDGE News | Posted In: Business, Tech, State Government, PDX News

At TechFestNW, Startup Founders Charlie Brown and Sam Blackman Talk About "Selling the City Without Selling Out"

imag1495Willamette Week's Aaron Mesh leads question and answer session with Context Partner's Charlie Brown and Sam Blackman of Elemental Technologies at Tech Fest NW

Portland's new wave of businessmen are ready to take on the challenge of "keeping Portland weird."

That was the message at a Friday TechFestNW panel featuring Charlie Brown of Context Partners and Sam Blackman of Elemental Technologies.


“Portland is offering us an incredibly unique opportunity to take the torch from the Knights and the Wiedens and maintain Portland as our competitive advantage,” Brown told an audience gathered in the OMSI Imax theater.  


Blackman’s company, Elemental Technologies, creates software that adapts video from cable transmission for mobile viewing. Forbes ranks the company as its 23rd most promising company, and Blackman says the firm has brought in about $120 million in cumulative revenue and capital raised in its national and international market.


Blackman estimates that there are about 1 billion mobile devices that can use the technology his company offers, and he estimates there will be 15 billion to 20 billion in the next five years.


As the demand for technology increases and reinvents the industrial landscape, Blackman says, it’s on up-and-coming entrepreneurs who will build the large-scale corporations that boost employment and support the social infrastructure of the area.  


“We haven’t built companies the way we have in the past," Blackman says referring especially to Beaverton-based Tektronix. "We have a responsibility to do it again.”


Brown’s Context Partners is a "community centered" design firm that helps companies network within their business spheres. The Portland-based company has sites in Washington, D.C., and Brussels. When Brown, the company's CEO, told friends in Virginia that he was moving business headquarters to Portland they called him crazy.


But he says it’s the food carts, the entrepreneurs, the artists, musicians and chefs that make his business thrive. Brown told the Portland Business Journal in March that revenue is up 75 percent from when he started the company four years ago, and he expects a 15 percent increase over 2014.


“There’s a community in Portland that welcomes the different and the creative with open arms,” Brown says. ”(It was) Portland’s diversity of skills and talents that made all of the difference.”


Elemental started to recruit from an out-of-state talent pool to keep pace with business demands, and the company uses Portland’s culture to sell itself to prospective employees. There's no parking provided at its downtown offices; the company's 190 employees are encouraged to walk, ride bikes or take the bus to work, Blackman says.


Blackman and Brown agree that to keep Portland the Stumptown they want to live and work in, businesses of all sizes need to be engaged in the culture and the policy making in their communities. They site moguls like Wieden+Kennedy co-founder Dan Wieden and Nike co-founder Phil Knight as positive examples.


“This culture of innovation in our public sector has made Portland the competitive advantage that it is,” Blackman says. “We need to be involved in the public policy discussion and make our city take the next step toward innovations and inventions.”


 
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