Carolynn Duncan

Name: Carolynn Duncan
: 31
: Portland, OR
: CEO, Investment Professional, Budding Philanthrocapitalist

When growing up in San Diego, Carolynn Duncan thought that she’d grow up to be an author, or maybe a garbage woman. She certainly didn’t see herself being at the helm of a butt-kicking mentoring program for small companies, or being a representative for young philanthrocapitalists and investment professionals everywhere.

As the CEO of Portland Ten, Carolynn makes it her job to foster the lives of early stage businesses with the hopes of growing ten million dollar companies in Portland. “Hence the name Portland Ten,” she explains. But this corporate success was a bit of an accident, as starting out in her academic life she didn’t know that business leadership was her path.

“I was taking an entrepreneurship class at Brigham Young University and I failed the class when I got too distracted to complete homework because I’d started a mall kiosk to test out the things I’d been learning in my class,” she says.

It was during that eye-opening year at Brigham Young that she worked at a seed fund, on a bootstrapping tech start-up team, and as part of the launch team for an Entrepreneur Center. After that, she had an apprenticeship with a venture capital fund, and trained junior analysts at another venture fund. The foundation was being laid for a career motivating others to make their businesses run.

The day to day life of any CEO is as varied and harried as one would expect, but Carolynn has a way of keeping it all in check. One of her secrets? “Keeping my inbox under 25. I’m religious about this!”

Other than breezing through her email, she maneuvers her way through phone calls with frenzied entrepreneurs who fear failure or smell surefire success, along with managing the regular rigmarole of running a business. For downtime, she kicks back with her cat Monkey Girl and cuts a mean rug swing dancing. She’s also extremely active in giving back to her community through nonprofit work.

When it comes to challenges, Carolynn is often her own worst enemy.  Carolynn Duncan

“I’m a very technical and introverted thinker, and my job requires incessant interaction with people,” she explains. “Being a public figure and community leader, giving talks and being at events and the like, it’s a huge challenge for me.”

She’s also afraid of flying! But Carolynn is finding ways of usurping these difficulties with the same level of tenacity and determination that she approaches Portland Ten.

As for advice for other young women who are looking to break into the business arena? Her two-cents isn’t necessarily what you’d expect.

“Business is demanding, success is hard to manage, and to do well in this arena, you can’t give yourself an “out” for being a special population,” she says. “If you’re a young woman who wants to do well, stop thinking about how hard it is to be a young woman in this space! Figure out what it takes to be successful as an entrepreneur, and focus all of your attention on improving your own abilities and skills to get there.”

Moreover, Carolynn explains that girls have to be aggressive at networking events, more so than they even realize. 

Carolynn explains that girls have to be aggressive at networking events, more so than they even realize.

“Men tend to do this naturally, and women can be much more attentive, validating, and conversationally thoughtful when participating in these situations, but it actually wrecks their credibility and ability to gain respect and find opportunities, because they aren’t putting themselves into the arena, and aren’t taken seriously or even make a lasting impression, even though they may have great accomplishments to offer.”

That’s some very savvy advice, indeed.

For being a go-getter who helps other businesses and inspires companies of all sizes, we think Carolynn Duncan is one tremendously Cool Girl!

Check out Portland Ten as well as the organizations that Carolynn is involved in, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Archimedes Alliance, Mercy Corps Northwest, Hands to Hearts International, Pathway, and Backbones.


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