Welcome to part three of a three-part series on Portland's business incubators, a redhot segment of businesses and nonprofits that makes designing and launching your business its business. We'll explore incubators for social, food and design entrepreneurs, and discover why Portland is a great place to launch a business and how business incubators play a new, pivotal role in bringing ideas to the market.
Portland is filled with entrepreneurs, and nowhere is that more obvious than in its arts, crafts and design communities. We sew, we knit, we make jewelry and furniture, we paint, and we sell our wares at a dizzying variety of markets, fairs and festivals all over town, all year long.
Just a glance at Handmade NW or DIY Alert, or the fact that Crafty Wonderland has grown from the basement of a music lounge to the Oregon Convention Center to its own brick-and-mortar retail shop, will show you that we take our arts and crafts seriously.
So if you like to design, build and sell, you know you’re on fertile ground in Portland. But where and how to start or grow your business? Do we have abundant opportunity or a saturated market?
As always, you’ll need a plan and support to succeed in the marketplace, and Portland has that going on, as well.
Take Trillium Artisans as an example. It started as a sewing circle in 1998, and today it’s funded by the Portland Development Commission and others to work with low-income craftspeople using recycled and reclaimed materials.
“We’re looking for people who really want to make their business work, not just considering it for a hobby on the side,” says Executive Director Amanda McCloskey. “It’s much more fun for everybody if somebody’s really trying to get their business going.”
Currently with 46 members, Trillium Artisans offers a three-year program of product feedback, business support and classes. They also have shops on Etsy and eBay’s World of Good, they process credit card purchases for member businesses, and they have a store at 318 SW Taylor Street.
“We have a niche in small-business counseling,” McCloskey says. “We know one business type really well. We get questions like, ‘When do I register with the state?’ and ‘Do I need to register with the city?’ We also have workshops on things like taxes and product photography.”
For artists in need of start-up cash, Trillium even sells its own line of catnip toys that members can sew as paid piecework.
The basic idea of ADX is that designers and builders, and people who want to be both, can play off each other’s ideas and expertise. You can get your design reviewed by a “Gang of Ten” designers and build your prototype in their shop. But it’s a lot more than that: ADX offers shop rental, skills classes, office and studio space, and events.
MFA in Applied Craft and Design
Another old manufacturing facility on the west side has now been taken over by a new, graduate-level program run by the Oregon College of Art and Craft and the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Drawing students from across America and several other countries, the MFA in Applied Craft and Design program is directed by J.P. Reuer, who says it encourages students to work together across disciplines.
“It’s not enough to design something, then hit print and give it to somebody else to build,” he says. “We want people to be involved in the whole process, to learn how the building process can influence front-end planning. We also value community engagement and social-environmental issues.”
For the local community, the program offers two benefits: a series of talks public lectures on topics like urban planning and green communities, and partnerships with local agencies and groups, such as designing a rainwater catchment project with a grant from the Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.
Do you have an additional resource for entrepreneurs, or an experience with an incubator to share? Share your knowledge in the comment section.