Seattle Seeks to Stir Up More Startups With New McGinn Initiative

5/9/13Follow @bromano

Seattle is the latest big city government to throw its weight behind the technology startup community, as mayors and economic development officials across the country grasp at an elusive formula for fostering more new companies with potential to create jobs.

From New York City to San Francisco to state and national capitals, governments are trying various combinations of financial support and tax breaks, promotional campaigns, and “startup neighborhood” development plans to attract and grow young companies.

It’s a potentially fraught exercise and one with few definitive success stories so far. Entrepreneurs often view government as an obstacle to be overcome rather than a platform for success. And in many existing innovation hubs—Seattle certainly among them—grass-roots efforts by the entrepreneurs themselves are rightly highlighted as the source of startup community momentum.

The people behind the Startup Seattle initiative—being announced this morning by Mayor Mike McGinn at the headquarters of erstwhile Seattle startup-cum-billion-dollar company Zillow—know all of this. Their relatively modest plan, in the works for the last year, is patterned after the city’s long-term efforts to promote its film and music industries, and is also in line with an emerging—though still unproven—set of strategies for local government support of innovation.

Startup Seattle will consist of a full-time city staff person—to be hired later this summer—working as liaison to startup businesses and supporting organizations.

The city is adopting the startupseattle.com Web site, which was started by Red Russak last April with support from Startup Weekend, Microsoft, TechStars, and Founders Co-op. It will continue to serve as a “startup concierge”—as Russak puts it— aggregating information on startup events, resources, and job openings.

The initiative will include a marketing campaign to “help attract talent to Seattle from across the country,” the city says. And it will work on ways to develop more home-grown technology talent with programs for high school students, and connections between Seattle Public Schools and groups including Code.org.

Plans also call for an assessment of the University District with an eye toward creation of startup-friendly office space there—part of a broader transformation of the neighborhood expected over the coming decade, spurred by new transit development.

The initiative’s 2014 budget is $145,000, similar to the City of Music initiative, which is the specific model for Startup Seattle, according to the Mayor’s Office.

“I don’t want people to be disappointed that the startup initiative is relatively compact,” says Chris DeVore, general partner at Northwest-focused early-stage investment fund Founder’s Co-op, and one of 15 people on the Startup Seattle advisory committee. “I also don’t want them to get their hopes up that their worlds are going to change tomorrow.”

With upwards of 700 technology startups, the city is already—and should remain—”one of the innovation hubs globally that matters for the next 20 years,” DeVore said during a recent interview in South Lake Union, as Amazon workers chattered over lunch in the sunshine. “It’s not going to happen by accident, but there are a lot of people operating on lots of levels diagonally through the economy—education, government, small companies, big companies—that are putting their shoulder to the wheel for that to happen.” … Next Page »

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

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