How Seattle Startups Could Lead the World: Five Technology Themes to Watch

6/18/10Follow @gthuang

As I reflect on my time in the Northwest, I find myself gravitating toward the bigger picture: which areas of technology and business innovation is this region poised to really own over the next few years? After giving us the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, McCaw Cellular, and Starbucks, surely Seattle is ready for an encore or two?

It’s a topic that comes up often in tech startup circles. For example, on Tuesday, TechFlash put together a provocative panel and town hall discussion on the future of startup financing—but it ended up being about much more than financing. I wish I could have been there, but I’ve been on the East Coast this week.

During the event, the founders of Avvo, BigOven, BuddyTV, Jackson Fish Market, Wetpaint, and other prominent Seattle Web startups talked about the various tradeoffs between bootstrapping, taking angel money, and venture capital. I reported on this topic back in late 2008, and things haven’t changed all that much since, although company valuations are lower and it seems like more entrepreneurs are bootstrapping out of necessity.

One point of discussion in particular caught my eye from the TechFlash writeup of the event: the need for entrepreneurs to think bigger, balanced against giving up equity to VCs. “I don’t see how the small-time thinking of ‘I want control, I want control, I want control’ is going to create the incredible successful outcomes that not only Seattle needs but our industry needs in a time of change,” said Ben Elowitz of Seattle-based Wetpaint.

Entrepreneur and investor Andy Sack, from TechStars, RevenueLoan, and Founder’s Co-op, had a bit of a conflicted take on the venture capital industry, according to the report. He called the business “a racket,” but also said VCs are misunderstood in the entrepreneur community. In the end, his main message was consistent with Elowitz’s. “I think as a community Seattle has fallen behind other cities, and as a community we need to stop whining and start kicking some ass,” Sack said.

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch concurred, talking about the success of companies like Twitter, and the importance of dreaming big: “Where are the people here in Seattle saying, ‘We want to be the pulse of the planet’?” he asked.

Here’s where I stand: I think it’s mostly a cultural issue. Seattleites tend to be more reserved and laid-back than their counterparts in Silicon Valley or Boston. And they are a bit more isolated from the rest of the world than those other geographies. That doesn’t mean they don’t want their startup to rule the world (it might even be an advantage). And in fact, lately I’ve been thinking about the ways in which Seattle tech startups could rule the world. These are my five best guesses at the moment:

1. Alternative financing schemes

Seattle is quickly becoming an epicenter of new models and structures for financing … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://founderscoop.com Chris DeVore

    Great observations, Greg (and thanks for the Founders Co-op mention). Sorry to be losing you to Boston but you’ve built a great team and brand here in Seattle. Safe travels…