The first year of Oregon’s Built Up Festival is in the books. Last week, makers, creatives, entrepreneurs, executives and the curious gathered in an effort to inspire, educate, connect and advance the state’s ever-expanding product ecosystem. From beer to bikes, we make it here, and people like Terry St. Marie would like the world to know that.
Crain’s spoke to St. Marie, a co-founder of Built Oregon, the nonprofit behind the Built Up Festival, about the Oregon product scene, his hopes for the festival moving forward and some hopefully positive changes ahead for the 2017 holiday shopping season.
Q: So, tell me about the genesis for the Built Up Festival. How did that come about?
St. Marie: When we founded Built Oregon three years ago, we wanted to celebrate the consumer product ecosystem in Portland, in Oregon. We had been looking at the success of other weeklong events, such as Design Week and Start Up Week. We thought we could bring people together in a pretty cool and compelling way for a week, and the support we’ve had surrounding the inaugural event has been just amazing. It has all been community driven.
Q: Built Oregon has been a passion of yours since moving to Oregon and connecting with similar civic-minded entrepreneurs. Tell us a bit about its evolution.
St. Marie: When I first came to Portland, I was looking for an opportunity to be involved in a community. I never felt like I was part of a community when I was living on the East Coast. I met (my Built Oregon co-founders) and we began talking about creating a co-working space. His was before WeWork came to town. Mitch Daugherty and I would sit for hours over coffee and discuss the state of entrepreneurship in Oregon. We also talked about real estate, and then ultimately decided to launch an online magazine. We have published more than 70 pieces on entrepreneurs, and we found we were drifting toward products and makers. That seemed to us to be an economic sector that was underpublicized and undercelebrated. From the magazine, we launched a podcast in 2015 and have done about 26 or 27 of those.
Q: A weeklong festival somehow seemed like a natural progression then?
St. Marie. In the back of our minds, every time we got together, to write or talk, we kept asking ourselves what we could do to keep forwarding our mission. We became a nonprofit. None of us were in it for the startup money and glory. And then (Mitch Daugherty) had this vision, of hosting what he believed could be a South by Southwest for consumer products. The line he uses is that the consumer product industry is to Oregon what the tech industry is to Silicon Valley.
And he’s right. This ecosystem, and this festival, they’re so in the wheelhouse of what we’re supporting.
Q: What would you describe as some of the highlights of the festival?
St. Marie: It’s hard to pick just a few things. But there was a great panel on how to talk to a buyer, helping makers get on the shelves, helping them talk to retailers. Even if you’re handmade and small, it’s still about getting your product seen, looked at and felt. How do you scale beyond the garage, or your kitchen, and what happens if you’ve been selling one or two things at a time, and now you have a big order? How do you acquire financing to expand? The community here has seized upon ways to learn and help each other. This year, we kept it close to the core. We’re already talking about adding another day in 2018 to create a marketplace, where consumers can look at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) meets SXSW. We can’t wait for next year.
Q: That’s now months and months away. Anything more from Built Oregon in the immediate future?
St. Marie: Yes. Little Boxes. We have taken over this awesome event, which encourages shoppers to explore Portland’s neighborhoods and support the ‘Little Box’ stores. It has become Portland’s Black Friday and Small Business Saturday tradition since 2011. We jumped at the chance to be a sponsor and think it makes perfect sense to add this beloved tradition to the Built Oregon family and further connect our community of shoppers and retailers. We recognize that the vibrancy of the local economy depends on all of us to support our local specialty retailers during Little Boxes, and all year long. We’re adding another day to the event, which will run Friday, Nov. 24, through Sunday, Nov. 26.