This is my IQ: Marcelino Alvarez

It all started with this robot… A robot that we had to get to France.

Like many innovators, the path that brought Marcelino Alvarez to the Portland IQ wasn’t exactly what one would call “direct.”

Raised in Florida, Marcelino found his way into the world of advertising by leveraging a degree in political science with a focus on film and video production from Duke University. A variety of roles in a variety of agencies brought him, eventually, to Portland to work for global advertising agency, Wieden+Kennedy.

That’s where the robot comes in. The robot in question being the Nike Chalkbot.

“The Chalkbot was a seminal piece of work in advertising because it drew insight from an ages-old tradition and modernized it for the purpose of raising awareness for a cancer foundation. On the world’s largest athletic stage, the Livestrong brand could tell their story through the words of individuals whose lives had been impacted by cancer. For Nike and its advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, the Chalkbot proffered the real time opportunity to connect emotionally beyond the barriers of a TV commercial,” said Marcelino in a post on the project.

“For those of us who worked on the project, it changed perspectives on what it meant to build a product that integrated hardware, software, athletes, and a large event. It made all other work seem meaningless. For a three-week period in the summer of 2009, the world revolved around this machine and the messages it printed on country roads.”

And it was that changed perspective that motivated the creation of Uncorked Studios — a product design studio working from a perspective human-centered design and focusing on problems that matter — that Marcelino founded by exiting W+K but not changing his business address. Instead, his daily commute had him arriving at the same building. Just on a different floor.

He began building what would become Uncorked out of PIE, an early stage startup accelerator and Portland IQ partner, which was housed on the first floor of the W+K offices in the Pearl District. It was with that support that he found the wherewithal to build Uncorked as a new kind of agency.

“At Uncorked, we believe that ideas that matter are often hidden in plain sight, come from diverse points of view, require questioning every assumption, and are made from two parts insight and one part play.”

“We also believe that no one should build an idea that doesn’t matter.”

One of those ideas was inspired by the Japanese earthquakes in March of 2011. Marcelino recognized that his team had both the skills and the opportunity to act in service of those impacted by the disaster.

“Within 72 hours of the earthquake, Uncorked Studios launched — a site designed to collect and display aggregate radiation levels. In the weeks that followed, RDTN became part of a global organization that combined the efforts of volunteers and technology and disaster experts. With our first face-to-face meeting in Tokyo, the organization recognized the value of establishing a single identity under which to collect its work and Safecast was born.”

This is only one example of how Marcelino has inspired his studio to work. And it’s garnering notice. Through his efforts and leadership, the studio counts adidas, Diageo, Google, LEGO, Nike, Samsung, and a number of other recognizable brands that they have partnered with.

But it’s not just the work that’s innovative. Startups and real estate developers aren’t often in the same conversation, but Marcelino has struck up a partnership with local real estate developer, Beam Development, to champion affordable office space for early stage companies and growing startups in the Portland urban core. That partnership has resulted in more than just talk. Beam and Uncorked joined forces with renowned Portland architecture firm W.PA to design and build 811 Stark — a new building which sits on the eastern edge of the Portland IQ — that not only houses Marcelino’s company but a variety of early stage startups, as well.

But it’s not just startups in Portland who benefit from Marcelino’s efforts. Another has been through creating programs of his own. He’s been an active participant in “fringe diplomacy” through work with The Aspen Institute, a nonprofit think tank, to mentor and inspire entrepreneurship in Cuba.

“My Cuba work built upon the belief that international relations doesn’t need to be solely the domain of government. U.S. citizens in creative, technology, nonprofit and public sector leadership roles can build relationships with counterparts in countries on the cusp of dramatic change.”

What’s does the next innovation or opportunity lie for Marcelino?

“I think there is always increasing hype about emerging technologies — voice platforms, AR, AI, etc. It’s really easy to get caught in the echo chamber. The next innovation isn’t going to come from someone adding any of those platforms to an existing product — it will come from someone solving a difficult problem that many people face through a combination of a well designed product that utilizes just enough technology (and not too much) and makes a compelling case for why people should use it.”

Interested in more? Feel free to connect with Marcelino on LinkedIn

Rick Turoczy