Startup Spokane Blog
News and Happenings From Spokane’s Startup Scene
Published January 19, 2017 by Greater Spokane Inc.
January is National Mentoring Month, honoring individuals who help bring up the next generation. Mentoring takes on various forms, and in Spokane, a special business mentor program through Startup Spokane, a program of Greater Spokane Incorporated, is helping the next generation of entrepreneurs get their business up and running.
Mentor Connect is just one way Startup Spokane helps local entrepreneurs connect with business leaders and innovators, sharing a wealth of knowledge throughout our region. The program launched in October last year and currently has around 20 active mentors.
Richard Repp, principal with Witherspoon Kelley, has served with the program since its inception, viewing it as an opportunity to pay it forward.
“I have benefited from some great mentors in my career and I consider it a duty and an honor to pay it forward and help others however I can,” he said. “I view my participation as an extension of the efforts that I and a number of other members of the business community are making to build a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem for scalable startups in our region.”
Repp noted that it’s important for businesses to strike while the iron is hot, due to a number of factors, including funding availability and a competitive marketplace. With the connections provided through Mentor Connect, entrepreneurs are able to develop their business idea with years of experience guiding them along the way. Mentors can even refer entrepreneurs to another mentor in the program, helping to create the supportive ecosystem Repp sought when joining the program.
For Michael Ebinger, Director of the WSU Center for Innovation, getting the business community connected with ideas from entrepreneurs was an important reason to take part in the Mentor Connect program.
“There seemed to be a big gap with what people with pretty big ideas had in mind and what some of the business community had to offer,” he said. “Trying to get those two connected was the goal from the beginning.”
Ebinger said the mentoring process allows entrepreneurs to come in and get a feel for the level of work required to start their business.
“My only prerequisite is that someone comes in with an idea,” Ebinger said.
If entrepreneurs have that idea in mind, they can move forward to see if their business addresses a customer need. Larger discussions follow from the questions surrounding who customers are, and how a business could address their need.
Along the way, however, challenges arise and entrepreneurs will more than likely be asked to consider a different approach to their business idea. That requires humility and an open-minded approach to solving a customer’s need once the business is up and running. Being nimble and open-minded goes a long way in the Mentor Connect program.
“The best entrepreneurs are the ones that can honestly assess their strengths and weaknesses, and then are humble enough to integrate others into their team to supplement their weaknesses,” Repp said.
April Needham, Startup Spokane Community Manager, said the organization helps convene existing business talent in the region to help beginning entrepreneurs find their footing.
“We really try to own that program, and vet both sides of that equation,” she said, referring to how Startup works both with mentors and entrepreneurs seeking assistance. The organization meets with both parties separately, and can then pair one to another in a match meant for success.
GSI, through Startup Spokane, helps local entrepreneurs launch their business and grow into a successful company. Whether it’s providing one-on-one assistance, coworking space to develop ideas, or events to engage the startup community, Startup Spokane connects our region’s talented business community with those looking to start their own business. The Mentor Connect program is open for any beginning entrepreneurs seeking a mentor. To join the Mentor Connect program, visit StartupSpokane.com/mentorconnect.
To learn more about National Mentoring Month, visit Mentoring.org.
Dan Wadkins is a Business and Intellectual Property Attorney at Lee & Hayes, PLLC. In his “day job”, Dan advises a wide variety of businesses, from startups to well-established companies, in the areas of corporate, securities and financing, mergers and acquisitions, trademark and brand protection, intellectual property protection and commercialization, wine and alcohol beverage law, and commercial transactions.
But, as Dan says “the most fun thing I get to do is work with startups.” He finds the passion of the entrepreneurs he works with contagious, and his passion for working with and supporting entrepreneurs and the startup community in the region mirrors theirs. Dan is an avid supporter of the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem and can be found at supporting or participating in numerous events and programs including Startup Weekend Spokane, the Northwest Entrepreneur Competition and the WSU Business Plan Competition where he serves as a mentor, judge and resource night educator.
Dan is passionate about entrepreneurial education and can be seen many-a-night during the school year in various campus classrooms guest lecturing in entrepreneurship classes including SCC’s Business Model Canvas Workshop, Whitworth’s Entrepreneurship class, Gonzaga University and Ignite Northwest. Dan is also on the Advisory Board for Gonzaga’s New Venture Lab.
Dan says the main reason he stayed in Spokane after graduating law school was “how much opportunity and possibility I saw gathering inertia in our area; with Startup Spokane and Startup Weekend and everyone coming together I see nothing but opportunity for Spokane to care out our own entrepreneurship niche.”
The end of 2016 was also the end of Startup Spokane’s second year, and what an incredible year it was. In addition to growing the number of participants in the region-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem, Startup Spokane convened, connected, and facilitated a myriad of new activities and programs. The inaugural Triangle Venture Expo was very successful in creating awareness across our entire region about our high growth technology startups. We officially launched our Mentor Connect program in October, with over 20 proven entrepreneurs offering to be mentors to budding entrepreneurs and startups. Startup Spokane met with nearly 130 individual entrepreneurs and provided direction and guidance to each of them, including a multitude of referrals to other organizations for support and assistance. The snapshot below provides a high level overview of the outcomes from Startup Spokane. This does not include the outcomes from each of the other 35+ organizations that serve entrepreneurs in our community.
