Diversity is the name of the game for new batch of incubator companies.

Cricket flour and pear vodka.

Bespoke suits and celebrity barbers.

Interactive books and in-ear headphones.

That’s quite the diverse set of products that the Portland Development Commission has honed in on for this year’s Startup PDX Challenge. The agency today announced the six finalists who will get $50,000 worth of grants and services to help get them started. We talked to them about what they are selling and what they will do with the taxpayer’s money.

Startup PDX Challenge is an annual competition designed to connect startups to Portland’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem and assist the businesses for one year through their early stage growth. We are seeking diverse founding teams of for-profit startups with an ambition to scale to a national or international market.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jeremy Roberts and Mihal Freinquel of Roberts. They make besoke clothing for high end clients starting at $4,200 a suit.


$5,000 for a suit? $12,000 for an overcoat? That doesn’t sound very Portland.

Apparently, it’s already happening here. Busy rich guys are getting measured up in their offices for bespoke suits, shirts and coats, and Roberts already has a hand in that market.

Roberts is a tailoring service run by a married couple, Jeremy Roberts and Mihal Freinquel. He’s the CEO and design director. She is the Roberts Chief Content Officer, and a content strategist at Intel by day.

Jeremy Roberts trained as a tailor in New York City. He says on his first day he just passed a needle, with no thread, through a piece of cloth for eight hours. He was being taught the basics of a craft by an Argentine-Sicilian tailor who worked well into old age.

“I was on the 11th floor. We want to take bespoke tailoring out of the basement and the upper floors and bring it to the ground floor,” he says.

They offer a deliberately limited range of classic garments to very busy men. “It’s all based on proportion,” says Roberts. “We don’t follow trends like lapels sizes changing, we don’t put out a line every season. It’s a classic look.”

The couple met in New York City five years ago. He was a tailor and lived in the clothing/retail world. She was a fashion writer and blogger. They moved to Portland in March of 2013, had a baby boy in November 2014, and formed Roberts in March 2015.

The innovation is in the trying-on process. They are designing a “fit pod” containing their limited swatches and space for a man to be measured. They aim to place the pods in airport club lounges and country clubs. Measurements can be done in 30 minutes.

“That first interaction is essential,” says Freinquel. “The client needs to know his measurements are taken by an expert who knows how the clothes should match those measurements, the draping, the fit.”

That $12,000 overcoat is made from white (undyed) cashmere. They also use vicuna, a rare wool. The look is high end but limited choice. Two types of coat. Only white or blue shirts. Some neck ties. The thinking is, a guy who wants a purple label Ralph Lauren suit does not want to waste time sorting though dozens of choices, which may not fit perfectly.

Suits start at $4,200. Thread counts are high, around 150, which means suits are delicate, not for five days a week wear. “Our typical guy has a ten or 12 suit rotation.”

She has seen clients with the money to be decisive. “They’re being measured for a $600 dress shirt and we tell them there’s a three shirt minimum, and they just go, ‘OK.’ They’re busy. And they have the money.”

“You don’t have to come back to us to reorder,” Roberts adds. All measurements are saved digitally. A suit can be turned around in six weeks. “We give you the option to do more with your time than just shopping, which most guys don’t like to do.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Yesenia Gallardo and Kenny Cloft of Poda Foods are raising crickets to roast and grind into protein flour for bars and smoothies.

Poda Foods

Kenny Cloft and Yesenia Gallardo are a pair of Yale graduates who raise crickets for food. When Gryllodes Sigillatus (the tropical house cricket) is bred, frozen to death, rinsed, roasted and then ground up in a coffee grinder, it becomes a protein powder. This can be added to in snack bars, smoothies and other foods.

Cloft, who used to be a school nutrition consultant, says it is a more sustainable way of producing protein than the usual suspects: meat, farmed fish or even soy products. “We’re trying to make it applicable to western diet.” As the Chinese aspire to a meaty western diet, it could be timely.

Gallardo says cricket has an umami, earthy, mushroomy flavor, and can take on the flavor of other ingredients.

But entomophagy (eating insects) is not going to be the silver bullet for feeding the planet’s coming 10 billion people. They aim to be transparent about how they are raised from eggs to flour.

They need to partner. They say a protein bar company in Brooklyn, NY, called Exo (as in exoskeleton) has shown an interest. And it’s no real surprise that Salt & Straw ice cream used it in a Halloween flavor, cricket, termite and ant ice cream. But it was still for comedy value.

