#EugeneTech and the New Golden Zebracorn of Awesome

EugeneTechAll, FAQ

This is the story of how EugeneTech came to be and why it matters.

Before we jump into the lore and the facts however, I need to tell you that the original title of this post was going to be “The History of EugeneTech and the Golden Unicorn of Awesome.” But things changed, as things tend to do in Eugene, and now we are thinking about Zebras.

Let me explain. Please.

The actual Golden Unicorn of Awesome (GUoA) is a lovely brass sculpture which graces the table at The Barn Light coffee shop and bar where #EugeneTech meets up every Tuesday night at 5:30. “Welcome,” it seems to say silently, “You are my people. I am your mascot. Together, we will build this community of awesome.”

Is the GUoA more than just a static statue? Is it becoming a symbol of the deeper meaning of EugeneTech, I wondered? Does it have magical powers?

I planned to weave the GUofA tale into the true story about the whimsical, welcoming, artistic and brilliantly creative culture that is the epitome of the EugeneTech and startup scene. Then the zebra happened. I think it gets us closer to the truth of who we are, and why.

But first, here’s the quick backstory of the origins and purpose of #EugeneTech, because we all need a backstory!

Mark Davis, the friendly ginger-haired sasquatch developer-community-builder, force-of-nature and co-founder of CodeChops, the co-working space above the Barn Light, enthusiastically encouraged #EugeneTech into being back in 2013. Silicon Shire the directory of tech companies in the area, was up and running, and lots of people were getting excited about our emerging community. Several tech-focused user groups were meeting regularly, and Mark saw a need to aggregate all the info about all the things to make it easier for everyone to work together.

#EugeneTech is now an official .org, part of Innovate Oregon, with Mark as the General Manager and Jessica Bobrowski as the Program Manager, and Josh Evans hosting the Live Stream on Tuesdays and doing outreach. There are several interns, like Kimberlee Trim who’s helping launch this blog, and a slew of dedicated volunteers and ambassadors who work hard to make awesome happen,

Every.
Single.
Week.

“We also started the #EugeneTech Switchboard (an “ask” and “offer” community board, now 550 members strong) and a Slack with moderators,” says Mark.

“I think that #EugeneTech existed before it had a name,” says Dan Keith, a long-time Eugene software engineer and startup junkie who has been involved in building the community since the beginning, “and it is a shared vision amongst all of us who have planted our stake in the ground here in Eugene.”

Dan has been a long time supporter of growing the tech scene in Eugene for selfish reasons: “I want to work in Eugene doing things I like, and I want my friends to find work here so they don’t have to move away to Silicon Valley or Seattle.”

“When I’m talking ‘Tech’ in Eugene,” says Mark, “I mean it as the umbrella term that includes digital creatives, IT pros, startups, makers, games, educators, and of course developers. It’s all about the intersection of tech and culture. Beyond the blog, #EugeneTech really is about the people. We are trying to foster an open and inclusive community where folks feel welcome and can get that family vibe. More Eugene and less Tech, I suppose. I’d like to see Eugene maintain its culture as our tech-boom blooms.”

But what about the unicorn? How? Why?

I continued to dig. Which meant I asked Jessica. Like most things in tech, it seems the Unicorn theme was born out of analyzing data.

“In the early days of the #EugeneTech Switchboard, like any good geek, Mark wanted to know if we were using the program as expected, and watched the stats closely. The corporate team at Switchboard assured him that the #EugeneTech Switchboard was one of their best used communities and it was, indeed, a ‘Unicorn of Awesome.’ The name stuck, and we all know Mark likes a good prop.”

Mark scoured a few extra GUoA statues on eBay to give away as prizes to #EugeneTech-ers who’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty to help make awesome happen, locally. People like Ted Brown, a leader in the Game Dev Community who launched Indie Game Con, and Matt Sayre of TAO who worked tirelessly to bring fast speed Fiber to Eugene so tech companies can scale up. Amazing GUoA art has sprung up in offices and coffee shops around town in homage to the magical, mythical beast. It seemed we were on our way to being all in on the unicorn awesome.

The energy and excitement around what’s happened with the tech scene in Eugene over the past few years is indeed magical. It represents the golden vision and hard work of a lot of people and organizations with common goals, volunteering behind the scenes, while still working their day jobs, to make great things happen for our community.

“By hoof or by horn,” the GUoA has been known to whisper, “let your way be paved with the golden light of awesomeness.”

“We like it here,” says Dan. “We welcome folks who are into conversation, insight, challenge, and a healthy dose of diversity of experience, background and culture.”

But…well…let’s get back to the zebra.

Last Friday, while I was thinking about this post instead of actually writing it, Mark shared an article about how zebra’s might actually be better than unicorns, in the tech startup world.

Clearly, this is big news, and changes everything.

In the world of startups and finance, “a unicorn is a start-up company valued at over $1 billion,” says Wikipedia. “The term was coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, choosing the mythical animal to represent the statistical rarity of such successful ventures… a partner at Benchmark predicted in March 2015 and earlier that the rapid increase in the number of unicorns may presage what he has termed a “risk bubble” that will eventually burst, leaving in its wake what he terms dead unicorns.”