In 2017, Startup Spokane will continue to provide assistance and programming to entrepreneurs and small businesses seeking to grow. In addition, a major area of focus will be on creating more “idea flow” in the region. This has been identified as a critical need, and will require collaboration among the colleges, universities and private sector. With over 70,000 students attending our area colleges and universities, there is an opportunity to facilitate greater ideation, and work closer with university researchers, technology transfer, and commercialization to transform ideas into businesses. We are on the precipice of creating many high growth companies in our region, and will accomplish this through intentional cooperation and collaboration between all of the partners and stakeholders.
Many thanks to all of the individuals and organizations who are passionately and collectively contributing toward making our region known for entrepreneurship across a myriad of industries! It takes a village, and a very strong and united village we are.
Rick Repp is a business lawyer and principal at the law firm of Witherspoon Kelley, where he practices in the areas of corporate, securities, mergers and acquisitions, banking and general business transactions.
During the past 15 years he has represented clients in over 50 securities offerings, including private placements with an aggregate value of over $850 million and numerous registered public offerings. A significant portion of his legal practice is also focused on negotiating mergers, acquisitions and sales of public and private businesses.
When asked what compelled him to give back to the startup community, Repp says:
”Before starting law school, I had an opportunity to help the small company I was working for raise $500,000 to expand their business and that is when I decided I wanted to become a securities lawyer. I have found there is nothing more gratifying in my line of work than helping a business grow, hire more employees and get their products to market. Working with startups is especially rewarding because I can help build something new that did not exist before.”
Repp has been actively involved in the Spokane entrepreneurial community, including serving as Board Chair of Connect Northwest when part of its programming was merged into Greater Spokane Incorporated to form Startup Spokane. He continues to serve on the advisory board of Startup Spokane and provides guidance to startups through Startup Spokane’s Mentor Connect program. He serves on the board of directors of the Spokane Angel Alliance and is a founding board member of Innovate Cheney. Repp has also guest lectured for Ignite Northwest and the Gonzaga Business Law Symposium and served as a judge at EWU’s inaugural Eagle’s Nest Pitch Contest.
Repp graduated from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in 1992 and the University of Idaho College of Law in 2001.
Attorney at Law
The Northwest Entrepreneur Competition (NEC) is a decade long consortium competition of business plans from seven regional higher education institutions – Whitworth University, Eastern Washington University, University of Idaho, Community Colleges of Spokane, Gonzaga University and Washington State University. It is the second largest business plan competition in Washington State and sees between 70-100 student team submissions annually. Over 25 judges from the community participate with multiple sponsors who value and support entrepreneurship in the Spokane community.
The Northwest Entrepreneur Competition seeks to:
- Provide students and their teams with constructive feedback and encouragement to proceed with building a sustainable enterprise based on their submitted business plan.
- Be a competitive and compelling launch pad for student teams who wish to continue on the regional and national business plan circuit.
- Create businesses that will directly benefit the Inland Northwest region through increased economic impact and employment opportunities.
This year’s competition will be held at Whitworth University on Thursday, April 13.
There are several ways to get involved with the NEC:
- Compete – If you are a high school or college student, start a team or enter an idea to compete in the competition.
- Support – If you are a community member with an entrepreneurial spirit, join a student team to support their idea in the competition.
- Judge – If you are an industry/business expert or seasoned entrepreneur, join the competition as a judge and help provide critical feedback and support to student teams as they move through the process. Contact the NEC’s Director, Sinead Voorhees, if you wish to participate as a judge for the competition.
- Sponsor – If you are a business that values entrepreneurship and wants to support the next generation of business owners and economic development in our region, support the competition through sponsorship.
- Encourage – If you are a parent, high school teacher or college professor, encourage your students to participate in the competition and entrepreneurial classes at school.
- Attend – Join us and listen to student presentations.
For more information about the competition and deadlines for application, visit the NEC website.
Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) has become an integral part of the region-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing a myriad of diverse events for entrepreneurs and small businesses of all types. During the 3rd week of November, counties across the state plan and deliver as many entrepreneur-focused events as possible. And GEW 2016 did not disappoint!
In addition to Startup Weekend Spokane, Ignite Northwest demo day, and featuring three amazing companies at the Spokane Angel Alliance luncheon, Startup Spokane hosted Entrepreneur Connect featuring Women in Entrepreneurship.
Startup Asotin and Whitman in southeastern Washington held several events, including Clarkston High School DECA Entrepreneurship Development Conference, Business Plan Competition, Lunch and Learn – Building your Personal Brand, Resource Fair at WWCC – Clarkston, and Startup Stories – Tales of the Palouse Venture Launch
The events during GEW were in addition to regularly occurring events in our region:
- Startup Spokane – Executive Connect, Entrepreneur Connect, Ecosystem Connect, plus two exciting new event series coming in 2017
- Startup Whitman – Cup O’Joe, 1st Thursday, and Office Hours
- Startup Asotin – Pub Talks, and a myriad of education workshops
A huge thank you to the staff of Startup Spokane (April Needham and Meagan Garrett), Startup Whitman (Sarah McKnight), Startup Asotin (Heather Markwalter) and South Eastern Washington Economic Development Association (Dawn Smith) for a very successful GEW across our region!
