With a new mayor in town reevaluating each area of the budget, I had questions about the city’s future financial support for local startups.
Those questions would be part of a series I’m working on about the Portland Seed Fund, which gets about half its funding from public money (Portland, Hillsboro and the state of Oregon). It then provides funding and mentoring to several new startups twice a year. I wanted to know if new Mayor Charlie Hales would continue to back it.
Well, it seems the city isn’t just supporting that startup program, it’s also starting its own.
The Portland Development Commission (PDC) will be using up to $140,000 to fund a new program called Startup PDX: Challenge. It will provide money, services and office space to a handful of chosen startups over a year, beginning this summer.
The city started taking applications Thursday and will continue to accept them through April 4.
Portland Development Commission’s Public Affairs Manager Shawn Uhlman says they received six applications on the first day; five of them came from local startups and one from Dallas, Texas.
The program is open to companies around the world but requires them to move to Portland. The city then hopes they’ll stay.
“I think this city is really one of the best places, if not the best place in the United States for a growing company to be, and I think entrepreneurs know that,” Uhlman said.
So what’s in it for the city? Hopefully jobs.
It’s illegal for the city to take equity or get other direct financial returns from these startups, but the idea is the program will build the ecosystem; that the companies will find success and then hire Portlanders and pay business and property taxes.
But first, the city says, it needs to get these companies off the ground.
“You can focus on getting this thing to market, instead of paying rent,” Uhlman said. After one year, the city will help guide the companies to its next step but does not anticipate providing any more money.
Each company will get a $10,000 working capital grant, as well as a year of rent-free office space in the Central Eastside Industrial District, also known as Produce Row. The companies will get free access to services like mentoring and legal advice as well.
It is not like other accelerators that have an intense three-month “boot camp” style, Uhlman said. This program will be about providing broader support over the course of the year.
It will be the first program of its kind on the West Coast, but it will be modeled off programs already in places like Massachusetts.
When asked how the city can afford to allocate this kind of money to startups, Uhlman points to how the city budget works.
“We’re taking the stuff we would traditionally do, and we’re putting a unique spin on it.”
The Portland Development Commission has money already designated to develop the Central Eastside, so this is how it's choosing to spend those funds.
The city hopes the chosen companies will move in and begin the program this summer.
Hales showed his support Thursday by tweeting, “Exciting news for start-up companies.”
Do you think this is a good move to help create jobs? Let me know in the comments.