Are Startup-Hungry MIT MBAs Sleepless in Seattle?


One of the most important decisions anyone makes is deciding where to live. Lucky for me, that decision has already been made. Since I’ll be graduating soon with an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, I thought it would be great to head out West to where the software revolution began: the emerald city of Seattle, WA.

Now, I understand what some of you may be thinking: why the heck would anyone want to live in Seattle? I mean, doesn’t it rain like 10,000 inches per year? And aren’t they just a bunch of granola eating, rock band wannabes? What kind of job opportunities exist out in Seattle anyway?

I recently had the opportunity to help organize a “Seattle Tech Trek” for some of my MIT classmates (as well as the Harvard Business School, who helped set up a “startup mixer”). While many of us have roots in the technology scene, a large majority are obsessed about tech startups. Most are interested in either a) working for a small technology company, or b) starting our own venture (and if anyone is looking for good talent, please e-mail me for a list of resumes). Approximately 30 of us made the trip from Boston out to the Pacific Northwest and toured some of the area’s premier technology companies, both large and small.

I realize some of you may be biased toward the East Coast, especially since the majority of readers reside in Boston where Xconomy got started. But, I want you to keep an open mind especially if you’ve never been out West before. What follows is my “elevator pitch” for those who are contemplating whether they should move to Seattle, post-MBA.

First, and probably most obvious, Seattle is home to some of the most innovative technology companies. Yeah, sure, there are the “old timers” such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Expedia. I mean, everyone knows about those guys, right? Well, yeah—but there are also some up-and-comers which some of you may have never heard about: Impinj (RFID semiconductors), Farecast (travel, sold to Microsoft for $115 million), Isilon Systems (storage, acquired by EMC for over $2 billion), Big Fish Games (online games), DocuSign (digital signatures), AdReady (online display ads), Tableau Software (Web data), PayScale (salary data), Picnik (photos, acquired by Google), and Off & Away (travel deals). While the Bay Area may host its fair share of startups, rest assured Seattle is doing its best to stay in the running.

And, speaking of the Bay area, look at all the Silicon Valley companies who are opening offices in Seattle. Facebook recently opened an engineering center (currently the only other office besides its headquarters in the Valley), while Google, Cisco, Adobe, and all have satellite offices in Seattle as well. There’s probably a host of others I’m forgetting, but these stand out to me. (Side note: my MIT Sloan colleagues also put together a “Silicon Valley Tech Trek” as noted here by MIT Entrepreneurship Center director, Bill Aulet. )

Second, and probably most important, is the Pacific Northwest “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” A strong ecosystem is necessary to help entrepreneurs turn great ideas into great companies. At a high level, there are two major components: 1) the local availability of capital to invest in innovative startups, and 2) smart risk-takers who create teams of people willing to operate these startups.

Interestingly, Seattle has both: Madrona Venture Group is one of the premier venture capital firms in the Pacific Northwest (and probably in the country). They were one of the original investors in, and Tom Alberg—one of Madrona’s founders—still sits on the board at Amazon. I’m not a VC investor, but I’m willing to bet Madrona has huge stashes of capital ready to deploy for the next big idea (note: I spent seven years at Madrona-backed Impinj before coming to MIT). Another aspect I should mention is the startup incubators TechStars and Founders Co-op (or super angels, or micro-VCs—pick your term). Both are running strong in the Seattle area, and Andy Sack—also an MIT Sloan grad—does great work there.

The other component to the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” is the University of Washington. UW is considered by many a “public ivy” school. In fact, the Computer Science and Engineering program is one of the top 10 programs in the country (from which I am a proud alum—Computer Engineering class of ’01). The other engineering programs such as electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineering also boast high rankings (and on a side note, the UW recently started a $20 million fund to back university-related startups). So when it comes to hiring top-tier talent for any technology company, you’ll be sure the Pacific Northwest has the necessary “human capital” to turn your venture into reality.

If the dazzling array of tech companies isn’t enough, then let’s talk about what the Seattle-area geography has to offer. To the East are the Cascade Mountains. These are the same mountains that house some of the best winter snowboarding and skiing in the country (sorry New Englanders, but I’ve tried your resorts and they just don’t stack up). To the West is the Puget Sound, where bustling ferries take city dwellers to their nearby island retreats. And let’s not forget our Canadian friends to the North. Whistler Mountain is hands down one of the best places to ski/snowboard/hike/bike in the world. Not to mention the city of Vancouver, Canada, which is one of the friendliest places to visit. As far as Seattle-area neighborhoods are concerned, you won’t find many places that are safer to raise a family. Finally, look at the cost of living in Seattle. The cost-per-square foot of real estate is a bargain, especially when you compare it to West Coast metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

So, in closing, I challenge you—no, wait, I dare you to come out and see what all the hype is about. Sure, the rain sucks (and is a major motivator for getting office work done). But if you give us latte-sippin’, rock-band-lovin’ Seattleites a chance, then rest assured we will accept you with open arms. And I can guarantee some of these MBAs will be falling in love quicker than Tom and Meg.

Ryan Thurston is an MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He previously spent seven years as a software developer at Seattle-based Impinj. Follow @

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