Local tech start-ups get boost

Just a short walk from the Park Blocks towards th South Waterfront stands an inconspicuous building. On the outside it’s plain brick with the a sign that reads “Portland State Business Accelerator.” On the inside, 24 young technology, bioscience and clean tech companies are hard at work perfecting their products for the marketplace.

The Portland State Business Accelerator rents office and lab space to start-up companies. While at the accelerator, businesses have access to everything they need to help their young companies get off the ground.

According to the organization, “Accelerator companies have raised $130M in private funds, generated $65M in revenue, and secured over $18M in public grants,” since 2007. Companies that are a part of the accelerator gain access to 2,600 square feet of state-of-the-art lab space, multiple private labs, conference rooms, free Internet and much more.

Businesses have access to strategic partners, like the Oregon Bioscience Association. Also, the PSU School of Business provides mentorship, networking and resources to the community.

Jordan Holt, chief technology officer of Sight Line Applications, which makes hardware for UAV video systems, said, “We needed the space, and we could just move in and start working, and that was spectacular.” Companies at the accelerator rent space “which is below market value, so it’s much cheaper than what they’ll find elsewhere,” said Xan Pedisich, the operations manager at the Business Accelerator.

To use the space, “companies need to be under five years old, they need to have a strong team of co-founders, they need to have some funding in place, and they need to be willing to work with the university,” Pedisich said.

“We really encourage them working with students. Over the past nine years, we’ve worked with 700 students and 80 faculty members…in the form of internships, jobs or a capstone project. Our goals [are] to help those students find jobs, and we’ve seen that happen a number of times.”

The Business Accelerator only earns money from their rented space.

“It’s actually very hard to make money off of a program like this, and we certainly don’t, but this year we may be in the black for the first time ever and we’re very proud of that,” Pedisich said. If they do turn a profit, Pedisich added that the money would be reinvested into the program.

Ryan Jenson is the CEO and Founder of HoneyComb Corporation, a company that uses UAS/drone technology for use in precision agriculture. According to the company’s profile on the PSU website, precision agriculture is the practice of holistic farm management with the goal of maximizing yield by optimizing the use of resources such as water, fertilizer and pesticides.

HoneyComb is an accelerator company, and Jenson said, “it has allowed us to grow into a new location, obtain grant money, private investment, and triple our staff.” When asked if he believes his company would have been successful without the accelerator, Jenson said, “We’d like to believe we’d have been successful no matter what, but the [Portland State Business Accelerator] was for sure a resource that helped us get to where we are today.”

Jenson, who graduated from PSU with a B.S. in mechanical engineering when he was 19, has had two companies go through the accelerator. Along with HoneyComb, Jenson is the CEO and Founder of IRPI, which is an R&D company that develops hardware for spacecraft.

With the Portland State Business Accelerator hoping to turn a profit this year, they seek to reinvest into the organization that helps so many Oregon based tech start-ups get off the ground. The accelerator recently started a partnership with Blue Mountain Community College, which includes an area to test UAVs in Pendleton, Oregon.

Art Hill, who is the director of the Small Business Development Centers at BMCC, said, “The benefit [of this partnership] is the expansion of the pool of entrepreneurial talent and resources to support it, resulting in economic growth of jobs, wealth and competitive advantage. For the university and college, it means an entrepreneurial learning environment or ecosystem that is greater than the sum of its parts.”