Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Author - Akhil Kambhammettu

A weekend at Startup Camp: fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs

DSC_0359

This story is by Akhil Kambhammettu. Akhil is a high school student who interned with Built Oregon last summer and is currently writing stories about youth entrepreneurship for us. He wrote a story on the Portland fashion scene last fall.


With numerous resources at one’s disposal, Portland is the place to be for entrepreneurs and creatives. Entrepreneurs are exposed to a network of many others just like them, and are surrounded by successful incubators such as the Portland Incubator Experiment and Forge Portland.

Our Student Reporter Akhil Kambhammettu

Our Student Reporter Akhil Kambhammettu

Businesses that are just starting out can also receive support and investment from companies like Portland Seed Fund and Craft3, and with the growing popularity of startups and the independent lifestyle that comes with it, entrepreneurship has been attracting kids who are looking for ways to put their unique and independent ideas into viable businesses, as well as to make their passion their job.

Entrepreneurship programs have been successfully been implemented into youth programs and schools such as IUrban Teen and Portland State University. Clearly, entrepreneurship has gained a big youth following. One educational program that stands among the others is the Catlin Gabel Startup Camp. In fact, it’s not even an “educational” program.

Startup Camp is a weekend long camp where high school students gather and work together at Catlin Gabel in a “dungeon” mode, building a company from scratch to finish, ending in a pitch to judges in competition for the top prize. Yes, these kids build a company from scratch to finish in the course of one weekend.DSC_0480

I attended their third annual startup camp from October 16-18, 2015 and was able to observe my fellow young entrepreneurs. They gathered in small makeshift workspaces set up in classrooms across the school, with snacks and drinks strewn across the tables. But most importantly, the students were running around hurriedly with a razor focus on the task at hand. I had never seen such a chaotic yet beautiful scene. As busy as they were, I was able to snag a couple minutes from some of the students to talk to about their experiences here and outside with entrepreneurship.

First I met with Miles Cowen, a freshman at Catlin Gabel, who was attending startup camp for the first time. Miles was exposed to the entrepreneurial world through his internship over the summer at Aerial Technology International ,where he helped build drones. Miles explains that he came into camp very excited, and although he was sometimes overwhelmed by the chaos he was never discouraged,  and found the environment to be quite energizing. Miles joined a company called Moneta, pitched by Emma Hayward, a junior at Catlin Gabel.

Miles noted “Moneta is like the opposite of Ebay. The idea is to have someone say I want to buy this for his amount of money”. From there, customers can bid for the buyer’s business. When asked what Miles enjoyed most about his first year at camp, he explains, “It was fun to have no teacher or supervision of any sort. You really got to do what you wanted to do.”

Next I talked to a team representative from the company Mind Matters, A company that helps connect students with lecturers who were coming to their area. As I walk into their makeshift office (one of the classrooms), I see multiple students grouped together either in intense discussion, writing on the whiteboard under their mentor’s watchful eye, or scrambling around for some supplies. I manage to get ahold of one of their team members and sit him down for a couple questions.

When asked about his personal experience at Startup Camp, he pauses for a moment to gather his thoughts, and a slight smile appears across his face when he explains, “It feels very real, it’s not like school where people tell you to do things and you do them. You choose your own path… and do what you think is best for yourself and the team.” But his experience was not without struggle. “With it being a new experience and a new way to work, there is no right answer. We have to stay organized and come to agreement on a lot of things. We had to make a lot of compromises”.DSC_0491

I also met with Anirud Venigalla, a junior from Sunset High School on team Clear Park. Anirud explains that Clear Park was actually a combination of two ideas. One aspect was an application that showed open parking spaces near your destination and allowed you to reserve them if it is possible. The other allowed users to rent out their own home parking spaces for other people to use. This idea stood out among the others because it allowed normal people to provide a service to others for profit.

The idea was also scalable and applicable almost anywhere people had parking spaces. Clear Park pulls in revenue by simply taking a cut of the fee paid by the renter of the parking space. But like every other company at Startup Camp, Clear Park faced its own struggles. Anirud said, “Leadership was a huge challenge in our team. We struggled to establish a team dynamic at first, but figured it out as we continued to work on the company. I think it takes some time for all teams to settle down, but at a certain point you either know the team is going to work out, or you guys aren’t meant for each other.”DSC_0530

I continued to walk down through the classrooms, meeting members from each team. For the most part, the CEO’s were very busy because they were the only ones who would be presenting for the competition later in the evening. There were two companies that stood out to me as unique and innovative: Macca Milk and Music Match. Both these companies had a goal of targeting youth, making their products relatable and appealing. Both of the company CEO’s leveraged their ability to think from the mind of a teenager, making them all the more lovable and hip.

