It’s always challenging for me to make time to read a book. But this past weekend I picked up Screw the Valley – A Coast-to-Coast Tour of America’s New Tech Startup Culture written by Timothy Sprinkle, a business journalist who has written articles for some of the major startup publications, including Wired and Entrepreneur. Being a huge fan of Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities, I thought Sprinkle might offer some insights for the ecosystem work already well underway in our region. And it did not disappoint. Sprinkle spent 2012-2013 visiting seven of America’s startup cities, including New York, Austin, Las Vegas, Raleigh, Detroit, Kansas City, and Boulder. Each of these cities offer startups access to resources, including a talented workforce, investment capital, and community support to help them be successful. The point of his book is that it’s no longer just the Silicon Valley that is generating high growth, successful companies. Silicon Valley is being replicated, without some of its challenges, in these cities. Interestingly, each of these cities had a catalyst that you could point to (an individual, company, and/or organization) that seeded their efforts around entrepreneurship. And the most validating takeaway from the book is that “the driving force behind every startup ecosystem comes down to one thing – a city’s culture”.
While Sprinkle thoroughly examined each of these seven cities, their ecosystem leaders, organizations, and programming, I couldn’t help but to compare each of these cities to our work in the Inland Northwest. We may not have a Kauffman Foundation, as is catalyzing Kansas City. Nor do we have Tony Hsieh, the wealthly CEO of Zappos, who has been the catalyst in the Las Vegas startup ecosystem. And we don’t yet have an annual South-by-Southwest (SXSW) music event like Austin. But our region has all of the ingredients for a successful and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem that can compete with any city in our country. We have eight colleges and universities, with 65,000 students attending every year. The talented workforce coming from our universities are engineers, software developers, designers, researchers and more. Many of these individuals will be our next generation of high growth entrepreneurs and community leaders. We are finding ways to harness their ideas, and nurture them from idea stage to revenue, from pre-funded to capital investment, and provide them with mentors and advisors along the way to ensure success for their company and the economic development of our region. We are focusing on creating a community culture that not only encourages and supports our next generation of entrepreneurs, as well as creating a culture and vibe that encourages these same people to want to live and play in our region. Let’s face it, when it comes to our quality of life, we can compete with any community in America. We have a thriving arts and music scene, an abundance of recreation, a community where you can feel safe walking down the street, and so much more. We have nearly 25 wineries, over 35 craft breweries, and a handful of cideries and distilleries – all in our backyard. As a region, our only limitation is that we are too humble about telling our story of startup success. I was in a meeting recently with Tom Simpson, by far one our strongest advocates for entrepreneurship in our community. We were discussing the possibility of hosting an event this year where we would spotlight existing high growth companies as well as provide an opportunity for a few emerging companies to pitch their pre-revenue businesses. In a matter of minutes, Tom had listed more than 15 high growth companies that were started in Spokane over the last few years. Companies like Stay Alfred, APANA, Demand Energy Networks, etailz, HyperSciences, 2nd Watch, Paw Print Genetics, RiskLens, Medication Review, Next IT, Rohinni, GenPrime, Sportscope Video, Kochava, HarvestScape, GenIIni Educational Systems, and the list goes on. Each of these companies has their own unique story to share, including their successes, adversity, lessons learned, and more.
We have an opportunity to create awareness, not only within our community and region, but on a national level about the tremendous success we have already established in the Inland Northwest. I am a believer in success breeding success. People want to collaborate, work, and live where great things are happening, and they want to contribute to the success of the regional ecosystem.
It’s time to spread the word about our region. We have been developing our entrepreneurial ecosystem for years, with an organic and grassroots approach. And look at our achievements and outcomes. Imagine where we will be in the next five or ten years as more and more people engage in the ecosystem, as entrepreneurs, educators, team members, mentors, service providers, investors, or otherwise. As I’ve always said, there is a place for everyone in our region to engage to support entrepreneurs, startups, and the business community. Together, let’s make 2016 the year of entrepreneurship in the Inland Northwest!