“It’s not a worm in the ground, so it helps break down the ick factor,” says Cloft. “If we just import it from Thailand it’s still an exotic thing. We want to see it on a restaurant menu, see it served on a weekly basis."

The foodies’ antennae are twitching.

“I’ve had people see me walk up with a bag of whole, frozen crickets and they say ‘I’ve been waiting for this for years!’” says Gallardo.

Shades of Colin the Chicken in Portlandia, people do ask if the crickets were humanely raised and harvested. Their Poda web site says they lived happy lives.

“A lot of customers and people interested in the food movement ask how they were harvested and euthanized,” says Gallardo. “I think people just care, whether it’s a bespoke suit or your dinner, that some sort of care went into the product.”

Crickets can be stacked vertically so they are an efficient use of space. They are raising them in a two story, 6,000 square foot warehouse in Mollala. Left alone the insects would live to be six to eight weeks, but their eggs are taken after a few days and 10 days and they are soon euthanized by being frozen.

By March Cloft and Gallardo aim to have bred ten times the number they have now, enough to start wholesaling the powder or “cricket flour.”

They will use the PDC investment to scale up. They have their eye on a nut grinder, but rent a coffee grinder for now. The machine has to be able to handle oils in the cricket.

One other thing: “They are efficient, they eat anything," says Cloft. "They’ll eat the skin of an apple or the white part of a watermelon rind. We could feed them compost if we wanted. Right now they get 30 % brewers wort.”


TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Chaunci King of Royalty Spirits has launched Miru, a pear vodka for those who like a little bottle service or a hand-crafted cocktail.

Royalty Spirits

Chaunci King’s first product with Royalty Spirits is a pear infused vodka, distilled and bottled in Bend, Oregon, by Oregon Spirits.

“Miru is named from an old wives tale about a sea goddess dominated souls,” says Oakland native, Portland transplant, King.

“It’s how I feel entering a male-dominated industry. I thought it would be the perfect name for my brand.” She says men dominate spirits from distilling to branding to distribution. Miru is aimed at a high scale consumer, one who orders bottle service in a club or likes a hand crafted cocktail in a bar. “It’s not one to mix with lemonade,” she says. It’s in Solae’s on Alberta, Bartini, the Trio Club and the District.

She admires the way Sean Puffy Combs represents Ciroc vodka. But with her small batch she is targeting the big three: Smirnoff, Absolut and Grey Goose, particularly the latter two.

Right now Miru has launched in California and Oregon. The $29.99, 0.75 liter bottle is on sale for $19.99 until January. Idaho is next.

King has a degree in psychology and worked in Human Resources, but always bartended on the side, for example at the Moda Center. Now she sends her teams of brand ambassadors, recruited through Craigslist, out to bars and liquor stores to give out samples.

Her ideal celebrity endorsers would be the Oakland R&B singer Keyshia Cole, or the rapper Game, whom she especially admires because of his foundation serving women and children, The Robin Hood Project.

What she needs from the incubator is mentoring, and help with marketing, such as a social media manager. “And sales. If I could have another me, I could cover more ground,” she says.


TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - James Pritchett of Morebots writes and illustrates books for companies such as Providence Health & Services, with interactive stories on pages that are scannable by cell phone.

Morebots Books

“My kids love traditional printed books, they have a lot of questions and daddy is always busy,” says James Pritchett, founder and CEO of Morebots.

“So I thought, ‘Is there a way I can give them the answer using technology?’ So I created Morebots: robots that give them more.”

Pritchett writes and illustrates interactive children’s books with a hidden message. Literally. Using the Morebots app, readers can scan the drawings to read more about the subject or watch animations. He aims to make reading more engaging and exciting.

For instance in a book for Providence Health called “Much, Much Better Now,” about a granddad with an unhealthy lifestyle who suffers chest pains, children can learn about diet, exercise and getting enough sleep. Kids – and their parents – answer questions about their lifestyle. In fact it targets parents through children. The app sends anonymous data back to the provider, so they can learn what percentage of the audience is getting enough rest, etc.

Pritchett’s partner engineer Ryan Schouten makes sure the network is up and running optimally. They used

PHP, HTML5 and Java for the programming.

He says he is most excited about the mentorships available. As for fulfillment, the Morebots cubicle won’t be full of boxes of books. “We’ve got outside storage and as we grow we might use a fulfillment house.”


TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Daunte Paschal Sr. of Shop Hoppn' which connects relaible barbers with people in search of a high end haircut.


Who knew hair was so big?

