Uniting Cascadia: Cross-Border Efforts on Accelerators, Investment

Startups in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia can look forward to more regional networking and, perhaps, an increased pool of investment capital under a pair of initiatives announced Tuesday.

The Cascadia Innovation Network, spearheaded by the Canadian Consulate General in Seattle, would unite startup incubators and accelerators from across the region in an effort to improve access to funding and support services.

Meanwhile, Madrona Venture Group is leading an effort to facilitate cross-border investment in areas including fintech, mixed reality, and artificial intelligence, with a broader goal of establishing an “integrated international financial center” in the Cascadia region.

Microsoft President Brad Smith touted these and other initiatives meant to knit together the region stretching from Portland, OR, to Vancouver, Canada. The new plans are based in part on a shared belief among leaders in business, higher education, and government from the region that by working jointly, they can achieve greater scale on the global stage than any individual city can on its own.

“This is an idea that frankly has been around for a long time,” Smith said at the opening of the second Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference in Seattle on Tuesday. “I think it’s fair to say that it is an idea whose time has come.”

The idea, of which Microsoft is the chief corporate champion, was given a platform a year ago at a similar conference held in Vancouver. Smith said it was the first international trip for Microsoft’s full board of directors in more than a decade. Earlier this year, Microsoft hosted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The intervening 12 months have seen a new partnership between the University of Washington and University of British Columbia on data science in urban areas and funding for a study of high-speed rail to link the corridor from north to south.

Additional steps announced Tuesday include a pact among three of the region’s tech-focused trade schools to collaborate on preparing students for high-demand occupations, and UBC’s membership in the Global Innovation Exchange, a Microsoft-backed graduate education program uniting the UW and China’s Tsinghua University. The Global Innovation Exchange is set for its grand opening on Thursday.

Those efforts would further develop what Smith views as the Cascadia region’s greatest strength: human capital.

Smith said the Seattle-Vancouver Financial Innovation Network is a step toward addressing “what in many ways is one of our great weaknesses as a region,” namely, access to capital.

While initial details were scant, the Madrona-led effort, to begin in the fourth quarter, would work with financial regulators in the U.S. and Canada to facilitate cross-border investment and put the region’s financial services sector on par with other global centers including Boston, Dublin, Shenzhen, Munich, and Melbourne.

On the startup creation front, the Cascadia Innovation Network would tap into the region’s already substantial resources supporting new business creation. Initial participants include the UW’s tech transfer arm, CoMotion; Washington State University; Oregon Health and Science University; Oregon Translational Research & Development Institute; Portland State University Business Accelerator; UBC’s e@entrepreneurship; Wavefront; Accelerate Okanagan; Foresight; Innovation Boulevard; and Cambia Grove.

A new survey of startup accelerators in Canada and the U.S. found that British Columbia ranked sixth among states and provinces by the number of startups emerging from accelerators in 2016. “Innovation has no borders, and with the cross-border collaboration, [the Cascadia Innovation Network] stands to bridge this geographical gap and bring new opportunities for accelerators and startups to find the tools, programs, and dollars they need to succeed,” said David Rose, CEO of Gust, a software maker that produced the survey.

Photo credit: The Peace Arch at the U.S.-Canada border. Photo by Lisa Pinehill via Flickr used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

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

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