Silicon Forest Universe

Silicon Forest Universe 2.0 

NOTE: The poster is no longer in print and physical posters are no longer available.
894 technology companies are showcased on the Silicon Forest Universe 2.0, a joint project of Virginia Tech University and Portland State University's Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies.
The poster is a result of research conducted in 2005 by Dr. Heike Mayer , now of the University of Bern's Institute of Geography in Switzerland. Dr. Mayer's research examined and visualized high-tech firms in the Willamette Valley region, using data gathered from an online survey of technology firms.

In contrast to the 2003 version, the new poster shows not only existing firms, but also firms that have ceased operations. It highlights the genealogy of 894 companies, venture capital firms, and other support organizations. The new poster was designed by Stuart Armstrong. The project was financially supported by sponsorships from OVP Venture Partners, the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, Co-operations, and Greenlight Greater Portland.

"Portland's Silicon Forest has grown and matured. Numerous firms emerged as spinoffs from Tektronix and Intel and the poster illustrates the evolution of the Forest. The updated poster shows that there are fewer startups from Tektronix and from Intel. It seems that these firms started the emergence of Portland as a high-tech region but that they are not the economic engines anymore," said Mayer, who has similar projects focusing on Boise, Phoenix, Kansas City and Washington's Puget Sound region.

2003 Silicon Forest Universe Poster

Based on data for more than 370 companies that was collected by Heike Mayer for her dissertation research, Kayoko Teramoto, a graduate of PSU's graphic design program, visualized the genealogy of the industry. A 27"x 39" full-color poster dramatically illustrates the evolution of the high tech industry in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan region. The poster shows the origins and interrelationships of more than 370 companies that have formed, grown and merged in the region over the past 60 years.

List of firms included in the poster: click here.

Origins of the Poster

Have you ever wondered why the Silicon Forest took root even though the region never had a Stanford or MIT? Heike Mayer's dissertation research concludes that the absence of a major research university did not deter the Forest from growing because the two mainstay Silicon Forest companies--Tektronix and Intel--filled this gap by functioning as surrogate universities. Both companies attracted and trained a qualified high-tech labor pool and conducted cutting-edge research and development. Furthermore, Tektronix and Intel are the main incubators for many Silicon Forest start-ups. The Silicon Forest Universe poster is a visual representation of the family relationships of start-up companies, tracing their roots back to the 1940s.

Beginning in October 2001, she collected information on the genealogy of Silicon Forest start-ups. 158 companies responded to a mail and online survey, which was supported by the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies and the help of the Software Association of Oregon, the American Electronics Association, and the Oregon Entrepreneurs Forum. Thanks to the respondents' willingness to share information about company origins, we are now able to graphically show the history of Silicon Forest start-ups. The "universe" design of the poster was the result of a competition among Portland State University graphic design students, who came up with many striking ways of organizing the information into a visually coherent poster.

The survey's key findings reveal interesting facts about the Silicon Forest:

  • Tektronix and Intel are the main incubators for Silicon Forest start-ups: Tektronix and Intel have functioned as incubators for more than 95 Silicon Forest businesses. Their sons and daughters have given birth to more than 50 new businesses, the "grandchildren" of the two most important companies in the Forest.
  • Tektronix and Intel start-ups specialize in different industry segments: Tektronix start-ups specialize in display technology, electronic design automation, semiconductors, test and measurement instruments, and software. Intel start-ups specialize mainly in Internet services, software, business services, and semiconductors. Smart people with good ideas found technological niches which oftentimes their ex-employers wouldn't support. By starting a business and applying their specialized knowledge, these entrepreneurs contributed to Portland's unique high-technology specialization.
  • Silicon Forest start-ups are closely connected with venture capital investments: Silicon Forest entrepreneurship peaked in the first half of the 1980s and again in the second half of the 1990s, paralleling local venture capital investment patterns. In the future, the availability of venture capital money will be critical for new business ventures.
  • Silicon Forest start-ups stay around: Today, 80 percent of the 300 companies represented on the Silicon Forest Family Tree poster are still in business. This suggests that Portland's high-tech start-ups can weather economic downturns.
  • Entrepreneurs value quality of life: Quality of life is important to Silicon Forest entrepreneurs. The region's cultural and natural amenities, cost of living, and a supportive business environment are significant competitive advantages. Because the region is a pleasant place to live, many entrepreneurs stayed in the Portland metropolitan area to start their businesses.
  • Availability of talented people is key to start-ups: Silicon Forest entrepreneurs perceive the region as a good business location because of the availability of talent. Also, the region's quality of life makes it easier to recruit new employees from outside the state.
  • But the lack of a local research university is a major disadvantage: Even though many entrepreneurs think that Portland's labor market is good, they consider the lack of a major university a big disadvantage, especially with regards to being able to hire from a larger pool of engineering and computer science graduates. Better technology transfer and R&D partnerships with universities are of secondary concerns.

Heike Mayer received her Ph.D. in Urban Studies from Portland State in 2003. She is currently an assistant professor in Urban Studies and Planning at Virginia Tech, and a fellow of Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute.