Pandere Shoes is an Alaskan founded and women-owned startup that creates expandable footwear that accommodates a host of conditions such as edema, diabetes, and neuropathy.
I met the co-founder Laura Oden when I was in Anchorage last month to speak at the Accelerate Alaska event. She came up to me after I gave my talk and told me that her company wouldn’t exist without Startup Weekend and Techstars.
While that caused a big smile to cross my face, I asked her to tell me more. She described how she met her founders at Techstars Startup Weekend in 2016.
Laura struggled for 40 years to find shoes to accommodate her lymphedema which caused one foot to be chronically swollen. Off the rack shoes only fit one foot and she needed a shoe that would expand to accommodate her swollen foot. Over time, the team realized that millions of people all over the world were struggling with a similar problem.
This was the idea she brought to the Startup Weekend. At the end of the 54-hour event, Pandere won the top slot and the company was born. The event fostered confidence that buoyed the team through enough contest wins to develop a prototype.
When you think of Alaska, you probably do not think of it as a popular location for producing shoes. The founders loved where they lived and put together a support team of shoe experts and designers in Boston, France, and Portugal. They were able to obtain early capital from prize winnings, along with mentorship from fellow entrepreneurs and investors. While Alaska is not a shoe capital, it is now headquarters to a shoe company addressing a global problem.
Pandere launched publicly on Nov 2018 and has produced five unique styles that accommodate wide and extra widths for men and women who cannot fit into traditional footwear, with more styles to come. Their shoes are made in Portugal. Every shoe sale generates a donation to the Lymphatic Research and Education Network (LE&RN).
When I got back to the hotel at the end of the day I bought a pair of Pandere Saturday Shoes to give them a try. I have wide feet and they are often annoyed with me from all the running I do. The Pandere’s are wonderfully comfortable and have replaced my OluKai’s, which replaced my Allbirds, which replaced my Vans as my daily kicks.
The team at Pandere continues to #givefirst by giving back into the ecosystem that fed them. They have stayed involved in the community by volunteering as coaches, hosting dinners, and offering advice to budding entrepreneurs.
And hopefully, I’m helping them out a little by highlighting them here. I love origin stories that link to Techstars, and this one combines Techstars, Alaska, women-entrepreneurs, and shoes that I’m loving.
Give them a try at the Pandere Shoes online store.
Nope – Amy and I aren’t moving to Homer. While we have a home in Homer, where we will be for the next three weeks, we still call Boulder, Colorado our home. But we came very close to moving to Homer in 1995.
We were living in Boston at the time. I’d sold my first company, Feld Technologies, in 1993. By the end of 1994 I had a staff job, reporting to the co-chairmen of AmeriData where I travelled all over the US helping with acquisitions and generally causing trouble. At some point Amy and I realized we could live anywhere and we knew that Boston wasn’t home. During one of the long conversations we had at the time about our future, we started talking about calling it quits and moving to Homer, Alaska.
Amy grew up until she was eight years old in a town called Anchor Point, 20 miles north of Homer. If Anchor Point rings a bell to you, it’s because it’s the name of our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) and we’ve done some really fun things with it such as the Anchor Point Fellows Program at Wellesley College.
We did the math and realized we had enough money to live in Homer for the next 30 years if I made no more money. I wasn’t worried about that since I knew I could make at least $100,000 a year just consulting, even from a distance, so the conversation was about how we wanted to live the rest of our life.
At 29 years old I thought very hard about whether or not I was done. After selling my first company, I’d invested as an angel investor in a bunch of companies, was a non-executive Chairman / co-founder of a few, and had lots of ideas for new things to do. But I had also recently come out of a very deep depression and was very open to changing things in my life pretty dramatically.
Ultimately, we decided to move to Boulder, Colorado. We didn’t know anyone there and I didn’t have any business there, but it was a lot more centrally located in the US than Homer, Alaska. I figured we’d make a life in a beautiful place, but I wouldn’t have to drop out of what I was doing since the bay area was a two hour plane flight and the east coast was a four hour plane flight. We moved to Boulder in November 1995 and never looked back – it’s been amazing.
After moving to Boulder, we continued to spend a few weeks in Alaska each summer. The two week trips turned into three week trips and we ultimately bought a house in Homer in 2002. We spent between four and six weeks a year there in the summer until 2010, but haven’t been there in the past three years.
It feels like coming home to be back in Alaska. Landing in Anchorage was natural. Renting a car and driving to the Sheraton to spend the night felt totally normal. The low hanging cloudy gloom and light all through the night is just as we remember it. Things feel a lot slower here, which is both good and bad.
Our weekend in Anchorage is with a bunch of friends, including celebrating our close friends Jon and Doug’s recent marriage and spending time with Amy’s sister, her partner, and niece. And just hanging out as we get ready to head to Homer on Monday.
I’ll be working as normal for the next three weeks, just remotely from Homer. I hope to finish the final draft of my next book, Startup Opportunities (co-authored with Sean Wise), while I’m up here. And I’m going to read a lot since we don’t have a TV.
I’m glad I didn’t drop out at 29 and move to Homer – it was way too early in my life for that. But I’m equally glad we bought a house here in 2002 and have made Homer, and Alaska, part of where we live and spend our time.