Google Growing in Seattle Area, But Where Are The Startups?

3/12/13Follow @bromano

Google plans to double its Kirkland, WA campus by 2015, potentially accommodating another 800 employees and further solidifying its status as an anchor of the Seattle-area technology industry.

Google’s growth in Seattle—stretching back to 2004 when it arrived largely to pull talent from Microsoft—has yet to spill over into the local startup scene in the form of entrepreneurs launching new companies. No one I contacted for this story could point to a startup launched by someone from Google Seattle/Kirkland. (If you know of one, please tell us about it in the comments.)

But the search and advertising giant, with its aggressive hiring plans, is making important impacts on the broader tech community in other ways, including at the early-stage.

“Their biggest contributions have been on the recruiting and ‘employment liquidity’ front—both drawing fresh talent into the region and providing an appealing place for high-performing talent working here for someone else to move to when they’re ready for a change,” says Chris DeVore, general partner of Founders Co-op, in an email.

Others say it’s a matter of time.

“I think it generally ‘takes a while’ for people who take a job at a hot major company to decide to leave and do a startup,” Ed Lazowska, computer science professor at the University of Washington and a longtime observer of the Seattle tech scene, says in an email. “Microsoft is a wonderful source of startups now, but that wasn’t always the case.”

Marc Nager, chief executive of Startup Weekend, agrees, particularly as Google continues to grow locally.

“We know with some degree of certainty that a high percentage of successful founders of innovative companies get their start at companies like Google, so I’m more than positive that we’ll see some incredible success stories pop out from Google in the long term,” Nager says in an email.

In the meantime, Google, like other Seattle tech giants, is supportive of entrepreneurs in other ways. For example, Google partners with Startup Weekend to run technical skills bootcamps, and the Google Cloud Platform is a local sponsor of TechStars Seattle.

DeVore notes that Google Ventures general partner Wesley Chan is based in Seattle and last year made his first local bet—alongside Founders Co-Op—on Apptentive, the in-app customer service startup and 2012 TechStars Seattle grad.

In 2011, Google bought consumer electronics shopping startup Sparkbuy—launched by Ontela co-founder Dan Shapiro—in what was viewed largely as a talent acquisition. The Sparkbuy team joined Google in Kirkland.

In announcing the latest expansion Tuesday, Google touts some $4.5 million in grants made since 2011 supporting regional efforts including STEM education.

Google currently has more than 1,000 employees in the Seattle area. An urban-suburban hybrid, Google Seattle/Kirkland—including the Kirkland engineering office and the Seattle engineering and sales office in the Fremont neighborhood—now ranks among the company’s largest sites outside of the headquarters in Mountain View, CA.

Another rendering of the Kirkland campus.

With the Kirkland expansion, Google intends to lease new, custom-designed space—to be LEED Gold certified, at least—from SRM Development, the Spokane, WA-based company that built and owns the existing 180,000-square-foot, three-building campus. Construction on the new space, which will double the existing footprint, is to begin later this year.

There have been recent hints of an expansion on this scale, which the Puget Sound Business Journal reported in January could make room for as many as 800 new employees by 2015. Google would not comment on specific hiring projections. The company made “hundreds” of hires in 2012.

About 60 percent of Google’s local employees work in Kirkland. Google Seattle/Kirkland projects include real-time communications services such as Google+ and Google Talk; elements of the Chrome Web browser; and the company’s Cloud Platform.

Lazowska calls the company’s growth great news for Seattle, adding this historical perspective:

“20 years ago, the tech industry here could have been described as ‘Microsoft and the 499 dwarfs.’ Now we have a really robust tech ecosystem with companies of all sizes reinforcing each other—large numbers of great startups, great mid-size companies, and great major companies. Some were born here. Some chose to locate here or move here. Some are major branches of companies headquartered elsewhere. Some have been acquired but still have a major Seattle presence. Together they’re creating an incredibly vibrant region.”

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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  • pighead

    I think one reason is the current high compensation of google and facebook, and to a (slightly) lesser extent, Amazon and Microsoft. With bonus and stock, an experienced developer easily makes 200k~250k, with decent work-life balance. Joining/founding a startup, working for peanuts for years with slim chance of successful exit, bringing all the stress and uncertainty upon life and family…The potential payout just doesn’t justify the risk anymore.