The Journal’s View: Entrepreneurial ecosystem shines bright in Spokane
~March 16th, 2023
A recent event in downtown Spokane showed just how far Spokane’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has come—and provided a glimpse into its promising potential for the future.
Literally standing room only, a crowd of investors, entrepreneurs, and others packed Barrister Winery earlier this month for Ignite Northwest’s 25+5, a celebration of some of the brightest young companies in the Inland Northwest and a cluster of others that might show potential. The energy and enthusiasm bordered on palpable as keynote Kate Hudson, of Visit Spokane, created a vision of a future for Spokane’s innovation economy, and Ignite’s CEO, Tom Simpson, talked of honorees with his usual exuberance.
The event recognized companies like Slate Dental, which has developed a device that it’s billing as the next generation of flossing technology, and Rohinni, which has emerged as a leading provider of mini and micro LED applications for a variety of industries. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the event was the diversity of industries in which the companies are working, which could provide a buffer to the economic headwinds that have been forecasted.
The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Spokane has been decades in the making, with its roots extending back to the Momentum economic development effort of the late 1980s and 1990s. At that time, one of the initiatives was to establish a funding mechanism for young companies in the Inland Northwest, something that was lacking at the time. Now, some would argue that our business community has a system that’s as sophisticated as any you could find in a community the size of Spokane.
Fast forward a few decades, and according to Pitchbook, a service that tracks company sales and venture capital investments, Spokane-area companies received about $160 million in investment over a two-year period. Those in the startup community will tell you that Pitchbook data, while good, is incomplete. If that’s accurate, the total investment over those two years exceeded that $160 million mark.
We mentioned economic headwinds earlier, and of course, startups already are seeing angel investors and venture capitalists behave more conservatively with their capital. They aren’t investing as freely as they did a few years ago. And now, the failure of Silicon Valley Bank is sending some shockwaves through the startup world that some say are reaching even the Spokane market.
Even so, the 25+5 event provided a flashbulb moment that shows the Inland Northwest business community how much the entrepreneurial ecosystem has evolved and how much potential lies in its young companies.
And from an economic development perspective, that potential is important. As one speaker at the event pointed out, Seattle didn’t recruit Amazon.com Inc., Starbucks Corp., or many other significant employers in that market. They were home grown. Spokane is growing its own now, and if current trends are any indication, it will continue to do so.
The future is bright for the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and that’s something we all should celebrate.