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Lumencor shines a transcendent light on a sustainable path to success

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Back in 2007, a fledgling company took the leap and relocated to Oregon from California, bringing with them a revolutionary product idea and a desire to live and work in a state that could provide them with the best chance to see that idea blossom and thrive.

Today, nine years later that company Lumencor Inc. manufactures its innovative light engine in a 30,000 square foot facility in Beaverton, turning the long dominant, mercury-based lamp world on its head, with not only a superior light source, but one that is significantly more energy efficient and better for the environment, because it doesn’t use mercury (or a bunch of other toxic materials) at all.

To fully conceptualize this you need to erase the image of a traditional light bulb out of your mind, because this light engine is not remotely like a bulb. The light engine features “instant on/off excitation” via electronic control so that energy is consumed (and this is the really cool part) only when illumination is needed.

Lumencor Inc co-founder Claudia Jaffe

Lumencor Inc co-founder Claudia Jaffe

Recently we visited Lumencor for a chat with one of its co-founders, Claudia Jaffe, to find out more about the company, its technology, and its exciting potential as an enabler for even more impactful discoveries and breakthroughs in the bio-tech and manufacturing arenas.

Jaffe, who earned her doctorate in Bioanalytical Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, is an inventor in nearly all of Lumencor’s patents. She is Lumencor’s Executive Vice President and oversees new business development as well as sales and marketing.

Her husband Steve Jaffe is her fellow co-founder and CEO, so the company retains many of the close knit and humanized characteristics of a family-run business, despite its growth to 60 employees (and still growing) scattered around this large facility.

A better match of business, place and capital

We started by asking Jaffe about their move from California to Oregon in 2007, and their subsequent investment by the Oregon Angel Fund (OAF). It was the very first investment by the then fledgling fund.

“We made a conscious decision to leave California and move to Portland. It is recognized as one of three or four top optics centers in the country and it was an entrée to a whole network of talent in the technical community as well as in finance, legal, marketing, all kinds of services that you need to foster and grow your business. (It’s) a place where we could develop hardware with access to optics, electronics, software and mechanics expertise.

(In Oregon) there’s a desire to build the biotech industry and that’s the market we serve. The investment community was a better match for our initial need than in Silicon Valley. That’s how we found Oregon Angel Fund, and Eric Rosenfeld (the co-founder and manager) has been a tremendous supporter since day one, since we first came scouting and met with him.”

Armed with that initial financing, Jaffe and her team went about developing and selling the technology in suburban Portland. But as with any startup and with any new technology, there had to be an underlying problem they were trying to solve. How did they approach this question, and the even more intriguing question – why hadn’t it been solved before?

“We build lighting that solves certain problems that are just fundamental to LEDs (Light-emitting diodes), but we came to this problem with an integrator’s approach to a solution. We said, ‘We’ll build a modular product so that if the customer needs only red and green light, we can satisfy that. Essentially we have a tool box and can pick and choose aspects of the lighting that specifically suit a given application.’

As a business proposition, there has been a big obstacle to solving this problem. Lighting manufacturers like to build a single product, for example a lamp based on a bulb. Then they just find many, many wall sockets in which to plug. That’s not our approach; we’re integrators.

What we do is talk to the customer, typically an equipment manufacturer, like a microscope company. We ask, ‘What are you trying to solve? What is the technical obstacle? What does the instrument look like? What does it need in terms of the color spectrum, spectral purity, brightness, fast switching time?’ It’s all of these technical performance traits that go into tailoring the light to suit the need. We call it “Tailored Illumination” because we offer control over the spectral, spatial and temporal aspects of the light. In the past lighting couldn’t be so carefully controlled in large part because it was mostly in the form of a simple bulb.

87725-5506057So when you say, ‘Why wasn’t this problem solved before?’, I have to answer because there were so many different aspects, both business and technical, that needed a customized solution, one tailored to the equipment manufacturers’ needs; and those needs vary. Today we have over 100 customers – equipment manufacturers, many individual researchers, labs, hospitals, universities. We offer off-the-shelf products for a larger group of customers but for the smaller group with large volume needs, like the equipment manufacturers, we build a unique product for every one of them. Not a lot of manufacturers of hardware want to do that.”

That begged the question – why don’t they?

“They want to build one kind of lamp. Again, I think our novelty is that we’re very solutions-oriented. You hear it all the time, but we truly are. We tailor our products for the equipment needs, the equipment specifications, and we’re very nimble in manufacturing, very modular in manufacturing and we’ve always had that posture. It’s one thing to impose that after you’ve built the first product, but it’s another thing to envision product with that in mind first.”

Jaffe then spoke about this “old” technology, the good old light bulb, and why Lumencor’s solution is better.

“Lamp manufacturers think about a bulb, and that bulb provides white light. It provides a lot of light in spectral regions that aren’t useful.

(So we said), let’s build white light not from one bulb, one source, but from six different colors as six unique sources, as an example. And if you only need three different colors, we’ll just give you those. There’s no wasted light, because the spectrum that is provided is based on the instrument need or the analysis need as the customer defines it.

Further, it’s electronically controlled so it runs off a DC power supply, not (traditional) AC, much quieter. And it’s electronically pulsed, so you can trigger it on or gate it on and off. When it’s off, it’s because the lights are truly off, not because it’s blocked. All that savings in energy and heat and spectral purity, it’s just a completely different posture for how to provide the light.”

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An enabler of transformative discoveries and inventions

With this better light source, Lumencor becomes an enabler of some grander discoveries and inventions. Jaffe elaborated on this, and those things that have made her sit back in her chair and say, “If it wasn’t for us, this wouldn’t have happened”.

“Well, if it wasn’t for us, some of the kinds of experiments that you can do today wouldn’t be happening. We are truly enabling drug discovery, as one example. Let’s say you want to identify drugs that interact with cells in a certain way. What’s the best way to do that? Watch the cells. But for the most part, the biology hasn’t been done that way – historically you would have a sample of tissue and put it on a microscope slide or create a milkshake literally of cells and add things to it and then test that.

But with our products, the light is kinder, gentler, less disruptive to actual real-time cellular function. Because the light can actually probe at video rates, real-time events in cells, you can literally watch cellular events that you didn’t use to be able to. Tumors are cells gone wild, and with our lighting, you can actually watch the cells replicate in real time and do so in the presence and absence of some potential drug. You cannot do that with a simple lamp.

It’s really interrogating the cell of a tissue in a way that allows you to optically discriminate what you couldn’t see just with the naked eye. This is enabled by the process of fluorescence. Its possible to impose fluorescence in cells or in tissues, to label them if you will with light reactive tags, that allow you to discriminate at a molecular level what’s happening to that biology. The quality of the light very much influences how well you can detect those cellular events.”

A commitment to sustainability

The other side benefit of the technology is its sustainability and environmental friendliness, attributes that Jaffe and Lumencor have leveraged into an overall “green” approach that extends all the way to the packing materials and the building it occupies. Jaffe explains,

lumencor“We built this company, used solid-state components and never used mercury in anything that we ever built. We’re lucky, in that our light engines are relatively low power consuming, they don’t generate heat, and they’re all clean tech. We’ve only ever shipped in recyclable materials and it’s a green kind of process and philosophy we use throughout our organization. It’s a value that we have, a value that the whole organization has, and we just are always thinking about that when we start new processes, ‘How can we do it in a way that is consistent with that value?’

But what about the higher costs to live up to this philosophy?

“The money proposition is very short-sighted. I don’t think there’s any question that, in the long term, it is cheaper to do with a “green” solution. Yes, for the initial investment it may be a little more expensive to buy “sustainable” product. But the overall impact has to include costly waste disposal, long term energy consumption, instrument down-time during maintenance, replacement parts. Plus it goes back to how passionate are you about (being green) – is it really a value for you? I have to believe the scientific community that supports life sciences values this too.“

Following your passion

Lastly, nine years on in Oregon, Jaffe offered advice to those folks that that are thinking about taking the kind of big technological leaps that they took, but perhaps are reluctant because it just seems too hard, even though they have a great idea.

“Isn’t that where all the joy and value comes from, doing something that’s hard? And I also think you have got to follow your passion. I have two little girls, they’re 12 and 14, and I tell them that all the time. ‘Figure out what you love to do and then just do a lot of it. Whether it’s mathematics, arts, music or history, whatever it is, if you have passion and volume, you just discover things more deeply and do them more thoroughly. Do it intensely for a long period of time and expertise will come.’ And that’s what brings you to good work, right?

Before this job, I hadn’t worked for any organization, (I had many different jobs), for longer than two years. I’ve been here nine years and I can’t wait to get to work. We have a very respectful work environment, the people are all great and we know we’re doing valuable work. That makes it much easier to be committed.”

The story of Lumencor epitomizes the promise of Oregon entrepreneurship and its unique take on the role of people, place and the environment, as well as the important role of angel funds like OAF, and the other Oregonians who are willing to invest risk capital to help turn that promise into many successes.

It’s a story that shines an altogether different light than what comes out of their Beaverton factory, but it’s a very bright and illuminating light nonetheless.

To learn more about Lumencor, visit its website at lumencor.com.

Keeping it simple, genuine, and real: The Brazi Bites story

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Keep it simple, genuine, and real.

This is the mantra that Brazi Bites founders Junea Rocha and her husband Cameron MacMullin live and work by, and, of course, this is the philosophy that lives in the hearts and minds of many Oregonians.

But more than just a mantra, it defines the brand values of a company that is on a journey to bring a little taste of Brazil to the United States. A journey that began when Junea initially made her way to the U.S. through a work exchange program, and has taken the couple from growing local production here in Portland to being in front of the cameras on Shark Tank.

