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that can develop promising new ideas. Graham noted that venture capitalists have started to get more interested in less-risky, more-developed companies because they can buy shares so cheaply. Howell added that in other regions, notably San Diego, city leaders formed a coherent strategy years ago to attract businesses to build on their university research, and it worked.
Part of building a culture of innovation means training people to realistically think like innovators and entrepreneurs, Machala said. As one example, she said an aspiring entrepreneur came to her office with an idea for an immunology-based startup. The person had a computer science background, and had intensely studied the key concepts of immunology for the past couple years. It won’t matter, Machala said, because no investor would back a company like this because the founder lacks the needed expertise in immunology, she said.
Machala wasn’t completely bearish about the region’s prospects, though. She’s more optimistic about the region’s strength in medical devices than in biotech, because the Northwest has stable anchor companies. And she said she’s excited about the region’s chances to develop a serious innovation strategy because of the vision of a new crop of leaders in key positions of influence. She mentioned WBBA president Chris Rivera, Washington Technology Industry Association president Ken Myer, and Washington’s Commerce Secretary, Rogers Weed as key players.
Still, the region sounds like it has a long way to go to create a serious culture of innovation. In places like that, Machala said, “invention is just in the water,” and the region values innovation that has the potential to create new industries.
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