Macca Milk is a company that made milk out of Macadamia nuts. When talking to the team, it was clear that they had done extensive research before starting the company: “Macadamia nuts use much less water to grow than almonds for almond milk, and more and more people are drinking milk substitutes. Our target demographic is the younger generation of kids who are looking for something unique to drink while also staying healthy. We wanted to make being healthy cool and hip.”  Clearly, Macca Milk is not aiming to create just a product, but a lifestyle and culture around healthy living.

On the other side of the school I met with Marissa Natrajan, the co-founder of Music Match, who created the company along with her brother Neil. As she oversees her friends creating the website, Marisa explains the idea behind music match: “The idea was to create an app that allows users to link up with people with the same music taste.” Their inspiration came from the growing popularity of music streaming apps such as Pandora, Spotify, and Soundcloud. But Marisa saw a gap in the current solutions: There was no way for a listener to meet people with similar music tastes. She wanted to find a way to combine the experience of getting music recommendations from these people, and music streaming.

For the competition, Music Match was able to create a mockup of the app online. Marisa shows Music Match’s mass appeal when she asks the audience, “Who here has ever asked a friend for a music recommendation”, and everyone raises their hand. Although they have a long ways to go, Music Match definitely has potential to continue past Startup Camp.

I got a few minutes to sit down and chat with Meredith Goddard, one of the organizers of Startup Camp and also a teacher at Catlin Gabel. “Our mission is to teach entrepreneurship not in a classroom, but in a experiential setting, giving kids the opportunity to put their learnings immediately into action.” Startup Camp is an annual event and this is the third one to date. “The inspiration really comes from the parents, volunteers, mentors, and most of all, the students.”

When asked about future plans for Startup Camp, Meredith explains, “We want to expand to 200 kids, and also limit it to 15 spots per school so that students get equal opportunities for coming to startup camp. We also want to host clinics for coding and engineering a month in advance, so kids can learn some of the skills they may need during the actual weekend.” I thank Meredith for her time and go to take my seat before the presentations start.DSC_0507

For their presentations, each company got five minutes to pitch their company to the judges, and at the end, all the companies gathered together for a 15 minute group question time. The judges included Michael Gray of Globesherpa, Lynn Le, founder of Society Nine, and Lisa Herlinger, founder of Ruby Jewel Ice Cream.

Fast forward two hours and Clear Park is crowned the winner of Startup Camp 3.0! Not only does the team get bragging rights, but also gets to take an all-expenses paid day trip to San Francisco to meet with the heads of Rothenberg Ventures, a venture capital firm. I meet up with the CEO of Clear Park while he hugs his team members and he says, “I am just glad all our hard work paid off. But more than anything I am proud of my team and all that we accomplished this weekend.” According to Anvesh Venigalla of Moneta, the experience of camp was the biggest award he could have gotten: “More than the awards and recognition, I’m glad I got the opportunity to work my hardest with my team and prove that if you really set your mind to something, you can create anything.”

Although it was just a weekend, Startup Camp made more of an impact on these high schoolers than any time in the classroom could have. They were able to put their ideas and brainchild into real practice, and gain valuable mentorship from professionals. Most of all, Startup Camp fostered the next generation of entrepreneurs, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store next year.

Where is the fashion? A look into Portland’s apparel scene and where it’s headed

bridge-and-burn-clothing-store-1

This story was written by our high school intern, Akhil Kambhammettu. Akhil is a junior at Jesuit High School and beyond this story, will be acting as our student Built Oregon reporter over the next year. 

Streetwear is hard to define.

Everyone has their own interpretation of what it means, but the one thing we do know is the streetwear industry is booming. With brands like Obey and Stussy growing into multi-million dollar companies within a few years, the door is open for smaller brands to be successful.

Portland is known for its alternative and dynamic culture, but what about its fashion scene? As a teenager, clothing and style is an indispensable part of my identity. From jogger chinos to the trending elongated tees, I’m always looking for new designs and styles to stand out. That is why I created Blue Market. Blue Market is not only an online marketplace for designers to upload their clothing lines for the public, but we also help designers who don’t have the resources and knowledge to create sophisticated designs and establish themselves as independent designers. There is a lot of hidden talent in the Portland area that just needs a little push to share their art with the public.