It’s a journey that began with the simple desire to make the distance between Brazil and Portland seem a bit smaller, one tasty bite at a time.cameron   junea profile

Bringing a taste of home to Oregon

“I grew up with Pao de Queijo (pronounced “pow day kayyo”) a popular Brazilian staple, cheese bread. When I met and married my husband Cameron, I moved to Portland to be with him. Soon I  started missing my favorite snack and realized I couldn’t find it here. In 2009, I asked my mother for her recipe. This recipe began several generations ago with my grandmother, who grew up on a farm, with fresh milk, eggs and cheese.”

The first challenge Junea encountered was finding the right cheese.The cheese used in Brazil is called Minas. It is not available in the U.S. Thus, they went about finding a replacement – no easy task.

The process involved testing hundreds of cheeses. Junea and Cameron tried every possible combination, and through trial and error,  found that mild white cheddar with parmesan gives the perfect cheesy bite.

The bread has very few ingredients in it. Along with the cheeses, milk and eggs, Brazi Bites uses tapioca flour from Brazil, safflower oil, water and salt. The bread is naturally free from gluten, soy, and sugar but is loaded with taste.

With the recipe set, it was time to do some market research.

“Our first test of the product was at the Spring Beer and Wine Festival here in Portland. We made a ton of freshly baked product and it sold out half way through the show. We knew then that we had something special.”

But having something special does not always translate into being a successful business.

To get started, the couple took a 12-week course on how to take a family recipe to market, offered at Portland City College. The course covered packaging, regulations, marketing and branding, which gave them a huge leg up.

12249781_1160513880629544_7961723686897027647_n“The recipe-to-market class is unique to Portland as is the support system here. People are very willing to share their expertise and see you succeed. Another thing we found is shared kitchen space. Because it’s so expensive to start, we looked into sharing our overhead at a facility in Tigard. We did that for a year, then moved on to our own location. When we were ready to leave, there was another up and coming company ready to move in. This ecosystem is very important – not only are you sharing costs but knowledge. The mistakes NOT made because of the shared experiences … this is invaluable.”

But even with the knowledge gained and support of the Oregon food ecosystem, success is still hard to come by. Going from markets and shows to grocery freezers many times takes having a key person on your side.

Junea and Cameron found a champion in Denise Breyley, a local forager with Whole Foods. Denise travels the Northwest to find the best new products and produce to bring to Whole Foods, before anyone else sees them.

“Denise saw us at a food event early in our journey. She tasted our bread, loved it and gave us the chance with Whole Foods. We started in the Pearl store and grew from there. She has helped us get Brazi Bites into more stores, more regions of the country, even helped us with better shelf space.”

To honor the invaluable mentoring, Junea and Cameron give in return. It’s a way of recognizing the ecosystem does not thrive without putting in as much as you get out.

“Denise is always doing events for Whole Foods so we support her with product. And, we will meet with younger brands she is working with, to share our knowledge and experience.”

Sounds simple, right? Work hard and focus. Always listen to your customer. Adjust to market conditions, the next obstacle, the next lesson. Give back to the ecosystem that gave so much to you.

It also takes a good team of employees.

“The employees love working here because it’s a family company and they know that Cameron and I have done every single job here. We’ve mixed the dough, swept the floors, checked the freezers and they know this. Working side by side builds mutual respect.”

Success also takes something else – the guts and courage to put it all out there.

In November of last year, the couple went before the Sharks on the hit TV show Shark Tank.

“Shark Tank was one of the coolest experiences we’ve had, nerve wracking but you also know something big is happening. We went on the show with so much gratitude just to be there, that we actually had a blast.”

And of course, the Sharks loved the bread. Junea and Cameron are now negotiating a deal. The details are not ready to be released, but they will be shortly.Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 3.29.32 PM

Growing by concentrating on the core

From a simple idea to being under the lights of Shark Tank, The Brazi Bites journey is one that has taken many twists and turns – so what’s next?

Currently Brazi Bites comes in four flavors: the original cheese bread plus Jalapeno Pepper Jack, Garlic Asiago and Nitrate-Free Bacon. That’s it for now for this “take and bake” style snack found in the frozen freezer department of over 1,000 grocery stores.

With the growth comes questions on how to expand and enhance the product line. Whether to add more flavors or brand extensions are questions many founders ask themselves. But to Junea and Cameron, the answers always tie back to being true to what they started. They realize that if you lose your focus, the core brand can go sideways, or worse, downhill altogether.

“We are staying really focused on Brazilian cheese bread, period. Potentially we might do more flavors and more sizes but we want to remain true to the original cheese bread line’” adding

“We work very hard and focus on the quality of our product. It’s a daily fight to make sure you make the best product while you continue to grow.”

Since September of last year, Brazi Bites sales have grown 10-fold per month.

bb pack v1“We don’t want to be another casualty of the food industry. ‘Oh you have the perfect artisanal product, everyone loves you, you have a great family story.’ And then you get so big your quality goes – you’re everywhere, and you have a horrible product because you grew too fast while trying to save another 5 cents.

We want to offer an artisanal product that has national distribution. Sometimes you have to say ‘no.’  We walked away from a lower quality of cheese and tapioca flour and said no to fillers. The margins would go up but the product would suffer.”

It all goes back to the original mantra of simple, genuine and real.

“Our story would not have happened anywhere else in the country, with the exception of maybe Austin, Texas and possibly Denver or New York City “ says Junea. “Because Portland knows about great food and artisanal products, you start your company out at a very high level, otherwise, you will not succeed. People here want the best of the best.”

The end game for Junea and Cameron?

“We want Brazi Bites to be in every freezer in every grocery store all over the country.”
They are well on their way.

For more information, visit www.brazibites.com. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram

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Investing in the future of Africa: The story of These Numbers Have Faces

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These Numbers Have Faces (TNHF) is more than an investment in higher education – it is an investment in the future of Africa.

In, 2008, CEO and founder Justin Zoradi had a vision to invest, equip and empower the next generation of Africans. He began to lay the foundation for TNHF — a Portland-based, non-profit that invests in the continent’s future leaders.

Justin’s story began in 2005, when he graduated from Westmont College and left the sandy coast of SoCal to pursue Peace and Conflict work in Belfast, Ireland. He spent the year working with youth in low-income neighborhoods, helping to mitigate the recruitment of young people by terrorist organizations. A big part of Justin’s job included leading 80 students from Belfast to South Africa, where he spent the summer playing soccer, and came face to face with the challenges young Africans face.

The challenges he witnessed created opportunities in his mind.Branden Harvey Photography (120 of 383) alice edit

The beginnings of a nonprofit

Currently boasting six of the ten fastest growing countries in the world, Africa is undergoing enormous growing pains. Youth unemployment and ethnic conflict issues are massive. It takes 170 percent of a family’s annual income to send a student to university in Sub-Saharan Africa.  As a result, only 5 percent of the university-aged population is enrolled. This is a landscape in which children, especially girls, don’t have opportunities to pursue higher education and career paths that could advance their communities.

Justin felt it was unjust that so many young, capable individuals didn’t have the opportunity he was afforded – an education that allowed him to improve his own life and make positive, transformative impact.

After finishing his work abroad, Justin moved to Portland, Oregon, with twelve of his friends, and enrolled in Portland State University (PSU) as a graduate student studying Peace and Conflict Resolution. His moment of truth occurred after class:

“I was sitting on a bench in the park blocks…and I got this really strong sense. It was a really intense spiritual moment — and it was ‘Justin, are you going to deny for others what you demand for yourself?  Are you going to take opportunities for you and not allow other people that I legitimately care about, who I felt were my friends — to have some of those same opportunities?’ And that kind of broke me in a real way.”

Justin immediately headed to Powell’s Bookstore and bought the book, How to Start and Build a Non-profit Organization. “It wasn’t very helpful, it was kind of crap,” he admits, “But it was that symbol — I’m not just going to talk about this stuff — I’m actually going to take action.”

Branden Harvey Photography (52 of 383) iranziThe name “These Numbers Have Faces” came to Justin as he tried to finds ways to reach people in Africa. His research led him to countless statistics, piles of data, and pie charts stained red, showcasing the real challenges Africa faces: war, AIDS, and famine. “But that wasn’t my experience there,” Justin insists, as he recalls the juxtaposition between his travels and his research. “My experience was meeting talented young people who wanted to change the world. It didn’t feel fair to me that the Western media had portrayed them all as these sad people. You see all those images of kids with flies on their faces and I just kept saying to myself, ‘These numbers — they’re real people. These numbers have faces.’ And that’s why we called it that. I wanted something that was a little bit unique — something that people would say, ‘Jeez Louise — what does that mean?’”

The program started out as a scholarship fund for kids and has evolved into a loan program, as the organization has grown exponentially. In 2010, they had raised approximately $33K in funding. They doubled in size between 2014 and 2015 reaching $1.2 million and have now directly impacted 344 African kids, and while TNHF is headquartered in Portland, Oregon, it has a core international hub in Rwanda. This hub allows the organization to do engagement year round.

The organization currently supports kids in four regions, and is now focusing its attention on Africa’s Great Lakes Region — an area that is affordable, and where children speak English. “We found a genuine excitement and passion in places like Rwanda and Kenya — of young people that are ready to take over and who want to make a difference,” Justin explains,  “Some want to become doctors and many want to start their own companies. We’ve been kind of caught in their tractor beam of excitement in these areas and we feel this is the best place to be operating.”

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Engaging bright minds to create bright futures

So, how does one get into the program?

Students must apply online, which often means saving money to take the bus to the nearest Internet cafe and spending a couple hours filling out the application. The acceptance process is extensive, consisting of the application, a phone interview, an in-person interview, and a home visit. Thus far, the program has spread primarily via word of mouth with the occasional presentation at select high schools. The selection process begins with a cutoff of year-end exam scores — and ends with the brightest minds accepted into the program.

