Starting a startup

OTBC executive director Steve Morris doles out advice to would-be entrepreneurs. 

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Nearly nine years ago, Steve Morris left his job with the Teseda Corporation and started looking for his next startup opportunity. He was eventually offered free office space at the Oregon Technology Business Center if he spent a few hours a week mentoring budding startups. That turned into an opportunity to manage the OTBC, an incubator in Beaverton, for two years.

“That was much more than two years ago now. It turns out I enjoy working with early stage companies,” Morris says.

As executive director, Morris spends his days mentoring budding startups for OTBC, as well as for Oregon BEST, which he joined in 2015 as an entrepreneur-in-residence. In Oregon’s healthy environment for innovation, there’s plenty of mentoring to be done. So much so, that Morris regularly hosts workshops discussing the building blocks to starting a startup.

“Really I suppose the first step is coming up with a concept, with the idea, and hopefully the idea has to do with some unmet need,” Morris says.

But it’s the second step that really matters.

“Go talk to customers and find out if your idea, if it is an unmet need,” he says. “It’s really easy for an entrepreneur to have someone say that’s a really good idea and take that as validation.”

Instead, Morris says successful entrepreneurs need to find the “emphatic yes.”

“The holy cow, I have this problem … and if you solve this problem in a really decent way, I want it, how fast can you get it, where’s my checkbook. That’s an emphatic validation,” he says.

In addition to talking to customers, Morris suggests entrepreneurs slow down. Launching a startup is inherently an exciting process, which often means steps get skipped, like getting details in writing.

“This is a very common problem,” he says. Without the proper paperwork, contractors can take their work product and leave the company. “Sometimes it ends up with companies imploding because people can’t agree.”

What’s most exciting about working with startups is the diversity, Morris says. At the moment, OTBC is working with a company that encapsulates yeast to brew beer in a day, another that generates energy from a kite, and yet another that uses a drone to precisely plant forestry seeds. OTBC also hosts a startup that helps immigrants send money back home via bill payment.

“If you notice one thing, they’re all totally different,” he says. “Our own little microcosm at OTBC is a pretty good representative of the startup market here.”

The only thing he’s missing is a food company, the biggest market driver in Portland, Morris says.