Spokane Journal of Business

UW business development arm looks to expand to Spokane

Seattle-based CoMotion in talks with Ignite Northwest

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The CEO of a Spokane-based incubator for fledgling tech companies says CoMotion, a business development department arm of the University of Washington in Seattle, is exploring the possibility of expanding its startup efforts here.

Donna O’Neill, the marketing and communications director of CoMotion at the University of Washington and Global Innovation Exchange, says in an email to the Journal that CoMotion isn’t ready to reveal publicly its Spokane-area efforts now.

However, Bill Savitz, CEO of Spokane-based Ignite Northwest, says he’s had conversations with CoMotion representatives and met with them as recently as three weeks ago to discuss their plans of establishing a presence here.

“The University of Washington wants to move some of its commercialization efforts into Spokane, and we’re trying to figure out how we can partner with them,” Savitz says, adding the next scheduled meeting between he and CoMotion representatives isn’t scheduled to occur until March.

“This is a pretty exciting development,” Savitz says. “They’re overcapacity, landlocked in Seattle, and need more lab space. There’s a high cost structure they face in Seattle, so I think there’s a real economic opportunity for the University of Washington and Spokane to meet each other’s needs.”

Savitz says CoMotion’s plan is to hire at least one Spokane employee early in 2017 who will primarily “listen and learn” about potential investment and startup opportunities here.

On its website, CoMotion claims it has the ability to help guide innovators through the process of commercializing startups’ ideas, including project development, intellectual property protection, marketing, licensing, and post-licensing support.

CoMotion says it provides help to startups from a diverse group of industries—inside and outside the University of Washington community—with program and lab space, capital via an innovation fund, and mentorship through an entrepreneur-in-residence program.

CoMotion is part of the Global Innovation Exchange, a global partnership between major universities and innovative corporations to develop “thought leaders in innovation,” the website says.

In addition to UW, CoMotion has partnered with Tsinghua University, in Beijing, and Microsoft Corp. has helped provide funding and expertise to support those partnerships, the website says.

CoMotion partnered with Amazon Inc. last year to form a program called Amazon Catalyst. The program provides up to $100,000 in grant awards for innovative startups, the website says.

“We average between 30 to 50 startups in our incubators at any given time,” says a page on CoMotion’s website. “Our startups range from pre-seed to series A—employing two to 15 people each—and are variously headed by students, faculty, and community leaders, with both new and seasoned entrepreneurs present.”

CoMotion says it has raised $100 million for startups, and since 2005, its innovation fund, similar to a foundation, has awarded $9.7 million in grant money for startups, the website says.

According to CoMotion, 27 percent of the startups it’s helped launched are biotech and health care related, 26 percent are in information technology and software, and 23 percent are related to augmented and virtual reality. 

The remaining quarter of startups funded are in the industries of engineering and hardware, clean technology, security, and electronic sports and gaming, the website says.

Ignite Northwest in Spokane and CoMotion have similar missions. Ignite Northwest formed as a nonprofit business accelerator at the beginning of 2015 with the goal of helping young tech companies overcome early startup challenges. 

Since fall 2015, Ignite has taught three, 12-week sessions to the CEOs of 40 startups, 28 of which are based in Spokane. Other companies have been located in North Idaho and the Tri-Cities, Savitz says.

He says CoMotion’s presence here would give Spokane-area and Eastern Washington startups access to a much more substantial revenue stream.

“I know that at least two of the businesses that were startups in our cohort are no longer operating because they ran out of money. CoMotion’s venture capital and funding here would be really helpful,” he says.

Startup companies involved in the classes have heard from Ignite’s Professional Services Network, comprised of 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.

Ignite, located in a second-floor suite at 714 N. Iron Bridge Way, has been working with Washington State University and Greater Spokane Incorporated to identify businesses and technologies that would benefit from accelerator services. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration says only half of newly formed companies survive.

Ignite secured federal grant money to assist businesses in their startup efforts. Savitz came to Innovate Washington in October 2014 with the intention of becoming the CEO for Ignite. Innovate Washington was a statewide public-private partnership formed through the merger of the former Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute, later known as SIRTI, and the Washington Technology Center in Seattle.

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