“By keeping it more exclusive, we get extremely high talent — extremely high caliber kids. We use the phrase diamonds in, diamonds out as a means to get top quality when they come in and then they go through our whole program.  We find that they’re just so much more prepared and excited going through.” And it’s working, as 800 students applied for 30 spots in Rwanda in 2015.

One of their greater challenges is getting girls to apply to the program.  This is an interesting problem given Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in Parliament in the world — 64 percent of their government is run by women.

“I mean women are the secret weapon if you want to see justice, if you want to see peace, if you want to Branden Harvey Photography (1 of 383) jessicasee economic growth, women are the place to invest,” he says. Yet only 12 of the 120 kids who applied from refugee camps this past year were girls. “These families are impoverished and looking at short term gains rather than long term benefits of investing in their children’s education.”

Most of these young women aren’t able to make it through high school.Yet the long-term benefit of investing in a woman’s education is palpable. One of their scholars, a young woman named Skovia told TNHF that her family had arranged for her to marry a man for 20 cows. Justin confirmed this from her father on a visit to Rwanda. She joined their program and now her family recognizes the benefits of higher education as a long-term investment. “She can potentially benefit her family forever,” says Justin.

Once the students have been accepted there are six main fields they focus in — business, medicine, law, science, technology, and engineering. TNHF has also set up an organic mentoring relationship between older kids in the same field as the younger kids. A first year law student would be paired with a 3rd year student to aid them through the strenuous process. In addition, students pay it forward through community impact projects. Each student must complete 50 hours of community service each year.

TNHF also has a five-year plan for graduates to repay their loans in small increments based on when they find work. “When they pay back their loan that money is going directly to a young person who is 3-4 years behind them.” TNHF has had 22 students graduate in South Africa, 10 in Rwanda and 12 are graduating in Uganda this May.

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Creating a sustainable and impactful organization

TNHF is funded by approximately 1,000 donors comprised of investors, family foundations, grants and corporate relationships.

“We have a relational focus from our students and our staff in this office.  We have about an 85 percent retention rate in donors every year. We work hard at making folks feel connected and a part of our whole mission. I want them to feel like they are alongside us, traveling with us, making this stuff happen side by side.” In Africa they film videos with students — constantly showing donors the impact their investments have made on these students’ lives.

However, TNHF continues to face unique funding challenges — a major one being getting people to recognize the power of investing in young adults.

“When people want to give to Africa they want to give in commodities — they want to feel like ‘I built a well, I gave these nets, I provided food for 500 kids’ — and those are important. But convincing people to invest in young adults is a big hurdle. “We always joke that we would be 10 times bigger if we did baby photos of our kids because they’re just so cute. People want immediate results — and for us to say invest in this kid now and in 5 years, in 20 years, I’m going to show you what that investment did — for many folks that’s not what they want.”

But even with those known challenges, TNHF continues to  work on building leaders who will make a positive contribution to their communities – a long term investment.

“Our work is not to serve a million kids a year. It’s that we deeply invest in the lives of these young people and work hard to ensure that they become young people of character and of vision to help them become the next leaders in their own countries. And that is really our main goal.”

Branden Harvey Photography (274 of 383) arnold scovia geraldIn the fall of 2015, TNHF launched Accelerate Academy, a new entrepreneurial mentorship/training program. Three-hundred and fifty individuals applied for the program and 27 were selected for a year-long intensive program based in Rwanda. On expanding, Justin said, “I think that we hit really hard on the education side of things, and now to be able to add on to a business creation side is great, because you need both. We need kids who are going to be doctors because they have massive health challenges. And then we need kids who will start companies…You can have all of the talent and the financial backing and the rest — but that mentoring is the most critical thing.”

The program will culminate in May with a Shark Tank style pitch-fest at the Accelerate finale with actual investors. Impressively, of the 27 individuals, eight have already started companies that are currently making sales in Africa.

TNHF also offers a corporate paid intern program that has doubled in size, with four students working in the U.S. during the summer of 2015 and eight coming in 2016. Corporate partners include Amazon, an engineering firm in Texas, and a few companies in Oregon including Allion USA — and the Portland Timbers hosted several of the interns. The students from last year’s program made enough money during their three-month internship to fully pay back their loans. This is impressive given the average income in Rwanda is 700 dollars per year and the loans were for thousands of dollars. “Then to go back home and have Amazon at the top of their resume — that’s a game changer for them.”

One of Justin’s proudest moments occurred when one of the young interns spoke at a corporate gathering at a Law firm in Portland last summer. “He gets up there and he brings it — crushes. These are the poorest people on the planet, and he’s here wearing a jacket and a tie and he’s fundraising for us in ways that I never could. I was watching him do my job and hearing his account of how terrific the program had been for him. And then to see him share about what his experience had been like here — that was something that you just dream of…He was exuding the character, the passion, the confidence, the leadership — and to think that had we not met him in his refugee camp — he’d be in that dirt hut carrying water. And yet here he is crushing it in front of these big time executive types.”

justinJustin’s vision for “These Numbers” ties directly with the best piece of advice he received as an entrepreneur: that his work will be incomplete.

“This idea that the work is meant to be incomplete is liberation actually. Because what it means is that what I’m starting right now, from 2010-2016 isn’t about me. I’ve been called to this and I’ve been able to mobilize people and we’ve done great stuff.   But this is going to extend beyond me. And when you understand that it enables you to walk into work every day and go ‘right, I’m going to do something small and I’m going to do it well, and I’m going to work hard at it but I don’t have to reach this high pinnacle mark today.’ And there’s freedom in that.”

Justin believes entrepreneurs should look for their moment of obligation. “I had a moment of obligation sitting on that park bench…There’s something about wanting to solve the greatest challenges of the world — wanting to meet real needs and I’m not saying that has to be something global justice based. The best entrepreneurs have something personal tied into why they do what they do. That is the fuel when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. And I want people to go on that search for meaning because that is the highest human good. If we can wake up in the morning and be like I have meaning today because I get to work on this — that is what happiness is all about.  I think that it’s all about finding that moment of obligation and then pushing through that. I’m surprised that I actually have that in me and that fire isn’t dying. It’s only getting greater.”
For more information, visit www.thesenumbers.org,  like them on Facebook and follow on Twitter and Instagram

 

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The proof is in the pork: The Elkhorn Farm and Forge Story

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Matt Alford quit eating meat in 1997 after reading Diet for a New America, which details the plight of animals raised in factory farm conditions.

It was the beginnings of a  journey that eventually led to the founding of Elkhorn Farm and Forge in Gaston, OR. It was not a predetermined journey or one that has been easy, but it certainly was rewarding.

The beginnings of a pig farmer

Matt’s vow to not eat meat took a bit of a turn after two years of soul searching.

“ I started hunting and gathering my own food so I could know exactly where my food came from, field to table. It was a  journey that led me to start raising my own goats as pack animals, and eventually I raised a few heritage breed pigs for my own consumption. “

He started with goats as the primary livestock on the farm, but the focus started to go towards pigs. The land and infrastructure requirements are similar for both animals, but pigs are easier to contain than goats, and they don’t need as much land or fence as cattle.  20150909_104307

“ I was able to start raising pigs using the farm assets I already owned (truck, trailer, shelter, waterers, fence, etc.) and that allowed me to get started without spending much additional money.  Along the way, I discovered that I really love being around pigs.”

His approach is based on pre-industrial methods where the pigs live outdoors on the pasture and forestland; free to roam, root, and run – in other words, be happy pigs. But starting a farm is anything but an easy task, and not for the unpassionate. But it’s a life that Matt had glimpses of in his youth.

“ As a kid I picked pole beans, strawberries, and raspberries for money.  In high school, I worked four years on a local farm growing and harvesting row crops, grass seed, and tending a small herd of cattle. However, I started my farm from scratch.”

Matt’s home and farm is situated on 1.8 acres and he leases and manages several properties nearby, which brings the total acreage up to 40.  In his perfect world, all the farmland would be contiguous, but as a startup, he is working with what is available.

“ It’s less efficient having multiple parcels of land, but I’ve been able to pick up under-utilized plots of ground and that has helped keep the costs down.”

But as with any startup, the costs to get going can add up quickly.

“ My biggest challenge was and continues to be time vs. money.  I scaled up the herd and grew the business by doing everything myself, working long hours 7 days a week to conserve cash.  I’m past the point where I can continue to grow the business simply by applying more of my time, so I need to invest in people and more infrastructure in order to keep up with the growth.”

1-20140531_165506Being out by yourself on 40 acres with nobody to talk to but the pigs can be refreshing, but Matt has also had the benefit of connecting to a community of resources as Elkhorn has grown.

“My friend, Will Woolley, is a co-founder of Templeton Hills Beef in California, where they raise grass-fed beef exclusively.  There’s a lot of overlap between our operations, and his willingness to share his experience has repeatedly helped me think through road blocks.  Locally, the non-profit Friends of Family Farmers has been a tremendous resource in terms of networking. The one thing that really gave me the confidence to buy a few pigs initially was the fact that my friend Brandon was already raising a few pigs each year for his own family.  We call each other when we have goat problems, and knowing that I could do the same with pigs was really important to me.”

With the farm and support network more established, Matt set out to source the pigs for Elkhorn. He searched and found a professional local hog breeder whom he could trust, one that could sell him top-quality stock and be another source of advice.

“I already had a great relationship with a local large animal veterinarian so I felt like I had a good support system in place.”

Bringing quality pork to the market

The taste of Elkhorn Farm and Forge’s pork is amazing, and it didn’t take long before the demand expanded beyond his family and friends. One of the most important aspects of being able to deliver quality pork on a consistent basis rest in the skilled hands of the butcher, so Matt set out to locate one by reaching out to the community for references.