Okay then. It is very sad indeed to talk about dead unicorns. And burst risk bubbles. I’d rather we didn’t.

Who doesn’t like to dream of starting the next billion dollar company right here in the middle of Silicon Shire, a lovely place between Seattle and San Francisco where the entrepreneurs are smart, the housing prices are good looking, and the schools are above average?

But maybe we do need to move beyond the hyperfocus of being a Golden Unicorn to stay truly awesome. Are there signs pointing us away from focusing on Unicorn-ness?

One day, a few weeks ago, a real-life thief in Eugene stole the original Golden Unicorn of Awesome right off the table at the Barn Light. This is true. It really happened, and a bartender saw it, I heard. A woman we.do.not.know. grabbed the unicorn and ran out the door. They say she never looked back.

Why? Perhaps she needed a miracle, and she felt the GUoA could help? Or perhaps the universe decided we need a new mascot?

“It sure is a low blow to steal the mascot of a grassroots organization,” says Jessica, “especially a unicorn. I mean, I understand the desire. The unicorn is beautiful, so beautiful and majestic. What kid growing up in the 80’s didn’t want a beautiful, gleaming, brass unicorn statue? It used to look really cool on that shelf at The Barn Light, but maybe it was lonely. A unicorn should never be lonely.

Enter the Zebras.

“Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break,” wrote Jennifer Brandel, the co-founder and CEO of Hearken, and Mara Zepeda, the co-founder and CEO of Switchboard on Medium, which Mark shared for us to ponder.

“Magical thinking drives the startup economy,  but we need a strong dose of reality…The current technology and venture capital structure is broken. It rewards quantity over quality, consumption over creation, quick exits over sustainable growth, and shareholder profit over shared prosperity. It chases after “unicorn” companies bent on “disruption” rather than supporting businesses that repair, cultivate, and connect.”

Jennifer and Mara advocate the zebra as a new symbol for startup community building and prosperity.

“Why zebras?” they ask. “Unlike unicorns, zebras are real. Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the others. Zebras are also mutualistic: by banding together in groups, they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in stronger collective output. Zebra companies are built with peerless stamina and capital efficiency, as long as conditions allow them to survive.”

Wow! I like zebras!
“In the last year we’ve spoken to countless founders, investors, foundations, and thought leaders who believe zebra companies are crucial to our society’s success,” Mara and Jennifer wrote, “Yet zebras struggle for survival because they lack the environment to encourage their birth, let alone to support them through maturity…”

And perhaps, my friends, this is where #EugeneTech can truly shine. Can we be the wide open place where this new hybrid herd of ZebraCorns of Awesome can thrive and prosper? Can we maintain our creative soul of awesome and support this striped horse of a different color?

Yes. I think the answer is yes. I believe it can happen. Because that’s just how we are around here.

I heard that someone extra awesome (*cough* Ted Brown) even donated their honorary Golden Unicorn of Awesome prize back to the EugeneTech table at the Barn Light, after the original was stolen. And I also heard Mark brought a Sharpie to the next #EugeneTech Meetup. Together we’ll create the ZebraCorn of Awesome.

So join us, friends. Find your niche, and get involved. There are dozens of Meetup groups for the techies, artists and digital natives among us, and combined with the likes of the new Reinventing Women in Tech Group, Eugene Game Developers and Indie Game Con,, InDesign User group, the Graphic Design, Multimedia and CIT programs at LCC, the Product Design, Computer Science and MBA/Entrepreneurship programs at U of O, and many the technical and small business programs at LCC to help.

We appreciate all the help and insights from the cities of Eugene and Springfield, the support and partnerships with groups like the Tech Association of Oregon, RAIN-Fertilab, Lane Workforce Partnership, the Willamette Angel Fund and Conference, the Eugene and Springfield Makers, the Co-working spaces, all the fantastic programs at the libraries, and the Makerfaire put on by the Science Factory, Coder Dojo and the STEM Hub…honestly, the list is long and magnificent and I know I’m forgetting groups and I’m running out of breath because this sentence is so long…

Thank you for reading the new EugeneTech blog. We are glad to be here, and we appreciate your connection and participation.

“We are here to Elevate and Amplify — all the things!” according to Jessica, “Because that is what we do here at #EugeneTech.”

Written by Julie Anderson

Julie Anderson fell in love with writing at age 4 and a 1/2. Since then, she’s written for several newspapers, countless personal and professional blogs, nearly 30,000 pithy tweets, a few decent stories, enough business plans to last her for a long, long time, and hundreds of heartfelt Facebook posts. She’s currently the Outreach Manager at HP Inc. where she works tirelessly to connect the dots between HP’s portfolio of new technology and all the people who want to use it to make great things. Also, she makes stuff up, and she waves her hands a lot

Credits:
Golden Unicorn Painting by Liza Mana Burns
Zebracorn of Awesome Painting by Mona Superhero
Photos:
Jessica Bobrowski & Julie Anderson

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