As part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, Ignite Northwest held their Demo Day for their Fall 2016 accelerator class on November 15th at Spokane’s Lincoln Center. The Ignite Northwest Accelerator is a 12 week program that accelerates local companies using Business Model Canvas philosophies along with industry-recognized instructors, experienced advisors, and knowledgeable coaches. This was the 3rd cohort to complete the accelerator program, and each of the 16 companies made three-minute presentations to a crowd of around 75.
Presenting companies included:
- Arise Assist
- Business Intelligence Solutions
- Coeur d’Alene Wood
- Compass DMS
- Dionysus Technology Concepts
- Rugged Trading Company
- Stay Alfred
- Wedding Nook
Ignite Northwest also announced their Growing and Accelerating the Inland Northwest (GAIN) equity fund, which will be a $2M fund for investments into early stage companies. This fund will complement investments made by the Spokane Angel Alliance, a region-wide angel investment network in Spokane.
Startup Weekend Spokane held its 9th event November 11th-13th at Gonzaga University. Over 125 participants, coaches, and judges participated in this 54 hour ideation event. On Friday evening, 35 individuals made one-minute pitches of their ideas, followed by the group voting and narrowing the ideas down to the top ten. Teams were formed around the ten ideas, and spent the remainder of the weekend conducting market feasibility, developing a minimum viable product, and preparing for their final pitch in front of judges on Sunday evening.
Teams with very diverse ideas, included:
- Social Craft (1st place) – Monthly subscription of craft kits.
- Smokey Stacks (2nd Place) – Cannabis cigars
- Yogini (3rd Place) – smart yoga mat that interacts with smartphone app
- Pupil (crowd favorite) – a blend of virtual reality with text books for education
- Passion Net – App for civic and volunteer engagement
- H2Diagnostics – smartphone app that analyzes human samples for a myriad of diseases
- UReps – campus advisors for travel and other products
- StyleMe – Smartphone app to help individuals with their personal fashion and style choices
- Rivr Gaming – allows individuals to watch online gaming as spectators
- K9 Kitchen – Dog necessity vending machines located in public areas
- BlockHouse – Cross Laminated Timber for modular construction of Accessory Dwelling Units
Congratulations to all of the teams and everyone who participated in Spokane’s premier ideation event!
Michael Ebinger is currently the Director of the WSU University Center for Innovation. His efforts and interests include commercializing technical research and evaluating the economic feasibility of new ideas and products through marketing research, business strategies, and operations. In 2016, Ebinger has met with 46 potential startups, dedicating more than 8 hours each to 33 of these. His efforts have led to 4 new business starts. Additionally, Ebinger currently teaches courses in the WSU Online MBA program.
In line with his passion for innovation and entrepreneurship, Ebinger plays a crucial role in Spokane’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. He is dedicated to assisting entrepreneurs through his partnership with Startup Spokane where he hosts Office Hours each week. In addition to time spent one-on-one with entrepreneurs, he is a mentor in Startup Spokane’s Mentor Connect program offering his expertise to new startups. Ebinger is also an active member of the Knowledge Network, a conglomeration of many of the support resources available in the ecosystem.
Ebinger graduated from the University of Arizona in 1980 (BA with Honors, Anthropology) and 1984 (MS, Soils, Water, and Engineering); from Purdue University in 1988 (Ph. D. in Soil Chemistry and Mineralogy); and from Washington State University in 2010 (MBA). He joined the research staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1988 and served as staff scientist until 2003. He became Ecosystems Team Lead in 2003 then interim Group Leader and Deputy Division Leader at different times for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Division through 2005. In 2005 he was named Group Leader of the Atmosphere, Climate, and Ecosystems Dynamics Group, a position he held until 2008 when he moved into program development efforts. He left the Laboratory officially in 2013.
As an R&D scientist at Los Alamos National Lab, Ebinger helped to develop a novel spectroscopic analysis of soil elements (carbon, metals, and radionuclides) that employed laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy and assisted in climate change measurements. The soil methodology was granted a US patent in 2010 (US 7,692,789); a derivative of this technology is at work on Mars aboard NASA’s Curiosity Rover. He leveraged his climate change research into pivotal policy development that was part of the foundation for greenhouse gas verification efforts during the Bush and Obama administrations. This information also formed the initial stages of key national security interests in climate change verification in denied-access territories.
Ebinger remains an active classical musician as a student of viola and as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Spokane Symphony Orchestra. As an academic, he is developing course material for Professional Science Masters programs on the Spokane and Pullman campuses.
Have a business idea you need vetted or need help with your business plan? Contact Michael for assistance.
Michael H. Ebinger, Ph. D, MBA
Director, WSU University Center for Innovation
Startup Spokane was recently highlighted on local news station KHQ on their Sunday morning show, Invest Northwest. Click here to view the video segment.