“ I started calling and visiting slaughter facilities and butchers, while talking to everyone I knew who raised their own livestock.  As a livestock producer, your business is only as good as your last delivery from the butcher.  They can make or break your business, so I choose them carefully and make sure I’m a great customer to do business with on an ongoing basis.”1-LO4M0993

Elkhorn’s marketing started out as word of mouth and continues to be the best sales channel.  Matt sells directly to consumers and a few chefs over the phone and on his website. He’s purposely avoided selling to wholesalers and retail stores, primarily because he hasn’t needed to up to this point, and it doesn’t make sense from a margins standpoint. The farm is looking to potentially sell via farmer’s markets in the future.  

Matt’s foray into the farming business has opened his eyes to both the needs and opportunities in agriculture.

“ Farmers need technology that reduces labor and increases efficiency without abusing animals or the genetic integrity of plants.  In some places, technology is overused, while in others, technology and automation are sorely lacking.  As one example, a critical indicator of animal health is their internal body temperature, yet the market has yet to produce an affordable, reliable body temperature monitor for swine.  I should be able to get a proactive text message telling me when a pig’s body temperature is out of range or their daily exercise level is below normal.”

As it turns out, the local food culture really wants to know their farmer, and buy humanely-raised great tasting meat, which has resulted in the explosive demand for organic food in the United States. In Matt’s mind this creates great opportunities.

“ Forward-looking investors are forming real estate investment trusts (REITs), with the express purpose of buying conventional farmland and converting it to organic.  They hire consultants to manage the transition and lease the land back to farmers.  It’s a smart solution that solves critical financial hurdles for farmers while meeting a market need. Longer term, a big opportunity lies in urban agriculture.  There’s so much more that can be done to grow food within urban boundaries rather than trucking food in and trucking waste out.  People who live in cities yearn for the connection to the land and the taste of real food.  Urban planners, architects, and real estate developers who integrate the ability to grow food into their buildings and living spaces will capitalize on the deep seated emotional need of people to return to the land.”

Returning to the land is what he has done and it’s been a challenging, but hugely rewarding journey. It’s one that has taught him both entrepreneurial lessons and insights.

“ When things aren’t going as planned, be more flexible and take a step back rather than pushing forward.  I’ve made some bad situations worse by not wanting to deviate from my plan, when things would have turned out better if I’d just decided to give it some space and find another way.  You can get a long way applying steady pressure, but there are limits too.”

These are words that anyone who has started a business can relate to. But there are more intrinsic feelings and beliefs that truly sum up what Matt is doing at Elkhorn Farm and Forge. “ I really love being around pigs.  Being able to give them a great life on the farm and provide premium quality pork to local families is a win for everyone. “1-DSC02760

For more information visit, www.elkhornfarmandforge.com. You can also support them by liking them on facebook and following them on twitter.

Working in the intersection between identity and place: A Q&A with Design+Culture Lab

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Joy Alise Davis had recently graduated from Parsons The New School of Design when an observation led her to form Design+Culture Lab, a research-based social lab dedicated to the transformation of neighborhoods through collaborative design strategies, while addressing complex spatial issues of cultural, racial and ethnic inequality. Joy will be a speaker at the Portland State University Elevating Impact event this week, and Built Oregon sat down with her to learn a bit more about the roots of Design+Culture Lab.

How would you describe Design+Culture Lab?

We are a collaborative design firm, but we operate in the public involvement realm.

 Photographs by Martin Seck, courtesy of Parsons re:d, the magazine for Parsons alumni and the wider Parsons community.

Photographs by Martin Seck, courtesy of Parsons re:d, the magazine for Parsons alumni and the wider Parsons community.

What do you do?

Using a comprehensive and collaborative method that draws on strong relationships with local communities and a deep understanding of their issues, Design+Culture Lab provides a unique consulting service that serves as the glue between disadvantaged community members and urban practitioners within the construction of their environment. By addressing the complex spatial issues associated with cultural, racial, and ethnic inequality, Design+Culture Lab is one of the few that work in the intersection between identity and place.

Our services include collaborative design strategy, engagement management, community data reporting, communication design and interactive engagement tools.

What was the genesis for starting Design+Culture Lab?

Honestly, I was studying at Parsons The New School of Design and focusing on urban design strategy when I noticed that the one of the top design schools in the world didn’t really use race, ethnicity and culture as a lens when designing place. It was very frustrating.  As an African American woman, my identity as a cis woman and as a descendant of slavery influenced how I operated in public space and the built environment.

I also noticed a lack of research efforts from urban designers to collaborate directly with the people who would be affected most by the designs. I would work with (and learn from) architects and urban designers (both domestically and internally), and they had no idea how to involve the public in the decision making process.  Before I studied urban design, I was a very active activist. I made my living by serving the community, civic engagement and by working with underserved communities of color. You can imagine how frustrating it was for a activist like me! Urban Design experts tend to design in a vacuum. I never bought into that idea. I believe that people have the right to actively shape their city.

When did you make the leap to start your own agency?

After graduate school, I took a chance and started my own social enterprise. It was kind of crazy! Instead of waiting for the world to catch up with the reality that America is changing and moving towards a more diverse (a more brown) country, I decided to begin prototyping solutions for positive collaboration along racial lines.This was a very scary leap but it was perfect timing. I had just graduated from one of the top design schools in the world with tons of debt, I was moving across the country (I was drawn to Portland for its strong history of planning/ architecture and strong history of racial exclusion), and I just felt like I was in a point in my life when I was ready to learn from outside of my comfort zone.

There is a great quote by Audre Lorde: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Lorde has become a distant mentor to me as I formed this company. This quote in particular helped me take this leap. I had a vision for a better America, filled with true cultural/racial cohabitation, not just coexistence between the different groups. I knew that if I wanted to make this vision into a reality, I needed to be 100%. So I stepped out on faith. I have a great support system, which really helped. But I was scared –  I was nervous of failing.

 Photographs by Martin Seck, courtesy of Parsons re:d, the magazine for Parsons alumni and the wider Parsons community.

Photographs by Martin Seck, courtesy of Parsons re:d, the magazine for Parsons alumni and the wider Parsons community.

 

What were some of the initial projects you worked on and how did your initial idea change through those engagements?

In 2015 Design+Culture Lab started work on the PAALF People’s Plan, The Division Design Guidelines and the Powell Division Transit Plan. We learned so much while working on those projects. We had the opportunity to strengthen our methods, but also learn business skills that we just couldn’t learn from the classroom, or from a book.

I am a big fan of this TED talk: “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. The “Why” for Design+Culture Lab is this concept that America is becoming more diverse:

IN 2060, THE COUNTRY WILL BE ROUGHLY 43 PERCENT WHITE, 13 PERCENT BLACK, 31 PERCENT HISPANIC, AND 8 PERCENT  ASIAN, WHICH LEAVES 5 PERCENT TO BE  LABELLED AS ‘OTHER’ (TAYLOR 2014).

The world is also becoming more urban:

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY, MORE THAN HALF THE WORLD’S POPULATION — THAT’S 3.7 BILLION PEOPLE — NOW RESIDES IN CITIES. AND IT’S EXPECTED THAT NUMBER WILL INCREASE TO TWO-THIRDS BY 2050.(YAHOO NEWS)

The “Why” of our business has not changed. We still believe that equity should be the biggest goal for our country’s urban practitioners over the next 50 years.

The “How”  is also simple. We do this by using creativity and design thinking. We are a laboratory because we are dedicated to prototyping solutions. The “How” of our company has not changed. We still believe that innovation within the urban planning and urban design world must be creative, leveraging design thinking and empathy.

The “What will most certainly evolve. We might find out that operating in the public involvement world is not as impactful as we want it to be. Maybe we will decide to move away from consulting, and solely create interactive engagement products. Maybe we want to only focus on research and producing podcasts and articles. The sky’s the limit! But we will always bring our work back to center, to the “Why”. I am excited to see what evolves over the next year.

We believe that if our efforts are not effective, we will go back to the drawing board. I decided to make this company a laboratory for a reason. I wanted to prototype new solutions and I wanted to experiment through design thinking. We don’t believe we have all the answers but we are dedicated to investing and being flexible while we try to solve issues of racial inequity.

For more information, visit www.designculturelab.com or follow them on twitter and like them on facebook.

FoodWorx: Re-thinking how (and why) you eat

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When people travel, usually uppermost in their minds is what they plan to see — landmark buildings, famous attractions, perhaps well-known works of art. Food is, for many, a secondary consideration of travel. They may want to eat well, but it is not always the main focus of a trip.

That is, unless they fall into a rapidly growing category called food travel. Food travel is the concept that says no matter where you go, you need to eat and drink. So why not enjoy a unique, local food experience and make a memory of it?

That philosophy is why Erik Wolf founded the World Food Travel Association, a Portland-based organization that he leads as Executive Director.

“There are people who travel to go to museums, there are people who travel for shopping, and there are people who travel to New York and London for theater,” Wolf says. “Well, I’m one of those people that travels for food. I end up in grocery stores. I end up in restaurants. I end up on food tours. I end up in food factories.”

The Post-it Note® brainstorm that blended two passions

Erik Wolf

Erik Wolf

Wolf already knew himself to be a “foodie.” Once, after a 15-hour flight to Singapore, rather than immediately collapse on his hotel bed, he noticed a large grocery store across the street and made a beeline for it.

“Jet lag didn’t matter. I was like a kid in a new amusement park. I was going around and seeing the different brands for sale, the different fruits on offer, all the unusual beverages. It was fascinating.”

At that point, however, it wasn’t necessarily a way to make a living. Wolf was working in the tech world in San Francisco. Then in 2001, he “smelled a layoff” and decided to uproot his life and start anew. He moved to Portland, Oregon, found an apartment, and put giant Post-It Notes on the walls to write down his passions and brainstorm a new career.

“What do I like doing? Where do I have connections? What am I good at? And it always came back to food and travel.”

Wolf decided to create a non-profit organization that blended his two passions.

