Why Research & Commercialization?

Portland's vision is to be a leader in research and innovation -- through superior research and development, education and entrepreneurship -- to enhance economic prosperity. The Portland Development Commission, as the City's lead economic development agency, is focused on developing the physical infrastructure to support research and development, attracting innovative firms and entrepreneurs to the region, and capitalizing new ventures.

» Download our Research & Commercialization Cluster fact sheet [.pdf]

The creation and adoption of new products, services and business models is a fundamental driver of economic prosperity, and the companies, universities and institutions behind those new products expand markets and sales, stimulating investment and ultimately creating jobs. High degrees of innovation in a region signal support for future growth in knowledge- or technology-based industries. Brookings, in the recent report, "Export Nation: How U.S. Metros Lead National Export Growth and Boost Competitiveness," identified the commercialization of innovation as a critical driver of future metropolitan export growth.

Recognizing the importance of innovation to national economic competitiveness, President Obama recently provided more than $100 billion of Recovery Act funds for basic research and development and investments in the human, physical, and technological capital needed to perform research and commercialize innovations.

Why Portland and Oregon?

  • While below leading innovation states, R&D activity in Oregon is growing and competitive on a per capita basis. Total industry, university and government R&D expenditures in Oregon exceed $4 billion annually.
  • When it comes to the creation of new products and ideas, regions with a robust science and engineering workforce have a competitive advantage.  The Portland region is more concentrated than the nation as a whole in computer and mathematical science, architecture and engineering, and life, physical and social science occupations. It is estimated that there are more than 63,000 science and engineering professionals currently employed in the Portland region.
  • Oregon’s largest four research universities all prioritize technology commercialization.  Each institution can claim recent success in filing patents, licenses and invention disclosures, spinning-off companies and capitalizing new ventures.
  • Oregon ranks third in the nation for patents awarded per 1,000 individuals in science and engineering occupations, behind only Idaho and Vermont. On average the Portland region issues more than two thousand patents a year.
  • Access to early-stage and venture capital is improving. In 2010 Portland area firms were awarded more than $100 million in venture capital funds and more than $15 million in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants.
  • The region is home to an array of innovation sources: academic institutions, firms and organizations with considerable expertise in bioscience, software, computer and electronics manufacturing, materials science and clean technology.

What does this cluster contribute to the economy?

Research and Development Expenditures, 2007 $4.3 billion
  Rank among 50 States and District of Columbia 23rd
  Percent Change, 2000-2007 (inflation adjusted) 71%
R&D as Share of State Gross Domestic Product, 2007 2.74
  Rank among 50 States and District of Columbia 13th
R&D Expenditures at Universities & Colleges, 2008 $595 million
  Rank among 50 States and District of Columbia 26th
  Percent Change, 2003-2008 (inflation adjusted) 16%
Industry R&D as Share of Private-Sector Output, 2007 2.61
  Rank among 50 States and District of Columbia 9th
Source: National Science Foundation  
SBIR & STTR Awards, Portland MSA, 2009 $15.2 million
  Average Annual, 2000-2009 $11.1 million
Venture Capital Investment, City of Portland, 2010 $109 million
  Percent of all VC investment in Oregon, 2010 63%
  Average Annual, 2005-2010 $81 million
VC Disbursed per $1,000 of Gross Domestic Product, Oregon, 2008 1.1
  Rank among 50 States and District of Columbia 15th
Patents Issued, Portland (4-County Area), 2010 2,327
  Average Annual, 2008-2010 2,198
Patents Awarded per 1,000 Individuals in S&E Occupations, Oregon, 2008 25.4
  Rank among 50 States and District of Columbia 3rd
Source: U.S. Small Business Administration; PWC/NVCA MoneyTree Report; National Science Foundation; U.S. Patent & Trade Office
Percent of Working Population with Bachelor's Degree or Higher, Portland MSA, 2009 34%
  United States Average 28%
Estimated S&E Employment, Portland MSA, 2010 63,600
  Percent of Total Regional Employment, 2010 7%
Concentration (LQ) of Select S&E Occupations, Portland MSA, 2010:
  Computer hardware engineers 2.8
  Electronics engineer 2.4
  Materials engineers 2.3
  Biological technicians 2.3
  Biological scientists 2.0
  Computer software engineers 1.9
  Engineering managers 1.6
  Electrical engineers 1.4
  Industrial engineers 1.3
  Medical scientists 1.2
  Environmental scientists and specialists 1.2
Note: a LQ > 1.2 is considered a significant concentration of employment

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey; Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc.

