How One Portland Woman Steers the Success of Local Tech Start-Ups

Voyager Capital's Portland partner serves as a trusted advisor to major companies, from Chirpify to Skyward.

By Zach Dundas September 21, 2015 Published in the October 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

When Diane Fraiman talks business, she often sounds like she’s talking about something else. An intervention, maybe. “I’m extremely honest and direct, surrounded by love and commitment,” she’ll say. “I’m sure I’ve had some conversations with people who left hoping they’d never see me again. But I’ve learned that most value the honesty.”

Fraiman is a counselor of sorts—to entrepreneurs, and the start-ups they lead. As the sole Portland partner in Voyager Capital, a $420 million Seattle-based venture firm, she works with a select few—six, at press time, with another deal reportedly in the works—of the city’s most promising tech hopefuls. Fraiman often joins the boards of companies Voyager funds, and always lends those start-ups as much empathy and social connection as expertise.

“By the time we get involved, companies no longer just need money,” she says. “They need smart money. I try to act as a trusted adviser.”

In 2010, Fraiman and Voyager backed a Beaverton software development company called Act-On with $4 million. This year, Act-On landed $42 million in additional investment. Skyward, a Portland start-up creating operating software for aerial drones, attracted Voyager’s early support in its $1.5 million seed fund round last year, and again in an additional $4.1 million round this spring. And Voyager helped fund Elemental, a nine-year-old Portland company that makes streaming video software and powers services from HBO, ESPN, Comcast, and other major media players. In September, Amazon Web Services bought Elemental for a reported $300 to $500 million.

“The diversity is great fun,” says Fraiman, who sits on the boards of all three companies and brings decades of tech-industry experience, often in sales and marketing roles. (Her résumé includes seminal tech names like Digital Equipment Corporation, Tektronix, and Sequent.) “Companies we work with typically need to build their teams—sales, finance. It takes a village, as they say, and they need to tap into Portland’s extremely efficient organic network to get there.”

Fraiman says Portland’s less than one degree of separation is one of the city’s distinct advantages as a business environment. The other—even amid our recent property boom—is affordability.

“What you can do here for $500,000 compared to anywhere else on the West Coast is amazing,” she says. “That’s why we’re seeing investors, companies, and entrepreneurs flock here. Do we need to be concerned about the future in that regard? Of course. But this is probably the only city where, as we grow, we get better.”

Sounds like some nurturing rigor might come in handy.

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