The Northwest Tech Scene, Public Policy, and Collaboration: WTIA CEO Susan Sigl on Her First 100 Days & What’s In Store

7/29/10

Three months have flown by since Susan Sigl succeeded Ken Myer as the CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA). The 26-year-old organization is the largest statewide association of tech companies and executives in the world, representing some 1,100 members and 125,000 tech employees across Washington, with a staff of just 11. That’s quite a responsibility to inherit. After just a few months on the job, Sigl has settled in, and started talking about her big plans for the future.

Sigl joined the WTIA on April 5, bringing with her a background in venture capital as the co-founder (along with Tom Huseby) of Seattle-based SeaPoint Ventures. After cutting her teeth at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Sigl was recruited away to a Texas oil and gas startup, a sector she worked in for 18 years. She then became an entrepreneur, or as she put it, a “negotiator-a doer of deals,” supporting a number of a number of early-stage companies across the mobile, wireless, and software sectors. Her resume includes a stint as SnapIn Software’s interim CFO, and working with Zumobi, and Ground Truth as part of SeaPoint’s wireless initiative.

When Sigl was appointed to the position in March, she told Greg that she was struck by the mission of the WTIA: working to support, advocate for, and help tech companies across Washington state thrive. And to her own surprise, she’s found the job to be very close to the startup culture she’s so familiar with.

“It’s interesting, because I’ve never worked in a non-profit for salary before, but the mission and the opportunity is so dynamic. It is surprisingly very much like a regular company; in some respects it is kind of entrepreneurial,” she says. “For me that has been one of the biggest highlights—to walk into a door of a nonprofit and see the same kind of motivation and attitude that you see in a startup company.”

Given that I’m new to the local tech scene, I thought it would be nice to catch up with Sigl and hear more about her experiences and plans for the growing organization. I sat down with Susan last week to chat about her first 100 days on the job, and where she plans to take the organization in the future. Almost immediately the idea of change took hold. The WTIA was founded in 1984, around when Microsoft was preparing to go public, Sigl told me. Back then, the local technology sector was heavily embedded in the rise of the personal computer. Today, however, the industry is different, and the WTIA, in turn, has changed along with it.

“It’s morphed, as you can imagine in that period of time as a technology sector has morphed, so we now in the last three and a half or four years have moved from being an organization that represents the software industry in the state to really the whole tech sector,” Sigl says. “We cover mobility, and gaming, and entertainment, and digital media, and e-commerce, and cloud computing—you know, pretty much if you can label it, it’s under our umbrella. It’s huge, and that’s what makes it pretty fun.”

Sigl further discussed some of the biggest expansions in the tech industry, and how that has changed the role of the WTIA moving forward. Here are some of the highlights, edited for length and clarity as always:

Xconomy: When you spoke with Greg a few months ago, you mentioned that one of your primary goals in your new position would be to broaden the WTIA’s sponsorship and membership. The WTIA is already the biggest tech trade association in the U.S.—what would this widening entail?

Susan Sigl: We are the biggest in the country, however in terms of penetration within our own state for membership, we probably have about 10 percent of our market. And I don’t think it works like in a typical private company analysis where’d you say ‘who else has the other piece of the market?’ I think the market is out there—it just isn’t in the fold yet. So there’s a lot of upside. And then, of course, that doesn’t even account for other tech sectors. There’s just a lot of upside to grow the organization and that’s really exciting to me. And of course that’s not just the membership, but the sponsorships, and just the involvement. We have a very sizable board—we have a 40-person board—and it represents some of the top tech leaders in the state. And there are just so many powerful elements to the organization that really have the capacity to have it expand its mission and achieve its mission. And I think there’s no limit to … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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