OtherAthletic & Outdoor Industry Gathering Celebrates Startup Innovation, Importance of Cluster

The 3rd annual Athletic & Outdoor Industry Celebration was just that – a big celebration. With the energy of a class reunion, more than 250 people came together Thursday, Dec. 6th, to network and share in the success of the region’s important industry cluster.

In addition, the evening’s panel discussion, “Bringing Big Ideas to Life,” gave the spotlight to three local entrepreneurs who are shaking up the apparel and footwear industry with new innovations and ways of doing business:

Ken Barker, CEO, Crailar Technology – an industry veteran, Barker is pioneering a new, sustainable natural fiber process that he believes could revolutionize the textile industry.  According to Barker, the company, which is technically headquartered in Canada with offices in Portland, has found a way to take the fastest growing crops, such as flax, hemp and jute, and turn them into a sustainable fiber that is virtually indistinguishable from cotton. Barker boldly predicts: “Crailar will be a household name in five years.”

Andre Wolper, CEO, Embodee – 20 years of technology experience at Intel and Intel Capital taught Wolper to “think big.” The result of this big thinking is Embodee, a technology startup that enables digital garment experiences. Embodee’s technology creates a 3D model of a garment (or footwear), that can be used by brands for virtual sampling or customization and by online consumers to try on. Wolper believes virtual replicas are better than a photograph and give consumers and brands a very realistic experience, all online.

Made in Oregon: Embodee’s digital garment experiences

D’Wayne Edwards, Founder, Pensole Footwear Design Academy – as the youngest of six children who had a talent for drawing whatever he saw, Edwards never imagined he’d have the chance to study design. Luckily, he got a break at age 19 that led to an illustrious 20-year career in footwear design at Nike. Now, Edwards wants to give other aspiring designers the chance to learn and to give major footwear brands a source of talent. Pensole Footwear Design Academy partners with schools and companies in Oregon and around the country to develop the next generation of footwear designers.

Entrepreneurs D’Wayne Edwards and Andre Wolper

Startup challenges & advice from apparel & footwear entrepreneurs
Panel moderator and industry recruiter, Roy Notowitz of NotoGroup, asked each of the entrepreneurs to share how they went from startup idea to company, what their biggest challenges have been and what advice they’d give to others.

On the challenges side…

  • Time it takes to go from research to proof of concept to commercialization
  • Confidence and persistence to take an idea and make it happen
  • Moving from one industry, footwear, to a completely new one, education

Tips, advice and words of wisdom…

  • Need to have fortitude and the ability to hang on for your life
  • Don’t expect that just because you think you have a great idea, everyone else will understand it
  • Surround yourself with great partners and people who have a vested interest in your success

What’s next for the Athletic & Outdoor industry group
According to Portland Mayor-Elect Charlie Hales, the apparel and footwear industry employs 14,000 across the state and is poised to continue to grow.

“This is a growth sector,” said Hales. “And the spirit of design, craft and innovation of this industry fit the character of Portland and the state of Oregon so well.”

Sponsored and organized by the Portland Development Commission (PDC), the group is made up of all the major athletic and outdoor brands in town, from Nike, adidas and Columbia to Keen, Icebreaker and nau, among others, as well as service providers and several emerging ventures.

To find out more, visit http://aoportland.com/ or check out the site’s entrepreneurship page.

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