Best Free Small Business Resources in Portland
Whether you’re starting or growing a business, having access to the right resources at the right time can make all the difference. For local Portland businesses, this kind of access to small business resources has never been easier.
With a Portland small business community that numbers close to 60,000, government agencies and a number of nonprofits have made it their business to provide among them all the resources a small business needs to get started and survive. (Well, except for the customers…if only!)
Here, we’re focusing on the best free small business resources available in Portland. They can all be useful, whether you’re just getting started in business or looking to grow.
Starting a business in Portland
Starting a business can be one of the riskiest and one of the most rewarding journeys an individual can embark upon. There are a lot of questions that need answering and a lot of very specific information necessary to get things off on the right foot. And that’s true whether you’re in Portland, Oregon, or Portland, Maine.
On the one hand, Oregonians have it made in the getting-started department, with some very robust small business resources available to any would-be entrepreneur. Government agencies and nonprofit offer many services for free. But, on the other hand, it’s the government (and I say this as a former bureaucrat myself), so finding this stuff is not always easy.
Government resources for Portland small businesses
The best place to start for small business resources from the government is—bet you saw this coming—the State of Oregon.
Oregon has made it a priority to support entrepreneurs starting and growing their businesses in the state. The state entices small businesses to set up shop and stick around by creating as friendly a business environment as possible—notwithstanding the sometimes messy challenge of navigating both local and federal requirements.
The first go-to is perhaps not the most obvious: the Oregon Secretary of State. In Oregon, the Secretary of State’s office is tasked with overseeing business formation, and growth. Therefore, any new business entity needs to go through this office. Thankfully, the office makes this process intuitive with links to just about everything you’re likely to need: a license and permit directory, business registration, tax payments. There’s even an “Oregon Advantage” page that has links to tax structures and other information about the cost of doing business in the state.
If you’re just starting, the State of Oregon has a great Start-up Toolkit, which offers a step-by-step guide to getting your business going, as well as remaining compliant. Another great tool offered by the Secretary of State site is the Oregon Business Wizard. This is a tool that lets you submit the type and kind of business you’re looking to start, and in return, it generates a complete list of steps specific to your business idea. The steps include any relevant licensing, permitting and regulatory requirements, and links to applications and available state resources. It also provides contact information and links for assistance each step of the way.
Oregon Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
For those of you already established as a business and looking to grow, Oregon has dedicated staff and funding to 19 business development centers across the state. Portlanders have one located right in the heart of the city, housed within Portland Community College.
These BizCenters are overseen by the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network (SBDC) and provide on-site information, counseling, financial advice, and planning assistance to new and existing business owners. There are even a variety of online (and offline) small business management classes. Whatever stage you’re at―even you’re looking to go global―the BizCenter is a one-stop shop for any business from any sector, at stage of development.
Get local: Small business resources for Portland
City of Portland
Local is important here—hey, it’s Portland!—so you can also count on small business resources from the City.
The first stop when looking for local Portland business services is at the City of Portland Development Services. Many getting-started resources there will take you to State site, but for already-established business owners, Development Services is a precious resource. Think of it as your launching pad. Here, you can learn about everything from changing your zoning, regulations for remodeling, to where you should be putting your trash receptacles. It’s all there with any easy-to-navigate FAQ sections and contact information.
Portland District Office of the Small Business Association
This one isn’t exactly local—more like federal—but it’s tailored specifically for Portland small businesses: The Portland District Office of the Small Business Administration. Although the Small Business Administration (SBA) is a federal agency, it maintains local offices in most municipalities. Each location offers a broad range of services designed to meet the needs of just about every prospective and current small business owner. The SBA’s Portland District Office is just blocks away from City Hall, making it a very convenient pit-stop before filing all out that pesky paperwork.
Portland Development Commission
Let’s be honest, money, or access to capital, is oftentimes the biggest single barrier for a small business to realize a goal, whether it’s just getting started or looking to grow. For those feeling the pinch (and who isn’t?), the Portland Development Commission (PDC) has made its mission access to capital for small businesses in every industry. The PDC provides information about financial opportunities and capital resources for starting or expanding to any small business. Whether you’re in the market for equipment loans, remodeling, or even improving your credit, the PDC can help.
Nonprofit services for Portland small businesses
Where government assistance ends, nonprofit assistance often begins….sometimes, they even work together. True to the spirit of the city, there are dynamic community nonprofits and organizations ready to help Portland’s small businesses.
Probably first on any list of nonprofits for businesses, SCORE is a national organization dedicated to offering free mentorship to small business owners. Portland’s branch is located in the same building as the PDC, and provides free counseling and mentorship. Businesses at every stage can use the services, which are provided by former and current business leaders donating their time to help you succeed. We can’t stress enough how great a resource your local SCORE chapter is. Their whole business model is Pay It Forward, with their experienced business owner-volunteers sharing their success with new entrepreneurs.
Mercy Corps Northwest (MCN)
Like the PDC, Mercy Corps Northwest (MCN) has as its core mission providing small business financing and education, but their focus is specifically on helping disadvantaged individuals achieve their business goals. As Mercy Corps argues:
“Everyone should have the opportunity to improve their life regardless of their background. By investing in those without ready access to resources, existing economic disparities will become more equitable, and motivated, hard working individuals and families will have opportunities to break intergenerational cycles of poverty for good.”
Offering a wealth of resources, workshops, educational opportunities, and direct counseling, MCN has an impressive track record of bridging the gap between access to capital and realizing the dream of entrepreneurship.
Small Business Legal Clinic (SBLC)
There are a host of legal questions at each stage of a business’s development, but legal services are something many businesses can’t afford. The Small Business Legal Clinic (SBLC) is a program in partnership with Lewis and Clark University’s Law School that provides disadvantaged members of the small business community can access attorneys and obtain legal advice. The SBLC exists to provide legal services and advice to low income and emerging businesses in Portland. (Businesses must meet certain financial eligibility requirements.) The Clinic does everything from document review and regulatory compliance to employment counseling and entity selection and formation. The SBLC serves hundreds of clients a year, seventy-five percent of whom are women, minority, and recent immigrant business owners.
But wait! You also get…more Portland small business resources
This list of Portland small businesses is by no means exhaustive. While all the above is accessible at no cost, there are many community organizations that offer valuable resources but may have membership fees, such as local chambers, industry groups, and networks.
And, soon, Portlanders will have Townsquared to easily connect with fellow small business owners across the city, share resources, information, and work smarter together.
*If there are any other free small business service providers helping Portlanders that are not listed above, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll update this post.