“I wrote a white paper about Culinary Tourism to prove the value to our emerging industry and its potential economic impact. It was a popular paper that was sent around the world more times than I can remember.”

Within two years, he had formed a non-profit association: the International Culinary Tourism Association, which was re-branded as the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) in 2012. Since its inception as an education and trade resource, WFTA has grown to become the world’s leading authority on culinary tourism. It has published culinary travel guides, research on food and beverage tourism, produced dozens of events and conducted seminars to help food-related businesses get the word out to travelers.

A different form of sightseeing

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So what exactly is food travel? It is about helping travelers learn about and explore a local area’s food and beverage culture. That does not necessarily mean meals costing hundreds of dollars per person in a fancy restaurant. According to the WFTA, that kind of customer represents less than ten percent of the overall dining market. And since roughly 25 percent of any travel budget is spent on food, Wolf saw promoting local food and drink as a way to boost local economies and enhance the travelers’ experience.

It was an area of tourism promotion that was still ripe for development. The traditional focus of most tourism offices was on lodging and attractions. At best, there might be a small brochure naming a few restaurants, with no way of telling if those places had paid for the privilege of being listed. Chain restaurants were plentiful.

“When we talk to tourism offices now, often we have to reeducate them. Because they think: ‘Oh, we want the gourmet traveler’ or ‘We should be promoting our 150 cuisines!’ ”

Instead, Wolf says the best thing tourism offices can do is ‘plant the seed’ for good local dining, whether it’s the food cart/street vendor scene, or an area’s famous Key Lime pie. At first, it was an uphill battle. Then the recession of 2007 hit. Tourist offices closed, or their budgets were severely slashed. To cope, they began to look for different things to promote. The WFTA was already poised to help them discover how to package and promote local food cultures to travelers.

Not that all travelers are willing to go outside their comfort zone.

“You will not convince all people to try local food. Some people do all-inclusive packages and that’s fine for them. But then, there’s a level of consumer that does care about where things come from—how food is made and where it’s sourced.”

FoodWorx and the impact of food

Those people are the target markets for the food and beverage tourism industry. The numbers are growing each year. The WFTA expanded its services with lectures and a one-day conference called FoodWorx that explores all issues food-related.

ew photo 13“There are all these food and drink events. Most are great but there’s more to discuss than just sitting there and eating fancy foods and drinking expensive wines. We want to know, what did it take to get that to you? Who was involved in the production of that food? How much fuel was spent to get it to you? And help consumers realize how food impacts their everyday lives.”

FoodWorx 2016 is the fourth annual conference and is expected to attract about 450 people to hear nine speakers and two panels discuss a variety of food issues.

“We take food and combine it with another industry. Whether it’s food and industry, food and tourism, food and technology, food and music, food and health. And then we find an expert to talk about that. Local food and drink samples pepper the day’s talks.”

Who attends?

“It runs the gamut. You get concerned citizens, teachers, retirees, students, journalists and everyday people. You get foodies, restaurant owners, winery people. Plus, a lot of food and drink manufacturers, who come to learn about new industry trends. People travel from all over the world to attend.”

This year’s FoodWorx will be held Saturday, February 20 2016 at the Smith Memorial Union at Portland State University. Live streaming will be available for delegates who cannot attend in person. The forum has become so popular that other cities including Barcelona and Bilbao in Spain want to host their own local FoodWorx, as does Jakarta, Indonesia.

More impact, more innovation

When Wolf founded WTFA, the local food movement was truly in its infancy. Oddly enough, the tragedy of 9-11 had a big impact on people’s interest in food.

“It made people go back in and think about what’s comfortable—family and food. And the local food movement just mushroomed tremendously after 9-11. While he acknowledges that the WFTA can’t take the credit for the local food movement, he does believe that the WFTA was the early trendsetter in promoting food as attraction.”

EW photo 1Wolf says many people talk about the profound impact that the WFTA has had on the world’s tourism industry. “It’s fulfilling to know that we were there at the table, ushering in professionals, helping them to see the potential of promoting food and drink as attractions. And now, as our organization is 14 years old, we have to continue to reinvent ourselves, not rest on our laurels, (and) make sure we’re continuing to innovate, make sure that we’re bringing new and relevant products to market.”

Where does Wolf want this all to lead?

“World domination!”

But in all seriousness, Wolf sees almost unlimited potential for Food Travel. The WFTA has a new annual publication coming out in 2016, titled: Food Trekking in Cascadia. It focuses on the food and drink culture of our Cascadian region. While he may have started out thinking of the overseas traveler’s food experience, Wolf is adamant you don’t have to be a world traveler to be a food tourist. For some, it may mean just heading across town to a new neighborhood to try a new café or pub or wine bar.

Wolf is a firm believer that good food is everywhere—if you know where to look. His life’s mission is to show you where.

Many thanks to KC Cowan for her help and support on this piece

For more information on FoodWorx 2016, visit http://www.FoodWorxConference.com, or find them on Twitter or Facebook .  Built Oregon is one of the marketing sponsors of this event. 

Learning by doing: The Homeschool Outerwear story

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The journey for Homeschool Outerwear’s founder, Danny Clancey—a journey to create some of the finest technical outerwear—began in a climate where “outerwear” is often nothing more than a shirt. In Hawaii.

Yes, Hawaii.

Sun to snow. From wanting to be in the water, to finding the best ways to keep the water out.

But for Danny, the path to being an outwear apparel entrepreneur can be traced back to his roots in Hawaii.

“I come from an apparel family,” he said. “My dad was a successful entrepreneur and I always admired how he built his business, treated his employees and had this core desire to make a quality product. The fact that I grew up around an entrepreneur who essentially came from very little but accomplished a lot showed me it was possible—if you have the drive, passion and desire to do what needs to be done. That was something I aspired to.”

IMG_9714Danny came to the mainland to get his degree. While pursuing his education, he got turned onto snowboarding. But coming from Hawaii, he never had the need to buy or own any kind of technical product. But a funny thing happened when he started wearing technical clothing – he became fascinated with the idea that you could be protected from the harsh environments with the proper clothing.

“I think coming from a place with no snow makes it an interesting story, as to how I developed this weird desire to make the best technical outerwear in the world. But those initial insights and fascination stuck with me, and created some weird drive to develop really good technical product that looks clean, and works in harsh conditions regardless of activity.”

Heading for the hills

After college, Danny came to the NW to pursue a degree in apparel design and immediately started working in the industry on the design side, first for K2 and then Columbia Sportswear. The latter brought him to Portland, and also gave him some knowledge of not only how tough the industry is to break into, but what goes into the entire design to production process.

“My time at Columbia prepared me for what I’m doing now. I had knowledge and drive but my time at Columbia showed me the “nuts and bolts” of how to get a product made, and the process that goes into that. I was there long enough to become dangerous so to speak but still retain the drive and optimism needed to go on my own. Sometimes if you stay somewhere too long you lose that.”

Danny didn’t stay in one place.

That desire to create unique and highly technical outerwear led him to strike out on his own, and the knowledge gleaned from watching his entrepreneurial father gave him an innate sense of confidence.

“My dad’s reaction to my decision to go my own way was also not what I expected. The first thing he said to me was ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’ The second was ‘How can I help?’ That moved me to the point where I felt I could do this and was prepared to face the realities and hardships of this business and find a way to pull it off.”Ghost-Shell

Crafting an outdoor apparel brand

As Danny made the jump into launching an apparel company, one thing became clear: the need to have a memorable and meaningful brand on which to build a new outerwear line. A brand that evokes a certain feeling, but also holds true to the core beliefs of the company.

“The name homeschool comes from the idea of learning by doing; doing for ourselves as a small brand what a bigger brand can’t or won’t do. We didn’t start with a price point and work backwards like you would at a bigger company. We decided to make the best product we can, which in itself is not a unique concept, but one that just isn’t done much anymore.”

From the outset they believed that authenticity is something that money can’t buy, and therefore didn’t spend money on trying to convince their customers they were the real deal, and the brand name fits perfectly with they wanted to do.

“Some people love it, some hate it, and I don’t care. You can’t please everyone and we aren’t going to try. The brand promise is that we are going to deliver product that allows you to spend more of your precious time outside doing what you love and the weather won’t be a hindrance. We have done this by learning what works and doing what we say we are, super simple yet really hard to pull off.”

Getting traction and movement in the chaotic and competitive apparel market took a focused Universe-Both-SKUsapproach. Danny was a designer by trade, but he was well aware that the technical specifications and features are just as important as the aesthetics, which the team describes as ‘clean and mean.’

Designed from the ground up

“We use a technology that we believe is revolutionary and dramatically enhances comfort outside, called 37.5. It’s an activated Carbon technology that increases breathability and dry time significantly. We also believe ‘cheap’ product is a false economy. We build our stuff to hold up to hard use over multiple seasons. Technology, style not fashion, durability and a great brand story are the foundations of Homeschool.”

Design and technical performance. A crafted balance in which there is a lot of subtlety and nuance in how they are different and they don’t try to over simplify the product or the message for a less sophisticated consumer.

Even as they promote their current lines, the Hood and Baker Series, the company is looking to the horizon and preparing their next line, and that preparation requires an evaluation of what has worked and what hasn’t – and also new ways to extend the brand.

“It’s been an evolution as we learn what works, and what does not. We do best with our high end product and our best selling pieces are our most expensive. Right now it’s all about ‘hybrid’ apparel that combines really technical fabrics or stories but looks like stuff you can wear in your day to day. We evolve the brand and product every season and strive to make it better and better. We are introducing a women’s product line next year and we will begin offering a technical 3-season product as we expand and grow, but ultimately how we evolve has to make sense. The last thing we want is a bloated line that tries to cover everything and everyone. That is a recipe for disaster.”IMG_9715

Challenges and Opportunities

Danny had the entrepreneurial passion in him when he set off to launch Homeschool Outerwear, and that passion has enabled him to go from concept to growing company. But the challenges in starting any business start to come at you fast. The moving parts associated with an apparel company, including materials, sourcing, manufacturing, and sales channels, all have to be dealt with at once, which can seem daunting to a first time founder. He watched his dad run a business that made Aloha shirts, while he wanted to make the ‘space shuttle’ of technical clothing.

