Transforming Ideas into Real Business Ventures

After spending the past few years focusing efforts around entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy, the greater Spokane region has successfully established the foundation for supporting startups. We have convened nearly 50 organizations, all of whom are touch points for entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. We are working collaboratively, and referring entrepreneurs and businesses to the appropriate resources at the appropriate time. The volume of activity has significantly increased over the past twelve months, and it’s now time to focus on the next objective – creating more idea flow in our region.

We have eight colleges and universities in our immediate region. They are educating nearly 70,000 students every year, and most of the recent graduates export out of our region for lack of high paying jobs. We also have many “boomerangers”, young people who initially leave our region, but later return to start families and enjoy a better quality of life. But the challenge still exists – how can we create more high growth businesses in our region so that there are high paying jobs for our graduates and boomerangers?

The answer is simply that we must focus on harnessing more ideas from our students, faculty, researchers, business and industry, and our communities. In a recent meeting with Mark VanDam, WSU’s Entrepreneur Faculty Ambassador, I learned that there are a myriad of researcher led ideas and prototypes that are sitting on the shelf for lack of time, interest, or business experience to take them from idea to product.

Industry also has challenges they need to solve for their respective businesses. For example, at Avista we have an innovation work group that is focusing on exploring new innovations that create more efficient processes internally, or provide value-add products and services for our customers. We recently initiated a web-based challenge on MindSumo that posed the question, “How will you partner with energy utilities of the future?” During the 30-day submission window, Avista received 110 entries, primarily from college students across the country. Out of the 110 submissions, Avista received approximately 20 submissions that were new innovative ideas or validated existing ideas that Avista had been internally contemplating.

The point is that ideas are plentiful, and originate in a myriad of ways. In order to capture and harness these ideas, we will intentionally focus on working with our higher education, business and community partners. It will require a multifaceted and collaborative approach:

  • The idea pipeline – Ideas from latent intellectual property, faculty and research ideas and prototypes, student ideas, and solving real business and community problems.
  • Convening students across multiple disciplines from our region’s colleges and universities.
  • Working with our university and business partners to establish ownership, transfer, and commercialization agreements.
  • Collaborating with Startup Spokane for access to mentors, funding and other necessary support resources.

Our region is poised for this next challenge, and by focusing on creating and harnessing idea flow, we have the opportunity to create more high growth startups that will employ many, provide high wage jobs, and will help to retain our skilled and talented workforce.


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