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Oregonian Article: Boosting the Industry's Visibility

Wednesday, April 18, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Ruth Fuller
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012


No one has had a tougher time navigating Portland's clubby, rapid-fire high-tech startup scene than a group who ought to know it well: The Software Association of Oregon.

Perched just across Burnside from the hive of activity under way in the Pearl District, the SAO is on its seventh president in the past eight years. It's struggled to gain traction among the young entrepreneurs who have revitalized the city's tech economy by riding the new wave of social and mobile technologies.

So the association's new president, Skip Newberry, says he's trying to approach his job with a degree of humility in an effort to win acceptance and begin harnessing some of the collective enthusiasm driving Portland's tech renaissance.

"We're trying to build trust in the community," said Newberry, who was Mayor Sam Adams' economic policy adviser before landing the SAO gig last September.

In the mayor's office, Newberry helped craft a strategy that made software one of the city's key economic priorities. His goal at SAO, Newberry said, is to provide resources that help the industry grow without getting in the way.

"As long as we're transparent about what we're doing," he said, "we can continue to help move the needle."

SAO has a diverse membership that includes Intel and other tech giants, law firms and others that serve the industry, along with a handful of promising startups including Elemental Technologies and Zapproved.

For the most part, though, Portland's up-and-comers aren't on board (annual dues start at $150 for startups). Nationally prominent, venture-backed startups including Puppet Labs, Simple, Act-On Software and Urban Airship are not members.

Attracting the interest of hyper-busy startups, and building credibility among the in-crowd of Portland technology, will be among Newberry's chief challenges.

SAO wants to develop industry partners, develop an advocacy role for the software community, and start making connections among members, prospective investors and even potential employees now living outside Oregon.

The first step is a website called Techlandia, which launched late last month.

"It solves a problem that I saw when I was in the private sector," Newberry said, "which is a lack of good data."

Techlandia aspires to be an online catalog of Portland tech companies and startup resources, building connections within Oregon and creating a public face for the city's tech scene.

"There are a lot of companies just going about their business, heads down," Newberry said. "It's a way for us to give them more visibility."

Visibility is key from Newberry's perspective. He's trying to create a brand for Oregon technology, a sense of the place that's known inside and outside the state.

"One thing we've been looking at, as an organization, is trying to shore up the talent pipeline," he said.

While Portland has a core group of talented software developers, companies have long lamented a comparatively thin pool of experienced marketers and experienced executives.

By improving Portland's image, and showing the growing depth of software companies working here, Newberry is hopeful that people living outside the state would feel more comfortable moving here. In time, he said, SAO might even organize a recruiting trip with Oregon companies looking to bring in employees from elsewhere.

Inside the state, Newberry said, the SAO can be a voice for the industry. Oregon's tech industry has been notoriously quiet on public policy; Newberry, whose last job in the mayor's office brings obvious ties to the political sphere, wants to be more proactive in pursuing initiatives such as the new Oregon Investment Act to promote the software industry.

In politics, business or technology, the software community will be most effective when it's working as a group, Newberry said.

"Your voice gets a little bit louder," he said, "and you're able to be a little bit more influential."

Note: SAO says that Puppet Labs and Simple are members, though they are not listed in the organization's member directory. The article has been corrected to reflect that.


Mike Rogoway covers the business of technology for The Oregonian.

Read more: Software Association of Oregon's new president, Skip Newberry, aims to boost the industry's visibility - The Oregonian

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