Billing itself as business accelerator, Ignite Northwest recently formed in Spokane with the goal of helping young tech companies overcome early startup challenges.
Bill Savitz, CEO of the nonprofit organization, says accelerator businesses help companies with working prototypes that have entered the marketplace and have “defensible intellectual property.”
The organization and its board of directors are following the leads of other accelerator companies around the country, like Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley-based company whose portfolio includes Airbnb and Dropbox, Savitz says.
But unlike Y Combinator, which provides seed money for startupsin exchange for a 7 percent equity interest, Ignite Northwest is a private, nonprofit resource organization and has secured federal grant money to assist businesses in their startup efforts.
Citing U.S. Small Business Administration statistics, Savitz says only half of newly formed companies survive.
“We want to help them get through the ‘valley of death,’” he says.
He adds, “We want to help build lasting companies in the Inland Northwest—we’re not a bank or investment firm. We see an opportunity to help companies at the next level as our community continues to grow our aerospace, biosciences, technology, and other industries.”
Ignite is located in a second-floor suite at 714 N. Iron Bridge Way. Its nine-member board includes longtime business community members like Savitz; Kim Zentz, former Innovate Washington CEO; Roger Woodworth, vice president and chief strategy officer for Avista Corp.; and Washington State University Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown.
Ignite Northwest’s plan is to teach two classes of 10 businesses a year. For 12 weeks, those companies will hear from Ignite’s Professional Services Network—local business owners who have proven to be successful in the areas of intellectual property, market planning and operations, and establishing sales channels, Savitz says.
The 12-week session will include a mix of classroom curriculum and customized mentoring. Near its completion, enrollees will present live before potential business investors. The cost for the 12-week course has yet to be determined, Savitz says.
Ignite is working with WSU and Greater Spokane Incorporated to identify businesses and technologies that would benefit from accelerator services, Savitz says. Several that have been identified, but as of yet there hasn’t been a business to enroll, he says.
Savitz says he came to Innovate Washington last October with the intention that he would become the CEO for Ignite. Innovate Washington was born out of the former Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute, later known just as SIRTI.
Savitz worked for four years as director of business development and government affairs at Garco Construction, of Spokane. Before that he served as president and CEO of Garco Building Systems, a West Plains metal-building fabricator.
SIRTI and Innovate Washington were publicly funded incubator organizations designed to help entrepreneurs in the earliest of stages of startup, notes John Overby, a senior business consultant with Ignite Northwest. Overby is a member of Ignite’s Accelerator Services Team. He worked for SIRTI for six years as client services director.
“They were level one organizations who had to serve everyone,” Overby says of SIRTI and Innovate Washington. “Often they were spread thin and left ineffective.”
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