Daunte Paschal, Sr. and Brian Rhone have teamed up to form Shophoppn, a network of high-end barbers. In fact, Paschal’s elevator pitch is high and tight with a singular message. He says Shophoppn is “A roster of barbers across the world, designed to meet the needs of the travelling professional.”

To start out with those would be professional athletes like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Paschal has worked for 10 years as one of the barbers Nike brings to the basketball All Star weekend, photo shoots and other events.

“These athletes, their marketability is at stake,” he says. “They might be travelling for 15 or 16 days without shaving. If there is not a credible barber in the city they are in, they’ll wait till they get home.”

Apparently, a few days of beard stubble is preferable to a bad haircut.

“The worst thing you can do is settle for a haircut that is not good quality,” says Paschal. “The way social media works, you’d be the topic of all jokes and trending hashtags.”

He should know: during Linsanity a couple of years ago, he cut Jeremy Lin’s hair on All Star Sunday. Nothing crazy, just a nice haircut.

“It was Monday and I was going through the airport, and just before security my phone started buzzing. Jeremy Lin had posted on Twitter thanking Nike and thanking me for the haircut.” A few minutes later when he retrieved his phone from security he had 300 notifications of retweets. By the end he gained 1,000 followers and it was retweeted almost 4,500 times. “People were asking, ‘Who’s this Daunte?’”

They aim to extend this service to not just other entertainers but business people too. Athletes need to know their barber has credibility. They need to have a steady hand and be trustworthy in a hotel room, where Paschal says there is often cash and jewelry lying around.

It’s not a stretch to see that applying to CEOs and other C-suiters.

He doesn’t trust ratings systems: “Who are these people giving five stars?” he asks. Rather, he prefers his network to grow from word of mouth, from the stars down. “I ask them, ‘Who is your home barber, and in the city you play in?’” With his established network of clients he feels he has an edge on apps like Booksy and StyleSeat.

Shophoppn’s Brian Rhone is in charge of creating the responsive website and mobile app that will handle the listing. They aim to have it up and running by the second week of February 2016, when All-Star Weekend hits Toronto, Canada.

Instagram is integral. “Instagram has changed the barbering market, it’s allowed barbers to market their work. We will use it through the athletes and our own app.”

Athletes are on it. “These guys are thinking ahead: ‘What image is the PlayStation game going to have of me? If my character is in the game I want him to have a nice beard.’”



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Brian Carter of Audibility Inc.has invented earbuds with a custom fit mold that keeps sound in.

Audibility Inc.

Brian Carter wears two hearing aids. They give him 80 per cent hearing, and he can usually make the rest up with lip reading. “Without them my alarm clock has to shake the bed to wake me up,” he jokes.

Having molded earpieces gave him the idea to make ear bud-style headphones that fit really tightly. With external sound blocked out, a $50 pair of headphones can perform better than a $200 pair that are loose in the ear.

“We like to call that mold the earprint, everyone has a different one like a fingerprint,” says Carter.

At Audibility Inc. his earbuds come with two types of polymer that you knead together then press into your ear. They react and harden, forming a pliable but firm seal. The ear buds themselves have small holes in them that the material goes through. It stays in because it adheres best to itself. (Usually when people try this themselves, the wire pulls out through the molded material.)

Carter says the fit is better than any kind of memory foam plug, he says, or Radians,

the large, malleable earplugs that airport and construction workers often use.

He is modeling Audibility Foundation’s giving strategy on two darlings of the socially conscious consumer world: Warby Parker glasses and TOMS shoes, both of which donate pair-for-pair to far off charities.

He’s doing a masters in biomedical engineering at the University of Portland, and research with OHSU on ototoxicity or hearing loss as a side effect of strong antibiotics and cancer treating drugs.

Right now he does Audibility out of coffee shops in North Portland, so he will welcome the office space. He’s working on an ad campaign based on inspirational stories of “hearing gain,” such as hearing impaired and people with cochlear implants


Poda Foods – Kenny Cloft and Yesenia Gallardo

Morebots – James Pritchett

Shop Hoppn – Daunte Paschal, Sr

Audibility, Inc– Brian Carter

Roberts – Jeremy Roberts

Royalty Spirits – Chaunci King

Startup PDX Challenge is an annual competition designed to connect startups to Portland’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem and assist the businesses for one year through their early stage growth. The PDC was seeking “diverse founding teams of for-profit startups with an ambition to scale to a national or international market.”

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A shorter version of this story appeared in print on Dec. 15 2015

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