Seattle Seeks to Stir Up More Startups With New McGinn Initiative

5/9/13Follow @bromano

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Startup Seattle is evidence of “commitment and support and enthusiasm for innovation as a major vector for the health of the city going forward,” he says.

Cities across the country and around the world are trying new approaches to economic development, and specifically targeting early stage companies and entrepreneurs. And for good reason. Seattle’s renowned global companies—the anchor tenants of local industries—are still closely associated with the individual entrepreneurs who founded them. Everyone wants the next Boeing, Bezos, or Gates to set up shop in a garage or storefront or loft in their city.

In February, New York, under technology entrepreneur and three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg, launched a campaign to promote its digital and technology startup community. We Are Made in NY has many of the elements of Startup Seattle, including a resources Web site and advertising campaign.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter last October launched Startup PHL, which includes a $6 million seed fund, and another $500,000 pool of funding for startup support organizations.

Boston and Cambridge, MA have initiatives targeting affordable office space and concentrated areas of services for startups.

In San Francisco, tax breaks encourage companies to locate in the mid-Market district.

Many other city governments have or are planning similar initiatives. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which focuses on entrepreneurship, has fielded more enquiries from city governments in the last two to three years about how to attract high-tech companies, venture capital investment, and startup incubators, says Yasuyuki Motoyama, senior scholar at the Kansas City, MO-based nonprofit. (The foundation is an Xconomy underwriter.)

Economic development tactics over the last 20-plus years have a mixed record, at best. Motoyama calls out in particular city and state efforts to recruit companies from elsewhere with financial incentives. These often lead to companies coming for the money and then closing or going somewhere else, he says.

“Many efforts by city governments to get into the arena of entrepreneurship have not been successful,” Motoyama says. “It’s more like the more they try to do it, the more they will be getting in the way of entrepreneurs.”

DeVore

In Seattle, DeVore says there was some initial skepticism—since allayed, at least among the entrepreneurs participating—about a productive role for government in supporting startups, and about whether this was just a political exercise in a mayoral election year. Entrepreneurs “tend to be capitalist libertarians by politics who don’t look to government for help,” he says.

Motoyama is starting to see a change in the approach of city governments that could be more successful—it’s too soon to tell—particularly in growing startup companies locally: Rather than taking a top-down approach, governments are trying to support and facilitate work that’s already being done by the grassroots, private sector organizations in their cities. “Especially in the case of Seattle, vibrant startup organizations abound,” Motoyama says.

Examples include Startup Weekend, Northwest Entrepreneur Network, SURF Incubator, and dozens of other events, casual meet-ups, work spaces, educational opportunities, incubators, and early-stage investment groups.

Motoyama—and just about anyone else you talk to on this topic—refers to the work of Brad Feld, the investor, TechStars co-founder, speaker, and author on the subject of entrepreneurship. In October, he published Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.

Not surprisingly, city governments frequently hit Feld up for advice, some of which he put in a blog post last fall.

“The most important thing members of city government can do … Next Page »

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

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