Spokane Journal of Business

Startup efforts in Whitman, Asotin counties to grow

Liberty Lake’s INW Partners to hire program manager

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Inland Northwest Partners, a community economic development and educational nonprofit based in Liberty Lake, has won a two-year, $142,000 contract with the Washington state Department of Commerce for business startup assistance in Whitman and Asotin counties.

“This award fits very well into INP’s mission of bringing cutting-edge tools, training, and best practices into the region’s communities,” says Paul Kimmell, chairman of the INP’s board of directors and a Pullman-based regional business manager for Avista Corp. 

Kimmell says Avista, a founding partner of INP, recently made an additional, one-time contribution of $20,000 to the organization specifically to support its work to enhance Startup Washington 365, an initiative developed by the Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness to foster entrepreneurship in rural counties.

“It is our intent and hope that INP will be able to garner additional corporate contributions as part of the future sustainability of SW365,” Kimmell says. “These dollars will enable the initiative to expand into other rural Eastern Washington counties, including Stevens, Lincoln, and Adam.”

He adds, “So much economic growth happens through support for entrepreneurial ideas and startups. INP’s proposal focuses on how we can bring that support to these smaller, rural communities and create more prosperity there.”

In 2015, the Washington state Legislature approved $250,000 to fund Startup Washington 365 rural economic development programs through the current 2017-19 biennium. Those initial funds went toward forming two rural Centers for Entrepreneurial Success, one each in Whitman and Asotin counties.

The centers continue to serve as places where entrepreneurs can meet, share, work, and learn together. Each is linked with the urban entrepreneurial ecosystem in Spokane County, which includes affiliate programs like Startup Spokane, a program of Greater Spokane Incorporated.

In addition to the physical centers, a regional online community also has been established, expanding upon www.startupspokane.com, so that entrepreneurs and small businesses can access an events calendar, support resources, training, blogs, and podcasts on a daily basis.

Based on quarterly reports provided by Startup Spokane and the Startup Whitman/Asotin program managers, it’s estimated that since its inception, Startup Washington 365 has helped nearly 200 entrepreneurs who have succeeded in establishing 51 new ventures, Kimmel says.

While the startup effort already has designated spaces that function as centers for entrepreneurship in each county, Kimmel says the program also will be using other venues, including county libraries, to better reach those in rural areas.

As part of its new contract with the Department of Commerce, Kimmel says INP is working to recruit a full-time program manager to help lead and build services offered through Startup Washington’s centers to assist new businesses in rural communities.

“We’re looking for someone to focus solely on this program,” he says. “We have some great synergies in place already, but a dedicated manager will give us a better connection. The ideal candidate also would be someone who’s ready to affect some change and committed to creating new businesses in these areas.”

He says the program manager will be responsible for providing businesses and entrepreneurs with technical assistance, identifying and developing relationships with organizations and entities that serve entrepreneurs, and further cultivating partnerships with economic development organizations.  

The chosen candidate also will be tasked with enhancing Startup Whitman and Startup Asotin program websites and creating a regionwide mentor program, as well as a virtual networking and resource platform focused on entrepreneurship, startups, and best practices, he says.

Kimmel says applications for the position closed last week, and the organization hopes to have the post filled later this month.

Looking ahead, he says, both INP and Avista would like to make Startup Washington 365 a formal statewide program. 

“We’d like to expand this into Lincoln and Stevens counties soon as well, but will have to see if (the state commerce department) can shake loose some additional funds,” he says.   

Inland Northwest Partners is a regional nonprofit economic-development organization made up of more than 300 business leaders from Eastern Washington, North Idaho, Western Montana, and Eastern Oregon.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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