Opportunities and initiatives

  • To accelerate the transformation of innovative ideas into economic development, Portland’s Economic Development Strategy explicitly seeks to improve the commercial relevance of local academic R&D and optimize technology transfer activity through university-industry-government collaboration.
  • As a job creation strategy, the Portland Development Commission (PDC) is focused on economic development projects that improve academic R&D infrastructure, commercialize innovations and encourage entrepreneurial ventures.
Portland Ten Portland Ten is an entrepreneurial development organization that assists founders in increasing revenue through better managing team, time, resources, business development and product development activities. PDC provided $35,000 in grant funding to support staff & operational costs for the Winter 2010 cycle of programs.
Portland Seed Fund PDC committed $540,000 to help capitalize the Portland Seed Fund which invests in early stage businesses in Portland and the surrounding region. Once fully capitalized, the fund will make investments of less than $100,000 to start-ups at the earliest stage of development, and attempt to fill the most critical gap in funding for growing companies.
PSU Accelerator Wet-Lab PDC contributed $1.5 million to support the construction of new wet lab space at the PSU Business Accelerator (PSBA). The lab, a partnership between PDC, PSU and OHSU, contains shared equipment necessary for start-up companies. In turn, expenses otherwise allocated to acquiring resources are directed to research and development.
Design Forum/PDX Design Forum/PDX is a joint effort by PDC, the Oregon University System and private sector businesses with the primary goal of creating a library of physical materials and an online database of information about the materials. Design Forum/PDX will also connect the design community with knowledge and resources through lectures, workshops and other events.
Schnitzer Campus/OUS Life Sciences Center To encourage innovation PDC is committed to the development of OHSU's Schnitzer Campus and the planned Collaborative Life Sciences Center in South Waterfront. The City has provide a local match for the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line to enable transit access to South Waterfront and work with State and Federal agencies and private property owners to secure resources to build out district infrastructure.
OSU Research Center PDC is working with OSU to locate a satellite branch of the Apparel Research Center to Portland to take advantage of the region's concentration of athletic and outdoor firms. The Apparel Research Center works with industry on 1) textile selection and testing, 2) apparel design and product development, and 3) market research and merchandising.
Central Eastside Entrepreneurial District The City is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurial districts. PDC is in the process of implementing and building public/private partnerships in the Central Eastside to take advantage of the district's organic growth and entrepreneurial vibe to create high-wage jobs in high-growth industries.
Green Innovation Park In partnership with Building Research Establishment, Ltd. (BRE) out of the U.K., PDC is in the process of developing a Green Innovation Park to provide green building firms with a low risk option for testing new innovative products.
Innovation District Mayor Sam Adams, in conjunction with Portland State University President Wim Wiewel, proposes to create a new central city “Innovation District.” While the final boundaries have yet to be determined, the area will likely be bordered by Interstate 405 to the west and south, Naito Parkway to the east and Jefferson Street to the north. A new district focused on innovation would play a key role in job creation by using public resources to leverage public and private investment in research commercialization, entrepreneurship and business development, and investment toward a 21st century workforce. The proposal is consistent with the City’s Economic Development Strategy, Central City 2035 Plan, and PSU’s Economic Development Strategy and University District Framework Plan.

For more information on the draft Innovation District, see the overview and map.





ONAMI: Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute


OTRADI: Oregon Translational Research and Drug Development Institute


Oregon BEST: Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center


OWET: Oregon Wave Energy Trust

Oregon's Research Universities

Portland State University (PSU)

The Green Building Research Laboratory, led by Mechanical and Materials Engineering professor David Sailor, provides applied support for the green building industry, bringing together facilities and researchers from the fields of engineering, architecture and urban studies. Working with the U.S. Green Building Council, researchers are developing an online "green roof energy calculator" that will allow users throughout the United States and Canada to estimate energy performance and cost savings of a vegetated roof compared to more conventional applications. PSU researchers are also pursuing low-carbon solutions through the study of photovoltaic materials, wind arrays, storage innovations and more.

Oregon Health & Science
University (OHSU)

Internationally renowned cancer and genomic researcher Joe Gray, Ph.D., formerly of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently joined OHSU's Knight Cancer Institute and the School of Medicine. Gray will head OHSU's Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine, which will use a combination of physics, biomedical engineering, chemistry and biology to study cancer cells growth. According to Brian Druker, M.D., director of the Knight Cancer Institute and associate dean for oncology, "Bringing Joe Gray to the OHSU is like signing Michael Jordan to your team, back when Jordan was changing how basketball was played." Advancing research into personalized cancer medicine is part of the Knight Cancer Institute's plan to leverage the $100 million gift from Nike Chairman Phil Knight and his wife, Penny.

Oregon State University (OSU)

In partnership with organizations across Oregon, OSU researchers are exploring renewable energy sources. From building design to solar cell manufacturing, initiatives aim for energy efficiency and environmental benefit.

University of Oregon (UO)

With $1.97 million from a National Science Foundation grant, a team led by computer sci¬entist Allen Malony is developing an applied computational instrument for scientific synthesis (ACISS), a state-of-the-art computer system. ACISS will benefit areas such as computer and information science, biology, chemistry, and psychology. Based on open-source cloud software infrastructure, ACISS is critical for realizing the potential of integrative science.