Sirti, the Spokane-based Washington state economic development agency, has received final state clearance to move ahead with a major transformation.
A bill signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire last week will abolish Sirti and a Seattle counterpart, the Washington Technology Center, and will transfer their functions to a planned new state agency, Innovate Washington.
Plans call for that agency to take a statewide, sector-based approach to bolstering technology enterprises, starting with clean energy. It also is expected, though, to continue its predecessors' missions of providing a range of support services to young innovative technology companies in other industries.
The changes take effect Aug. 1. They aren't expected to have any visible impacts here, other than that Sirti signs on the agency's facilities in the Riverpoint Campus east of downtown will be taken down and replaced with signs sporting the new name, as money allows, says Kim Zentz, Sirti's executive director.
Behind the scenes, Zentz says, "We've organized our staff members into transition teams so we can start moving forward with putting the organizations together. We're trying to align our accounting systems and working on what the near-term initiatives are going to be."
A temporary executive steering committee also is being formed, she says, that will include a couple of members from each agency's board, as well as representatives from the state Department of Commerce and Gov. Chris Gregoire's office.
A permanent board that is to be formed to oversee Innovate Washington will be chaired by the governor and will include representatives from Washington State University and the University of Washington, as well as the DOC director, Zentz says.
Among other representatives, the board also will include seven Gregoire-appointed members who own or are executives at technology-based or innovative companies in the state, and at least four of those companies must have manufacturing operations in the state, she says.
"The board's primary function is oversight of the state's investment in innovation-based development. One of their first tasks will be how they'd like to go about a search for an executive director," Zentz says.
It remains unclear whether the hiring of an executive director will spell the elimination of the positions now held by Zentz and Washington Technology Center Executive Director Chris Coleman, Zentz says. She says, though, that if so, she "most definitely would apply" for the executive director's position.
Although the combining of the two current agencies potentially puts her job in jeopardy, Zentz says she remains excited about the potential for Innovate Washington to offer technology-based economic development support services in a more cohesive, efficient manner than the two organizations do separately.
"I'm just confident that we can provider better results by taking a statewide, holistic approach to economic development," she says. Zentz helped craft the legislation that led to the creation of Innovate Washington.
Steve Goll, a spokesman for the Washington Technology Center, told the Vancouver Business Journal last week, "This a very exciting time, primarily because WTC didn't have any overlapping capabilities (with Sirti), so the two organizations coming together is a good complement."
What WTC brings to Innovate Washington, Goll said, is experience getting companies help with securing research funds, innovation grants, and loan programs. Sirti, meanwhile, brings a client services-based model that features face-to-face time between experienced entrepreneurs and startups, he said.
The state Legislature allocated $6 million to Innovate Washington for the new biennium, or about $3 million a year, which is about 20 percent less than the total of what the two merged agencies received in the prior biennium, Zentz says. However, that funding reduction isn't expected to have a significant effect on staffing, she says, because the organizations already had scaled back their work forces.
With a lot of the details of Innovate Washington's structure and strategy yet to be worked out, she says, "We all need to be comfortable with some ambiguity until the board is in place," which might not be until this fall.
She adds, "I really want to emphasize that the clients of our two organizations are our top priority, so they're not going to fall through the cracks while we're integrating."
Sirti, which went by the name Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute before reverting more formally to its oft-used acronym, offers business coaching and management assistance, as well as access to capital and certain legal services.
It describes its target clients as innovative technology companies with defensible intellectual property, large market potential, and principals who show a strong desire to grow their business."
At its two buildings here, both located east of downtown, it offers a total of 40,000 square feet of usable business-incubator space, with wet labs and light manufacturing potential, along with full-service offices and a sophisticated information-technology infrastructure.
As of a couple of months ago, it had a total of 19 tenantscounting clients and partnersoccupying incubator and other space at its four-story main building, at 665 N. Riverpoint Blvd., on the Riverpoint Campus, and at the five-year-old Sirti Technology Center, located on the other side of Spokane Falls Boulevard, at 129 N. Pine.
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