It’s hard to believe that we are about to ring in 2016. 2015 flew by with a blink of an eye. It was a year of building and of growth, not only for Startup Spokane, but the whole entrepreneurship community at large that calls the Inland Northwest home. And we have much success to celebrate. Ryan Arnold celebrated his one-year anniversary on December 4th as GSI’s Entrepreneurial Program Director. In his role, Ryan serves as the connector, convener, and facilitator of everything entrepreneurship. In 2015, Ryan assisted more than 55 startups with their business journey, had over 250 stakeholder and partnership meetings, hosted 26 events with over 1,100 attendees, had a presence at more than 55 events with over 2600 attendees in total, and grew membership at Startup Spokane Central to over 30 members. At Central, Ryan provides direct entrepreneurship assistance, and has established startup office hours with a myriad of partners who make themselves available to provide assistance. Throughout the year, Ryan met regularly with the Champions Group, which served as his oversight committee, to maintain a holistic focus on entrepreneurship region-wide.
A trip to Bend, Oregon (America’s most entrepreneurial city in 2013) in late May 2015 was very validating for our stakeholder group. We learned that our region is on track to encourage and support native entrepreneurship as well as to recruit entrepreneurs and startups to our region. Our eight regional colleges and universities are educating 65,000 students annually, and we need to focus on harnessing their business ideas and helping to create high growth companies that provide high-wage jobs for these young graduates. We also learned that our region needs to focus on sharing our successes at the local, regional, and national level to create broader awareness of our region-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem.
We rebranded, relocated, and expanded our coworking community, Startup Spokane Central, to provide three times the space for entrepreneurs and small business to grow their business. In addition to the physical coworking space, focus was also placed on the Startup Spokane online community that provides digital content for entrepreneurs and small businesses on a 24/7 basis. The new website was launched in the fall of 2015, which includes a robust community events calendar, online support resources, Mentor Connect, Professional Connect, a newly launched podcast series, Startup Spokane Radio (in conjunction with Spokane Talks Online), and this blog. Mentor Connect and Professional Connect helps our local companies to make connections with mentors, advisors, and industry experts in the Inland Northwest.
Our region was fortunate to have received a $250K appropriation from the Washington State Legislature in July 2015 to create rural centers for entrepreneurial success in Whitman and Asotin counties. Similarly branded as Startup Whitman and Startup Asotin, entrepreneurship support and assistance is being led by Robin Ohlgren and Heather Markwalter who are the entrepreneurship program directors in each of these respective locations.
As we meet with many different individuals and organizations throughout the community, we hear a common set of messages – Our region has established more momentum than ever for supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses; we are a startup community and region; we have many great startup stories to share; and we need to focus on creating more awareness and plugging more people into the ecosystem. For all of the enthusiasm and support we have received, we are truly thankful! Here’s to the new year and looking forward to all we have yet to accomplish in 2016!