Homeschool Outerwear focused on being small and nimble at the outset, with a line that was as tight as possible. They established a relationship with a good factory and started to get samples made, which is when they started to be taken seriously.

But each of those steps can be seen as insurmountable barriers.

“It’s overwhelming. I’ve dealt with it by not thinking about everything at once. Find the barriers and break them down one at a time. I have a lot of really good and talented people around me that believe in this brand and have made huge personal sacrifices to help bring this idea and product to fruition, for which I am eternally grateful. I believe that without the small brands’ point of view, there is no progression or energy in the outdoor space and that helps drive what we do. A belief in the product and that we are bringing something to the table that has been missing for a really long time.”

Heavy-Days-Both-SkusThat belief is what not only drove the design and construction of the apparel line, but also how the approached retailers and talked to consumers. Taking the approach that their products are good enough to be in the top retailers so let’s start at the top and see where we get.

“When we first launched the brand our focus was on 20 of the best retailers in the country, and we ultimately got into 18 of them in our first year, which was a major accomplishment because these are shops that typically take 3 years or more to break into. We haven’t lost many customers over the years and I think it’s partly because the major apparel players consolidate retailers and consumers are looking for an alternative they can get behind.”

Danny and his team also saw an opportunity overseas and have grown their distribution in Japan.

“Japan has been great for us, I think the Japanese consumer really appreciates quality and technology and are willing to pay more for that quality. Small brands with unique stories really resonate in Japan. We also have a great partner and distributor over there who is doing it right and willing to work hard to make the brand a success.”

The growth challenges that come with any early stage company continue as Homeschool Outerwear looks to scale. Raising investment money. Expanding the sales channels and growing revenue. Continuing to evolve the lines, while maintaining the brand essence. Hiring new talent and retaining the core team.

Danny knows that at every step there will be more barriers to break down one at a time, but he is also aware that Portland is the perfect place to build this type of company.

“ The environment and closeness and proximity to the mountains, ocean and a large active consumer base make it easier on a lot of levels. There is also a lot of great talent due to the big brands being located here, and a great entrepreneurial scene. The challenges are probably the same as they always have been. Even with the great infrastructure and entrepreneurship scene we have here a lot of people still don’t get what it means to start a business though, and I have always found that interesting. Unless you’ve done it there is no parallel.”

And now that Danny made that leap and has done it, what advice would he go back and give himself after he left Columbia?

“Wow, That’s a tough one. Be prepared for the long haul. If I knew what I had ahead of me I probably wouldn’t have done it! You need a little of that naiveté in the beginning for sure. Despite everything this is experience has been the most rewarding of my life and the most challenging, and I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. I try not to have regrets.”

For more information, visit www.homeschoolouterwear.com, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram

Cracking the entrepreneurial code: an interview with Augusto Carneiro, co-founder of Nossa Familia

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When you walk into Nossa Familia’s espresso bar and roasting facility in Northwest Portland’s Pearl District, the atmosphere is thick with an intoxicating aroma. It’s the farm-to-roaster-to-espresso machine-to table cycle in full display, punctuated by the smiling and friendly faces of the employees there. But there is more than just delicious coffee to be found.

Behind the coffee shop is the roastery, distribution center, and corporate offices. Partnering with Community Vision, a local organization that finds meaningful employment for adults with disabilities, Nossa Familia hires their clients on a daily basis to stamp bags needed for bulk distribution and do other tasks.

IMG_7311 (1)In addition, Nossa Familia has an entire classroom set up with brewing equipment and espresso makers. They teach classes so that anyone can learn to be an expert barista in their own home (see nossacoffee.com for more info on all the services they offer).

It’s a grounded, sustainable and growing business that has been 11 years in the making, led by co-founder and CEO Augusto Carneiro.

Carneiro was raised in Rio de Janeiro, but came to Oregon in 1996 where he attended the University of Portland and earned a degree in engineering. He also met his wife in college. Soon after graduation they were married and became a successful professional couple with good jobs. They bought their own home and started a family. Carneiro was achieving what many of us hope to secure—an education, a career, a home, and family.

And yet for Carneiro, something was amiss.

We recently had a chance to chat with Carneiro at his facility over some fresh brewed espresso; here is a condensed and edited account of a fascinating and engaging founder story and interview.

Winging it in a competitive market

Built Oregon: Thanks for joining us today. So why on earth were you thinking about going off on your own and leaving that secure situation? What was it all about?

Carneiro: I’d wake up in the morning, and it was so hard to get out of bed to go to my engineering job. The company was a fine company. They had good educational programs. I just wasn’t built for it.

Nobody likes to be disappointed with where they are in life. But my advice is, if you are really dreading your day job, just start smiling and figuring out that you have an opportunity to say, “okay, this sucks”. So you’ve already tried something in life that you know you don’t like. Start thinking about other things that you would like.

Built Oregon: Oregon has an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is creative and inspiring, where many people decide to take on established verticals, business sectors that most everyone would perceive to be very, very hard to get into – like coffee, for instance. (There are more than 60 roasters in Portland.)

So why in the world did you get into coffee?

Carneiro: Ignorance is bliss. I think part of it is “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

One of my traits is not to worry about the details. So it’s surprising that I made it through engineering school. And it’s not surprising that I didn’t enjoy being an engineer.

IMG_2541I was already seeing that being an engineer was not, perhaps, the path, and so I talked to a cousin, who had started a roasting company in Brazil. He already had a very successful export company exporting green coffee beans, and (during a trip to Brazil in 2004) we sat down to talk about potentially selling coffee in the U.S.

He was very supportive and sent me to the U.S. with a box. I had a box of 70 pounds of coffee, and it was roasted and vacuum packed. I gave most of it away to family and friends and neighbors, sold some of it, and got really great reviews.

Built Oregon: So it was really just, “Here, take this back with you. See what you can do with it.”

Carneiro: Yes.

Built Oregon: So at the time you were, like, “Okay. I’ll try.” It wasn’t like the passion really hit you yet?

Carneiro: I sat down and I wrote what I thought was a business plan. Again, I went to engineering school, so we don’t have to write business plans. What I wrote was really a marketing plan, listing all the bike shops that I knew, and the bike races and promoters.

I thought, “We’re going to show up to bike events with coffee.” Essentially, that’s what we started doing.

A lot of people come into an industry because they have a passion for the product. Most of the other coffee roasters in town, they became coffee geeks, and then they start a coffee company.

I was not a coffee geek beforehand, and I tell people, if my family had been growing cacao, I’d have a chocolate company. For me, it has always been about the people, the people growing it and our customers, and now our employees.

In the beginning, I didn’t even know how to brew coffee. I just winged it.

We bought this $250 little home espresso machine at a trade show, and we took that to some bike events. At the beginning we showed up to bike races, and I have a friend, he was a big home barista. I had him come over and teach me how to make espressos.

Built Oregon: What happened after you sold that first batch?

Carneiro: We didn’t start it right away. I came back…and then started talking to different people about coffee and how you do this.

I met with a colleague from college. He had a bunch of good questions. I’m, like, “You know what? Do you want to just be a business partner?”

He said “Okay”, so we each put $400 in, and opened the first bank account. This was August 2004.

He had studied business. He knew a thing or two more, knew the right questions to ask. I was sold.

But we still had no clue. Looking back, if I was going to start a business I would have this whole process I’d follow, and we’d be going in three months instead of a year and a half. But again, I was about to have my second child, and had a full time job.

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Making connections and finding a vision

Built Oregon: You were still in your engineering job at this point, correct?

Carneiro: Yes. We started phone calls and meeting for lunch, and meeting in the evening, and going to a few spots and events with our coffee.

We were selling it to neighbors and friends. I was selling it to coworkers at work. We started our first website, and we did some small web sales. But it was really slow. It’s a lot of steps to start a brand. Even picking the name.

Built Oregon: How did you come up with the name Nossa Familia?

Carneiro: We did a naming exercise where we came up with a bunch of names, and then we sent it out to a bunch of people. It included everything from Volcano Coffee to Brazilian Coffee to Copacabana Coffee, a bunch of stuff.

We were having a really hard time, and then I went to a meeting (with his partner). He was, like, “I decided on a name- Nossa Familia” (translates to “our family” in English).

I said “Awesome, let’s go.”

Eventually somebody has to put a foot down.  And it was funny, because all of the feedback we got, one of the people that liked Nossa Familia said, “I like Nossa Familia. It kind of sounds like the mafia.”

fullcycleI’m, like, “Yeah.” But it describes who we are, and it describes our uniqueness.

Looking back now, what really happened is we were shooting from the hip. We both had full time jobs.

Built Oregon: When did you finally quit your job?

Carneiro: May of 2005.  But I still took no paycheck from the company. My first paycheck from the company was in 2007, so it took a long time.

(In late 2005) we went to U.S. Bank, and got a line of credit for $35,000.

Built Oregon: By late 2005, what were your sales like, and where were you selling?

Carneiro: If I look at my 2005 sales total, it was probably $40,000. That included sales from my cycling connections, and I got introduced to the people that run Cycle Oregon.

Built Oregon: Cycle Oregon – that’s an interesting connection.

Carneiro: I showed up with a BOB trailer and rode a couple of days, and promoted our coffee. Then we did one day where we sold bags of coffee, and in September 2005, we had one day where we sold $1,000 worth.

I still remember thinking, “A thousand dollars of sales in one day!”

