Tech community remembers Sam Blackman

Tech community shocked by Blackman death

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Sam Blackman, one of Portland’s highest-profile tech executives, died over the weekend. A Portland native, Blackman had deep ties to the community and built Elemental Technologies into one of the city's biggest startup successes.

He was 41. The Oregonian/OregonLive reported Blackman died of cardiac arrest.

An AWS Elemental spokesperson said the company is focused on supporting Blackman's family.

Blackman founded Elemental Technologies in 2006 with Brian Lewis and Jesse Rosenzweig.

Blackman had been a cheerleader for the city’s tech scene throughout his career and was a firm believer in its ability to compete against bigger tech hubs.

Blackman grew up in Eastmoreland and Lake Oswego. He graduated from Lakeridge High School in 1994 and headed to Brown University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. While there he was involved in the Brown College Democrats, the undergraduate council of students and played ultimate Frisbee.

He went on to earn a master’s in electrical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and an MBA at the University of Oregon.

It was family that brought him back to Portland after his first stint of graduate school. His younger brother is 10 years his junior and he wanted to be closer to home.

“I had been away from him for six years in college and grad school and I missed him and wanted to be near him as he was going through high school,” Blackman said in an interview in 2015.

A connection to Allen Alley, co-founder of Pixelworks and local investor, led Blackman to that company and his first taste of video technology. He spent six years at Pixelworks. In 2006, Blackman and fellow Pixelworks employees Lewis and Rosenzweig left to form Elemental.

They grew the business and raised $44 million from investors before they attracted the attention of Amazon. The Seattle Internet giant bought Elemental in September 2015 for $296 million.

“My fervent hope is that in three, five or 10 years we look back and this was the start of something truly special for our customers and the team here at the headquarters and the community,” Blackman said when the deal was announced.

That hope appears to be coming to fruition. Elemental — now called AWS Elemental — just moved into a new headquarters building in downtown Portland. The office houses not only Elemental but employees from other Amazon business units as well. The plan is for both Elemental and Amazon to grow here.

In addition to planting a solid business in Portland, Blackman was proud of the community work done by Elemental employees. This year, the team is on track for more than 2,000 hours of community service. Giving back to the community is an integral part of the Elemental culture and one that Blackman actively cultivated.

Just last week he said he was proud that Elemental’s community engagement is filtering into broader Amazon as well.

Following the acquisition, the company launched an Elemental Community Investment Fund and committed money to groups working on issues around hunger, education and the environment. The company also gave $150,000 to the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network to help support other entrepreneurs in the state.

While presenting this donation to OEN, Blackman said he and the team were paying it forward for all the support they received early on. The company also has annual charity run called 4K 4Charity that partnered with Rosemary Anderson High School to help the school offer technology-related education to at-risk students.

For all the time and energy Blackman spent building Elemental and being involved in the community, he was a devoted family man to his wife and two young sons.

Though he was a technology CEO, Blackman said he tried not to have a gadget on him at all times, and would disconnect when could.

“You just put your phone away and be with your kids,” he said in 2015. “Kids don’t have self awareness of like ‘how was your day poppa, how are you doing?’ It doesn’t cross their mind, thank God. What they want to do sets the agenda. After 30 seconds with them, most nights, if there is something really on my mind, it’s hard not to spin on it, but usually work can wait.”

The Portland Business Journal is a KGW News partner.

© 2017 KGW-TV


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