After a very long dry spell, the Portland-area is suddenly awash in companies—some well-known, some tracked only by the technorati—planning to go public.
It’s a flurry of activity that could have profound consequences for our so-called Silicon Forest: within the next 18 months or so, there looks to be a lot more money floating around Portland, which in turn creates a new class of investors for the city’s future start-ups.
But why is Portland’s ship coming in now, so to speak, when the pandemic’s constant twists have left the city in perpetual one step forward, two steps back mode?
Rick Turoczy, co-founder and general manager of the Portland Incubator Experiment, has some ideas. “What has happened is that the confidence has returned to the market,” he says. “There are people who have invested in these companies who are looking to make those investments liquid and get their money back. The timing seems good.”
Among the companies for whom the timing seems good: Ubiquitous drive-through coffee chain Dutch Bros., vacation rental management company and Pearl District headquartered Vacasa and Wilsonville’s energy storage technology company ESS Tech, all three of which are in various stages of initial public offering (IPO) preparation.
They’ll join a handful of other area companies that have already made the leap, including two firms based across the Columbia River in Vancouver: biotech firm Absci, which made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange two weeks ago and was promptly valued at nearly $2 billion), and Zoom Info, which makes business-facing customer outreach software, and pulled off a successful IPO in June of 2020, in what CNBC called the first major tech IPO of the COVID era.
It’s not only tech firms that are getting on the publicly-traded bandwagon—after all, last time we checked, there was no software included with our Dutch Bros cold brew. Consider Sisters, Ore-based Laird Superfoods, the plant-based health food company that’s fronted by telegenic pro-surfer Laird Hamilton, which went public in September, 2020 with an initial valuation of $183 million.
That brings us to a key factor in the future growth of Oregon businesses, according to Turoczy: We may never have the tech industry firepower of Silicon Valley or Boston or Seattle, but consumer product-wise (read: stuff you can buy, especially stuff you can eat or drink), there’s a lot of growth potential in Oregon companies.
So why has it been so long since any champagne was popped to celebrate a bell-ringing on the New York Stock Exchange around here? In part because these things don’t happen overnight. Many of the companies that are mentioned above were founded in the aftermath of the mortgage crisis in 2008 and resultant economic fall-out; it has taken time to for them to build to their current perch. That’s not to say that there haven’t been big stories in Oregon business over the last 13 years, but they’ve mainly been about acquisitions or investments from venture capitalists or private equity firms.
Counter-intuitively, Turoczy says, the pandemic and all its related consequences and complications, may actually have helped spur this round of IPOs: “People hit the brakes, and reassessed. They were able to take the time to think about what they should be doing,” he says.
And assuming that all goes well with the forthcoming round of IPOs (and it doesn’t always—anyone remember WeWork, which had a co-founder from Oregon?), it bodes well for the next generation of companies that might take that plunge.
“My hope is it not only generates (financial) security for a broader spectrum of people, but maybe it’s creating more opportunity for new companies, new ideas, maybe funding for new companies. This could be a really positive turn of events for the investment community,” Turoczy says.
So, who’s up next? Turoczy has his eye on software company Puppet, which has been making noise about an IPO for several years, marketing automation software company Act-On and Airship, best known for third party push notifications but now expanding into live chat technology.