Then the other cool thing is, the director of the ride, every time we’d meet he’d say “When are we going to go mountain biking in Brazil?”

I said “Okay, let’s go.”, and he said “Okay. I’ll get a few people together.”

IMG_2325I then put together our first mountain biking coffee tour (in Brazil) in November 2005. It was eight people (including the director of Cycle Oregon). It was our first coffee tour.

We didn’t really make that much money out of it, but it was so fun. This is why I started the business. One, to bring the farm to the people, but also to bring people to the farm and really showcase the transparency. And when people come back from there, they are huge advocates for the company.

They really see just how beautiful the farm is, and how well it’s run, and how happy everybody is there.

Built Oregon: So on that trip in 2005 you really made a very personal connection between your family past, and then this business.

Carneiro: It took three years for me. Sometimes things just take longer for you to realize your “why”.

I grew up in Rio. My dad was an electrical engineering professor, but we would spend all of the holidays at the farm. Three months out of the year, we’re at the farm. My grandma has a lot of cattle as well.

We would learn how to ride horses at five or six, but he was pretty protective. He wouldn’t let us go out on our own. But then, when I turned eight, he started having me going out with the cowboys. I was the second oldest grandchild. Now they have 27 grandkids. My mom is the oldest of ten.

Going to the farm, it’s this beautiful, big house. You imagine, as a kid, you have loads of aunts and uncles and you have loads of cousins running around. It’s super fun.

But I was one of the only grandkids that really enjoyed horseback riding, and when I was eight my grandpa started waking me up at 5:30 a.m. He’s the father of ten. He’s old school. It wasn’t like, “Okay, dear. Let’s get up.”

It was more like, “Time to go! Get up!”

Then I would have breakfast with them and my uncles. Now I realize they were doing their daily huddle. They were talking about who is doing what that day, and what the tasks were, and what needed to be done. Then I would go off with cowboys.

IMG_3614We would go herd cattle, and I vividly remember, especially in the winter. It’s pretty cold up there. I had wool mittens and a bunch of layers, and the sun is rising at 6:30 a.m., and I vividly remember riding my horse and thinking desperately that I really wanted all my friends to Rio to come and ride horses with me in the farm.

I wanted to bring everybody to the farm because it was so cool and so beautiful.

I think that’s the analogy.

Built Oregon: That’s where the connection came.

Carneiro: I really want to share that feeling and emotion with everybody. In November (2015) we’re going for our sixth coffee tour.

Everybody has their path

Built Oregon: What happened once you found your vision?

Carneiro: We came back and we said “We need to get our ducks in a row.” So we really launched the company in May of 2006.

This might be something that other entrepreneurs relate with. For a while I couldn’t tell people when we started. If we were talking to banks, we’d say, “Oh, we’ve been in business since 2004,” because we wanted to appear more established.

IMG_7373If we’re talking to other people, I don’t know. You’re in America and we hear about multi-millionaires, the overnight millionaires, the overnight successes.

So here we are in 2006, and we’re still slogging. I’m still not getting paid, and it just felt wrong to say, “Oh, yeah, we’ve been at this for two years now.”

It didn’t feel successful.

Only two years ago did we claim, or say, “We’ve been in business since 2004” This is when we started.

It was because of Cycle Oregon, because I realized, “Holy cow, this is our 10th Cycle Oregon. I need to own up to the fact that we’re a ten year-old company, and who cares if it has taken ten years to get there. Everybody has their path.”

Built Oregon:  You hadn’t yet started to roast your coffee locally- when did that happen?

Carneiro: In 2005, most of our shipments were FedEx. Then, in 2006, we brought a few palettes by boat. It took awhile to get here. I’m thinking “This is going to be tough competing with roasters (in Portland) that are claiming that, if your coffee is not roasted the day before, it’s bad.”

But really, we wanted to be that premium, high end, local coffee. We knew that selling coffee that was six weeks after roast date was going to be tough.

Sometime in 2006 I convinced my grandpa to let me bring in a container consignment. Essentially, my grandpa financed a container, and a container is 40,000 pounds of raw coffee.

So what we did is, that container was two thirds to three quarters green beans, and one third to one quarter was roasted coffee.

Again, the coffee wasn’t old. It just wasn’t as fresh as the competition.

Espresso BeansWe realized the coffee we had was very nice and drinkable, but not as fresh as Portlanders wanted it. I have all this coffee. Let’s just have Kobos (a coffee roaster in Northwest Portland) roast it for us, so we’d have locally roasted coffee.

So that’s what we did.

My thought was, my family (in Brazil) has the cultural know-how. We’re going to buy the cream of the crop. It comes in to Kobos. Then, they roast it based on the roast levels that we have, and we do all of the sales, marketing, and distribution.

So that was 2006, and we had a pretty good year. We went from $40,000 (in sales) to $75,000 in 2006, and to $290,000 in 2007. Then $600,000 in 2008 – (that year) we got into the University of Portland and New Seasons.

Built Oregon: And this was under the same sort of arrangement, where you had someone doing the roasting for you?

Carneiro: Yes. We only started roasting ourselves in 2012.

Built Oregon: When you opened this facility, right?

Carneiro: Yes.

Built Oregon:  So you just kept hustling, trying to get into more stores?

Carneiro: Grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries.

Built Oregon: And you had a sales staff, or was it this you?

Carneiro: Me and my partner.

Built Oregon: Just knocking on doors, using your charm?

Carneiro: That’s right {smiling}

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Shoving up the ceiling (with an innovative roaster)

Built Oregon: Because of the logistics involved of counting on these palettes of coffee to come from Brazil, and the potential bad weather, was there ever a moment where you had to just say, “I can’t deliver. I can’t get it done”?

Carneiro: Product was never a problem. The farms are very successful.

They started in the 1890s, those four brothers. They did really well. They bought more land. So now there’s five different coffee farms in the family. My cousin owns an export company.

Combined, the family probably produces four million pounds of coffee. We buy maybe 10% of one of the farm’s production.

Built Oregon: And you still worked out of your house at that time (2007), yes?

Carneiro: 2007 was the year that, essentially, my wife was tired of us being in the house. Here she had this new baby, and it was a one bathroom house that we had to share.

So we bought the first official company vehicle, and we went to an actual warehouse.

Built Oregon: And then the recession hit, and you leveled off a little bit?

Carneiro: The minimum growth we’ve ever had is 11%.

Built Oregon: So you still kept growing?

Carneiro: We still kept growing, but at $600,000, we were projecting bigger growth because we had been growing 100%. “Of course we can grow 100% every year.” We just thought it was that easy. It was only a couple of years later, looking back, we said, “Oh, that was ceiling number one.”

Photo Oct 16, 12 44 22 PMEssentially, from the $600,000 to $1.2 million, was us pushing the ceiling up, and only last year did we crack through the ceiling again. And we didn’t break it. We just kept shoving it up.

2009 was rough, because it was also the buyout year (Carneiro bought out his original partner). 2010 and 2011 were still rough years. I was by myself. We started losing some of our corporate accounts, because of corporate changes. But even with losing $100,000 of business, we were still growing overall.

Then in 2012, our numbers were a little bit better. We were able to get financing to buy the roaster. We secured this location and moved here in November.

Built Oregon: And that financing was from U.S. Bank?

Carneiro: Yes. U.S. Bank gave us the $75,000 to buy the roaster. It was a great deal.

Built Oregon: How much do they usually cost?

Carneiro: They’re $130,000 new.

Built Oregon:  And it adds all this energy efficiency.

Carneiro: Yes. That’s where the engineering background came in.

It was the engineering know-how without the coffee “geekiness”.

What happened is, this was a new technology (a Loring Coffee Roaster, which has an embedded afterburner and is able to recirculate the heat, saving 80% of energy compared to a conventional roaster).

Photo Oct 16, 11 11 01 AMIt’s a company out of Santa Rosa that started in the early 2000s. They hadn’t yet really proved themselves. There are a few people that like them, because it’s not a traditional drum roaster. The drum is fixed. Hot air roasters have a bad name, but this is a hybrid.

It wasn’t a proven technology, and I ask, “Well, how does the coffee taste?” The only other one in Oregon was in Eugene, so I stopped by over there and I called them, and they really liked it. Then I heard about this guy who won Roaster of the Year award, best coffee at this trade show, and he roasted on a Loring.

I think, “If this guy can win this award (using it), the other people are just talking without experience.”

We bought roaster number six (the sixth one ever built, purchased from another roaster who didn’t like it), and it has been really great.

The Oregon community lends a hand

Built Oregon:  Tell us about some of the help you’ve had along the way from state agencies and recourses, like the Oregon Small Business Development Center (OSBDC) and Grow Oregon (www.bizcenter.org).

Carneiro:  Early on I took a class from the OSBDC (around the time he bought out his partner and went forward on his own). I realized, you know what, I need to own it. I need to learn it. I need to learn it for myself. I took one of their business management classes, and it was really good.

And then recently Grow Oregon got in touch, saying, “Hey, we help companies.”

At that point, this was a year and a half ago. We were starting to look at expanding. We had an initial meeting with them to talk about the company and what it is that they could potentially help us with, and we said, “Well, there’s one, market research. We think we know who our demographic is, but we don’t know, and we are interested in expanding (beyond Portland)”.

To us, that was the highest value they provided, is by sitting down with us and helping us think it through.

By working with them (in conjunction with The Southern Oregon University Market Research Institute, funded in part by a donation from U.S. Bank), it forced us, internally, to look at who our demographic was. They have access to studies. They call it the “tapestry” (ESRI Tapestry Segmentation). There are 67 tapestry segments (in the U.S) of suburbanites, soccer moms and different types of people, at different income levels.

We had a few monthly meetings with them, and they worked with the group that does the research.

Built Oregon: So it’s helping you define those out-of-Portland markets without having to go there and make the mistake of them not working?

