Portland Accelerator Helps Startups Grab a Piece of the PIE

by Laura McCamy on August 21, 2014
pie Front Door

The Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE), through its affiliation with the Portland, Oregon, office of international advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, helps startups refine their message, network with other startups, and, ultimately, turn ideas into businesses.

“What causes companies to stand out is how they engage with their users and how they tell their story,” says PIE General Manager Rick Turoczy.

PIE began as a co-working space inside the agency and morphed into an accelerator four years ago, graduating one class each summer. “We generally get in the neighborhood of 300 to 400 applications for the program,” says Turoczy. Between six and eight are chosen for each year’s cohort. “The quality and consistency of applications continues to rise,” he says. “Companies are doing a better job of self-selecting the accelerators they feel will help them the most.”

Each cohort goes through three months of coursework and operates out of the co-working space provided by the program rent free for an additional six months or so. Wieden + Kennedy provides $20,000 seed money in exchange for equity and also matches each startup with a creative team to help address its marketing challenges. In the process, Turoczy says, agency creatives get a chance to engage with the “sprint mentality” of startup culture.

“One of the main reasons we did PIE was the sense of community,” says Kat Bobbit, co-founder of standin.io, which creates prototyping tools for mobile designers. Bobbit was part of the 2013 class and continues to work from the PIE space. “You really get a sense of camaraderie with your classmates,” she says. “You form amazing bonds by having this co-working space with them.” Bobbitt credits the program with giving entrepreneurs the ability “to craft our story a lot more when we talk to other companies and potential folks we want to work with.”

When Pat Wilson, CEO of teak.io, and his two co-founders looked for ways to boost their fledgling business, which gives marketing teams “a way to update and tune their virals” and analyze their mobile apps, they considered other accelerators. The teak.io team chose PIE because, Wilson says, “we wanted exposure to the kind of things a full-service agency does.”

The connections that Turoczy and other PIE staff facilitate between founders and business mentors were a big plus for Wilson. “You instantly get access to a network,” he says. “Even if somebody isn’t in the network, being able to say we’re part of this program gives you more legitimacy.” The co-working space is an added bonus. “We want to stay here as long as possible,” he notes. “For me, it’s very valuable to be able to talk to people who are facing the same challenges.”

PIE aims to select complementary companies for each cohort that will create synergies in the co-working space. “Some accelerators can be driven by a more competitive dynamic,” says Turoczy. “Here, we found that we’ve had far more success developing a collaborative and collegial community.”

Laura McCamy is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California. She writes about small business, real estate, and development. An avid urban bike rider, she also loves to cover bicycling, urban planning, and the intersection of bicycles and business. Follow her on Twitter @lmcwords.

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