Remembering Sam Blackman

The co-founder and CEO of Elemental Technologies was ahead of his time. 

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Like many people in this city, I am stunned by the news of Sam’s death.

I didn’t know Sam personally, but as one of the tech community’s leading figures, he was a go-to source for many of our articles.

In fact, I got word of the tragedy just as I was about to check in with one of our reporters, Amy Milshtein, who is writing a story about entrepreneurs and philanthropy. 

Sam, who ramped up his charitable giving after selling Elemental to Amazon, was one of the interview subjects.

Sam was synonymous with the Portland startup scene, and the company’s $296 million sale to Amazon marked a milestone for the local ecosystem.

But the boyish-looking 41-year-old stood out for his leadership in the civic realm.

806445b35864912d33fc08382aeee566 LA young Sam Blackman at the Tom McCall Preserve in Mosier (1987)

During Portland’s 2016 mayoral race I wrote this column suggesting Sam run for office. The piece was tongue-in-cheek, but Sam’s community engagement was serious.

I wasn’t the only one who saw potential for Sam as a political candidate.  Silicon Florist writer Rick Turoczy said he always believed Sam would be mayor or governor one day.

“Sam Blackman was going to be the mayor of Portland,” Turoczy wrote in a tribute posted yesterday. “He might have even been governor of Oregon. And potentially a senator. But I was always convinced that he was going to be the mayor. He never told me that he wanted to be. I just knew that someday, he would be.”

Two years ago, Sam wrote our inaugural “Storyteller-in Chief” column. The essay was an ode to Oregon’s natural assets and the public policies ensuring their protection.

“Those of us in the tech community like to think of ourselves as innovators,” Sam wrote.

“And Oregon does have a strong track record of technical innovation. Tektronix invented the oscilloscope and many other test and measurement tools; Mentor Graphics was a pioneer in computer-aided circuit design.

“Yet our innovations in the technology arena pale in comparison to those which Oregon has forged in the public policy arena, especially when it comes to ensuring a sustainable environment for its citizens.”


A few hours after the news broke yesterday, Amy got an email from one of Sam’s co-workers saying Elemental would like another executive to participate in our philanthropy article — once the company gets through the next few days.

“In Sam’s memory …” the colleague said.

In the weeks to come, many people in this city will be thinking about how best to honor Sam’s memory.

We live in a time when CEOs and other executives are wading (hesitantly) into politics, speaking out and taking action on issues that are important to their communities and customers.

Sam marched forth boldly in this realm. He was unassuming, enthusiastic and a bright spirit. And as a business leader, he was ahead of his time.