Carneiro: Yes. A lot of us like to think we have these great gut instincts. Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes they are a stomach ache.

Built Oregon: It sounds like they approached you to offer their help at just the right time, when you were thinking about expanding, and they had the reach and research capability to really provide you with some valuable help.

Carneiro: Yeah. I would have had no idea to really do market research. Do we pay somebody thousands of dollars? Do we do multiple trips? I think the fact that we specifically wanted to use the research to expand out of Oregon was an ideal fit.

IMG_2522

The future (and cracking the code)

Built Oregon: Paint us a picture a year from now, two years from now. You’ve invested your heart, your soul, into this. So where do you want it to be?

Carneiro: There’s a lot of ways to answer this.

Our goal, since opening the roastery and the espresso bar, has been to be one of the top in Portland. One of our core values is confidence with humility. So we never say we want to be ‘the’ best in Portland. We want to be known among the best in Portland, because there are some great roasters out there.

IMG_4714But we also want to be the friendliest. One of the acronyms and motives for the company that I created is ABMF, Always Be Making Friends, and we use that a lot. Even my kids are getting tired of me saying it, and it works.

Where we want to be business-wise? Two years ago we set the goal of doubling in size in two years, and we’re almost there. I want to crack through the ceiling again. We want to be in new markets.

What has happened in my entrepreneurial journey is, I’m just now getting ambitious. We just now cracked the entrepreneurial code.

I realize, why not me? These other companies did it. Why can’t we become a national player? Why can’t we become one of the 100 best companies to work for in Oregon?

We’re going be the first B Corp. coffee company in Portland. We’re at 79 points (just under the required minimum of 80 points).

Built Oregon: That’s awesome. This has really been great, we can’t thank you enough.

Carneiro: Yes. It was really fun.

To find out more about Nossa Familia, find them at their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Postscript: For more information about Oregon Small Business Development Center and Grow Oregon, contact The Oregon Small Business Development Center Network, www.bizcenter.org. The OSBDCN provides advising, training, online courses, and resources for businesses. The 19 conveniently-located centers throughout Oregon offer assistance for every aspect of business development and management.

When chemistry meets creativity: Bullseye Glass’ quest to balance business with a higher purpose

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Dan Schwoerer moved to Portland from his native Wisconsin in 1969 to make glass art, and with a partner he rented an old tire warehouse on the southwest side for $25 a month.

He had recently been in a graduate art program at the University of Wisconsin working with renowned glass artist and educator Harvey Littleton, who was driven to take the manufacturing of glass out of its industrial setting and put it within the reach of the studio artist.

As Schwoerer recalls, “We lived upstairs, my partner and I, and built a glass blowing studio underneath. We went to art fairs all around the west coast and the Midwest.

“That’s how we ran into people who were trying to make leaded stained glass and they couldn’t get the glass. There were only three manufacturers of colored glass at the time, and they were all over 100 years old, and they weren’t about to gear up for a bunch of hippies.

“So we said hey, here’s an opportunity to start a business where we could actually make some money and that can support our glass blowing habit.

And he says with a smile, “I’m still waiting to make that money”.

Lani McGregor & Dan Schwoerer in front of Bullseye Projects in the PDX Pearl

Lani McGregor & Dan Schwoerer in front of Bullseye Projects in the PDX Pearl

Its been a 46 year quest for Schwoerer and the company he eventually co-founded in 1974 to make that colored glass, Bullseye Glass Company, to achieve a delicate balance of art, education and commerce.

While he and his partner for the last 31 years Lani McGregor say they’re still looking for that equilibrium, the company’s longevity and resilience speaks for itself, a testament to their passion for glass, chemistry and creativity.

Learning, teaching, nurturing, and innovating

The company has always taught and nurtured the artists who shared their love of glass, informally at first, and then more formally in 1990, when it created a department of research and education, led by McGregor.

Since then they have opened galleries (most notably in the heart of Portland’s Pearl District, now named Bullseye Projects), research centers in Santa Fe, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, and a research and education center adjacent to their glass factory in SE Portland.

Says Schwoerer, “We always had an educational element, because the 3 of us (Schwoerer and his original partners, who both exited early on), came from a graduate art program – so we ran it that way. It was about that whole concept, learning and dispensing that knowledge to friends and cohorts as quick as you could.

“You would literally be learning things on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and teaching them on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There was such a lack of knowledge, especially in glass. It was industrialized, and it wasn’t a craft media. Glass was always a mystery – its forming, its making – the Venetians kept it a secret.

“Glass compositions haven’t changed in hundreds of years, but when it comes to colored glass, then it gets very complicated and very sophisticated.”

All that learning led to Bullseye’s major technical innovation in the early 80s – the first company in the world to develop a glass specifically designed for the process called kiln forming.

Two of the furnaces in the Bullseye factory in SE Portland

Two of the furnaces in the Bullseye factory in SE Portland

McGregor notes “That’s not putting glasses together with lead as is done with stained glass, but actually fusing disparate pieces of colored glass together, so that they fuse together.”

And, adds Schwoerer, “What we were able to do was to come up with a very simple method to test whether the glass was compatible or not. Because initially you had to send stuff to a laboratory, which would take 2 or 3 weeks before you’d get the results.”

From these innovations came the first line of “tested compatible” glasses ever developed by any factory in the world. It turned out to be quite a mixed blessing for the company.

Giving it all away…for a higher purpose

Inventory in the Bullseye Factory

Inventory in the Bullseye Factory

“In one way it put Bullseye on the map, but in another way, it almost bankrupted it.” McGregor recalls. “It was something that came very, very close to bringing this company down, but it also was the thing that made everything in this gallery possible, everything in our educational programs, and it is now the thing that is sustaining our entire industry, because we’ve been followed by companies that can’t make a living making glass or stained glass any more, so we’re chased by other manufacturers.”

It was a chase for a relatively small market, since the users of this glass were mostly artisans – Schwoerer estimates the whole industry size is “maybe” $10 Million.

And then there was Schwoerer’s impulse, impassioned by this idea and his educational bent, to share the innovation.

Remarks McGregor, “Now if you had gone to business school you would have taken this and created a product and put it out there and not told anybody how you were making this magic product, but if you were art school graduates, you would write a book telling everyone exactly how it was done.”

That’s exactly what Schwoerer the art school graduate did, in co-authoring and publishing “Glass Fusing Book One”, still considered an essential reference book on the subject. They also went around the country and around the world, personally teaching the process. In effect, they gave it all away, for the good of the craft.

Because they really never wanted to be a business in the first place.

As McGregor succinctly points out, “It ain’t the money” that drives them forward. Schwoerer notes, “We’re totally impassioned. Our goal really is to make sure glass stays up at a very high plateau, so it doesn’t just become a hobby craft.”

McGregor quickly adds “There’s nothing wrong with the hobby craft market, it just that it’s that kind of activity that killed stained glass, frankly – that it went at some point to a hobby craft level. Everything was being chased at the entry level. All the creativity and exploration was taken out of it.

“Our biggest concern is that this doesn’t happen to this (kiln forming) method, that we’re very tied to, and hence, our involvement with the Portland Art Museum, other museums (for example, their recent participation in a Museum of Contemporary Craft exhibit in Portland this summer), and going to international caliber art fairs, to show this work at this level.

“So we’re in this odd conundrum of trying to support the upper end, where there is no money, but at the same time to not lose the income from the marketplace where the money is, and it’s a very delicate balancing point.”

The quest for balance

Has Bullseye achieved this balance, more than 30 years after the innovation that set them apart?

Says Schwoerer, “We’re still searching for it. We have spurts and fits and starts of it, things where we get a project or two that is high end”.

A great example of this higher end work is the beautiful 9 by 15 foot kiln glass panel behind the registration desk at the Nines Hotel in downtown Portland, designed by Portland artist Ellen George.

The glass panel at the Nines Hotel in Portland

The glass panel at the Nines Hotel in Portland

Nevertheless, according to McGregor, “The major part of our income comes from selling to distributors, dealers, and resellers who sell to people doing this at a hobby level”.

It’s the art studio level that Schwoerer and McGregor are still working to develop, especially locally. Specifically, McGregor notes “Studios that are creating both their individual art work and craft work, and also working as fabrication studios for others not in glass. We’ve worked with and helped to grow a few studios along those lines, here in Portland- there are more here because of our presence and the presence of another glass manufacturer.”

A great example of where glass art and commerce can mesh in the studio world would be for architectural elements, like backsplash tiles in a kitchen, for example.

Schwoerer notes “Every city should have a half dozen of those studios, working with the Ann Sacks level of tile outlets and others where they can make something unique. Glass is a perfect material for it because it cleans easily – it’s a material that belongs in architecture, in homes.

“And with us as the primary manufacturer of the feed stock, the raw material, you can buy a kiln for $1,000 and start producing tile in your basement, in your garage, or even in your kitchen. Every day you can be making some tile.”

Photo Aug 26, 10 30 16 AMAdds McGregor, “We all think that customization is what is really increasingly in demand. People want something that is personal – they don’t want to buy the latest thing out of West Elm or Crate & Barrel where you’re going to walk in and see your neighbors.

“What small craft studios can do is to supplement – they may not get the entire job, but they can do the accent pieces.”

Cultivating, selling to, and continuing to educate the maker community directly will be the key to not only growing Bullseye’s revenues to keep the business sustainable for another 46 years, but to keep this beautiful and hand crafted colored glass at the same artistic level as other mediums found in high end galleries and museums.

Because for Schwoerer and McGregor, it’s still about the love of the craft, the educators need to teach, and the chemistry of glass. That’s what has sustained them, through all the ups and downs, for all these years, and will keep driving them forward, to whatever future the business may deliver in their quest.

You can find out more about Bullseye Glass Company at their website, on Twitter, and on Facebook

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

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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.

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