04-25-2019  3:01 am      •     
Screen grab from SAFI water works website
By Helen Silvis | The Skanner News
Published: 11 June 2014

PHOTO: Startup SAFI Water Works makes human-powered solar water purification products

Are you starting up a business?  Do you hope to grow your business into a national company? What if there was a contest and the winners got a chance to win free rent for a year, free business advice, a Squarespace website and introduction to the startup community. Did I mention it comes with a grant?

If you answered yes to those questions, you might want to enter the Startup PDX Challenge.  And you should act fast because the closing date for applications is June 23.

In its second year, Startup PDX is looking for business owners with a good idea, a product or a service, and the ambition to take their dream national with Portland as their company base. Sponsored by the Portland Development Commission, the contest is international, and open to anyone willing to bring a business to Portland. 

“It’s a great program,” said Akbar Chisti of Seamus Golf, one of last year’s winners. “The Portland Development Commission was able to connect us to other makers in the city, which was critical to products we launched this year.”

Chisti and his co-founder wife  are from Beaverton and make covers for golf club heads -- among other golfing products. Free office space, seed money and business management assistant have all helped a lot, he said. But joining a community of other startups was the best prize of all.

This year up to six people will win prizes valued at $50,000.

The prizes include :

Free rent for a year in a historic space in Old Town Chinatown

      Peer-to-peer support environment with other startups

      A working capital grant of $15,000 (no equity taken)

      One year business-level website service from Squarespace

      Professional services including legal, accounting , human resources, and marketing


And up to four more companies will win merit awards worth $4,000 that include a cut-rate workspace, scholarships to classes in the Small Business Development Center, and a year subscription for a business-level website with Squarespace.

Both groups of winners will gain access to Portland's business support community with one-year memberships in Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, the Technology Association of Oregon, and PSU Business Accelerator.

A look at last year’s winners shows there is no single formula for success.

The winning six companies for 2013 were:

Clutch Play, an indie game design company;  

CoPatient, which checks medical bills for overcharges;

ONtheGo Platforms, a competitor to Google glass;

SAFI Water Works:  low-cost water purification using human power and sunlight;

Seamus Golf, which makes tartan golfing accessories;  and 

Walker Tracker, which helps companies create walking fitness programs for employees.


Amy Doering Smith, is the CEO of SAFI, which is working on products that cheaply and easily purify water. The idea for SAFI was inspired by the difficulty of finding pure water in East Africa, but she hopes that the products will find uses all over the developing world, and maybe in the developed world too.

 Challenge comes with the territory for startup companies, she said.  And when you don’t have a support community, it can feel like a very lonely road to travel.

“It’s easy to feel like an island, working on your own with your head down,” she said. So she too appreciated the instant connection to other people running startup businesses.

“One of the biggest advantages is having someone to share your challenges – and your success,” she said.  "So this is an excellent opportunity. It immerses you in the startup community.”

As a woman CEO, Smith said she was conscious of entering a largely-male, largely white world.  

“I’m really excited to see PDC emphasize startups run by women and people of color,” she said. “It can be tough to jump into that world.”


Not sure how to start a business? Get tips from Thomas Oppong at alltopstartups.com and maybe you can enter next year.

Check out the Startup PDX contest on its website to find out more: PDC Startup Challenge: http://www.pdc.us/startuppdxchallenge.aspx

For clarification or other inquiries, email Katherine Krajnak




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