11406924_1115754201773204_729951032786562650_nI got the chance to meet with a couple clothing designers and local retailers to get a sense of where the Portland fashion scene is headed.

Jae Fields’ One Man Show

First, I met with Wookie Fields, founder of Jae Fields, a local Portland streetwear brand. Working out of a small studio on NW 5th and Couch, Wookie is a one man show and handles everything, including sales, branding, marketing, patterning, and designing. “The idea behind Jae Fields is to bring quality and premium apparel with the right fabric for the right occasions”. His collection includes a wide variety of elongated tees, quality denim and joggers; all of which I have a weak spot for. But what sets him apart is the durable and stretchy fabric he uses in his t-shirts that contribute to his standard of “versatility and functionality”. Creating high quality yet wearable apparel at a reasonable price point allows Jae Fields to stand out in the streetwear industry.

1610974_1137211819627442_505780576469448928_nWhen asked about the current Portland streetwear scene, Wookie says, “There isn’t one, and that’s what makes us so unique”. I asked Wookie what he likes about being in Portland, and he explains “everyone supports each other”. Connections are very important in the fashion industry, and in Portland there is a lot of support from both the public and fellow designers; however, there is no organized support structure for designers. This is apparent at Portland Fashion Week, one of the most popular fashion weeks in the U.S, where the connections and community are still going through some growing pains.

“It is really hard to get to know [the designers]. They make, present, and they’re done”. If Portland Fashion Week were to leverage their connections and popularity, a lot of local designers like Wookie would benefit. When asked about the future of the streetwear industry, Wookie simply says “Staying alive”. To elaborate, the streetwear industry is becoming saturated with more and more brands, some with potential, and some going nowhere. “It’s so easy to start a brand, but not many people have the knowledge to keep the company going (where the “staying alive” part comes in). It’s going to be more about the story you tell and who wears it. Not what you sell but how you sell it.” By the looks of it, Wookie has both under his belt.

Bridge & Burn keeps it simple

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.27.30 PMNext I met with Erik Prowell, founder of Bridge & Burn, a Portland based outerwear apparel brand with a focus on simplicity. Erik was born and raised in Bend, Oregon, so the northwest style can definitely be seen in his clothing. Erik started his clothing venture while creating graphic T-shirts, where he met a local manufacturer that opened the opportunity for him to start his brand, Bridge & Burn.

The inspiration behind Bridge & Burn was to create simple, clean, and timeless outerwear. From their wide collection of plaid shirts to their khaki windbreakers, Bridge & Burn combines a comfortable feel with an Oregon aesthetic. When asked about starting a brand in Portland, Erik explains, “[Portland] is the most supportive community. I mean everyone is willing to help each other.” Just as Wookie had mentioned, there is a lot of support from the design community and local boutiques.

With retail connections and support from brands he met during trade shows, Erik was easily able to get into many retailers, and transition smoothly into the market. Although there are many talented and supportive designers in Portland, Erik sees a lack of proper infrastructure for these designers to create and produce streetwear products, as he still struggles to find a reliable local manufacturer. The future of Portland apparel is really to create a solid foundation and support system for aspiring designers, so the Portland fashion scene can grow.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.25.43 PMSo what are the next steps for Bridge & Burn? “I’m just trying to build a really solid team… and slowly grow the company.” Bridge & Burn started out small with only five jackets for men and five for women, but has slowly expanded their line to include T-shirts and pants. With warmer weather becoming more common as well, Bridge & Burn has been expanding out of just raincoats and windbreakers.

Erik offers a little advice for young designers like myself: “At the end of the day you just really have to believe in yourself, and it’s not easy at all. You have to believe in your vision and hustle.”

After all this digging and research, one theme stays common throughout: The Portland fashion scene is growing. There are a lot of small shops and boutiques out there, but there is also a lot of hidden talent to be explored. The only way that talent can be unlocked is if they have enough support and resources. Established brands in the area need to engage up and coming designers, and the rest of us need to show our support for small brands by following them on social media, sharing with friends, and maybe even buying their clothing. As teens, fashion and style are part of who we are, but we also have the power and responsibility to create trends and support new ideas and clothing. If we stay on this path, Portland will be the future of the fashion industry and the place to be for creatives and designers from around the country.

For more information on Jae Fields. visit www.jaefields.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter and instagram.

For more information on Bridge & Burn visit www.bridgeandburn.com or follow them on instagram, Pinterest, and twitter.

To stay updated with my company, Blue Market,  follow us on instagram and twitter.