Gold School

High-tech fledglings learn hard-cash lessons.

By Eric Blokland November 16, 2010 Published in the December 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

A MILLION DOLLARS means different things to different people. To Carolynn Duncann—the 29-year-old founder of Portland Ten, a boot camp-style training program for tech entrepreneurs—it means survival.

"That’s about what it takes for a company not to die," Duncan says. Lack of ready cash kills many start-ups. According to Duncan, the peril is acute in Portland—a city she calls long on talent and creativity and short on mercantile know-how. "A lot of people here have great ideas or cool side projects," she says. "The problem is, those projects don’t generate revenue."

Duncan has seen both sides of business mortality. After she graduated from Brigham Young University- Idaho in 2004, the California native joined a Provo venture firm just as it buckled. She then launched her own first business—a shopping-mall kiosk that sold holiday gifts- and parlayed $40 into $10,000 in revenue. Scouting jobs for Salt Lake and Seattle venture outfits followed, introducing Duncan to a Portland scene she found frustrating. "We had money to place in Oregon, but we couldn’t find companies," she says.

Still, the city charmed her. She moved from Seattle, and launched Portland Ten in February 2009. She charges start-up founders $3,000 for a 12-week, 100-hour shock-therapy course in business fundamentals. "Students" must submit weekly sales reports—and pledge to aim for $1 million in revenue within 18 months. So far, only one has made the magic number: ShopIgniter, a social platform for retailers, which also landed $3 million in venture funding, a score the firm’s founder attributes to connections made in Portland Ten’s mandatory networking sessions with local investors. But Duncan says other Ten grads are growing.

Duncan’s own funding includes a $35,000 grant from the Portland Development Commission, awarded last January. Ultimately, she wants to render Portland Ten obsolete. "In Portland, when you hit $1 million you’re a rock star," says Duncan, "and I think that sucks."

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