Startup Spokane Blog
News and Happenings From Spokane’s Startup Scene
As is often the case with entrepreneurial ideas, the Game Set Match (GSM) app was born from the irritation of a persistent problem. “My partner, Chief Technologist, and avid tennis player, C.J. Bordeleau, struggled to find similarly skilled playing partners to himself as he traveled the country on business” says Marsh Sutherland, CEO of GSM. Additionally, the US Tennis Association’s (USTA) National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) for individual players proved inconsistent across geographic regions.
The problem demanded a solution – and that solution became Game Set Match.
Game Set Match is one part community forum for the tennis world and one part player improvement tracker. Currently boasting more than 300 users, most in Spokane but with pockets in Boston and New York City as well, the app allows players to find and communicate with each other to set up matches. A recent adopter and promoter of the app is Jeff Urie, Director of Tennis at the Spokane Club. “This app is a great way for members and other players to play more challenging matches, making them more prepared when USTA leagues and tournaments roll around” says Jeff. Marsh and C.J. are working to increase usage of the app and take advantage of the more than 13,000 private tennis courts in the US, all of which are listed in GSM.
Unique to this app is its utilization of the Elo Rating System which, originally used to rank chess players, is being introduced to the tennis world for the first time through GSM. The basis of this system, which takes into account the skill level of an opponent when ranking a player based on wins and losses, overcomes the geographic inconsistencies plaguing the NTRP system. “Players risk ranking points every time they play a GSM match, which gives them some ‘skin in the game'” Jeff at the Spokane Club says. As players improve their game and win more matches, the app allows them to seek out and schedule matches with higher-skilled opponents.
Click here to sign up and challenge a friend to a match! Marsh and C.J. are also looking for advisors who can offer domain knowledge in either tennis or people matching applications. You can reach them through their Facebook page here.
When asked to share his best piece of advice for startups, Marsh, a self-described serial entrepreneur, emphasizes the importance of traction. “Launched apps are nice, but if they don’t get usage then it’s just a fun hobby. A startup needs traction to know it’s viable and will grow before ever seeking any investment money” Marsh offers. “A good traction benchmark is to show 5% week-over-week growth in the one metric that matters for 10 weeks. Then seek investment if you truly need it to grow.”
After spending the past few years focusing efforts around entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy, the greater Spokane region has successfully established the foundation for supporting startups. We have convened nearly 50 organizations, all of whom are touch points for entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. We are working collaboratively, and referring entrepreneurs and businesses to the appropriate resources at the appropriate time. The volume of activity has significantly increased over the past twelve months, and it’s now time to focus on the next objective – creating more idea flow in our region.
We have eight colleges and universities in our immediate region. They are educating nearly 70,000 students every year, and most of the recent graduates export out of our region for lack of high paying jobs. We also have many “boomerangers”, young people who initially leave our region, but later return to start families and enjoy a better quality of life. But the challenge still exists – how can we create more high growth businesses in our region so that there are high paying jobs for our graduates and boomerangers?
The answer is simply that we must focus on harnessing more ideas from our students, faculty, researchers, business and industry, and our communities. In a recent meeting with Mark VanDam, WSU’s Entrepreneur Faculty Ambassador, I learned that there are a myriad of researcher led ideas and prototypes that are sitting on the shelf for lack of time, interest, or business experience to take them from idea to product.
Industry also has challenges they need to solve for their respective businesses. For example, at Avista we have an innovation work group that is focusing on exploring new innovations that create more efficient processes internally, or provide value-add products and services for our customers. We recently initiated a web-based challenge on MindSumo that posed the question, “How will you partner with energy utilities of the future?” During the 30-day submission window, Avista received 110 entries, primarily from college students across the country. Out of the 110 submissions, Avista received approximately 20 submissions that were new innovative ideas or validated existing ideas that Avista had been internally contemplating.
The point is that ideas are plentiful, and originate in a myriad of ways. In order to capture and harness these ideas, we will intentionally focus on working with our higher education, business and community partners. It will require a multifaceted and collaborative approach:
- The idea pipeline – Ideas from latent intellectual property, faculty and research ideas and prototypes, student ideas, and solving real business and community problems.
- Convening students across multiple disciplines from our region’s colleges and universities.
- Working with our university and business partners to establish ownership, transfer, and commercialization agreements.
- Collaborating with Startup Spokane for access to mentors, funding and other necessary support resources.
Our region is poised for this next challenge, and by focusing on creating and harnessing idea flow, we have the opportunity to create more high growth startups that will employ many, provide high wage jobs, and will help to retain our skilled and talented workforce.
It may seem like an old-fashioned recipe, but the combination of a high quality product and reliable customer service was the catalyst for culture media manufacturer S2 Media’s launch. Add to the mix the Pacific Northwest’s zeal for buying local and the producers of agar-filled plates for microbiological testing had found their sweet spot.
The S2 Media management team of Stephanie Bernards, Sommer Teague, and Molly Paridon first met as co-workers at Jubilant HollisterStier, local manufacturer of drug products, where they regularly handled culture media for testing purposes. “Sometimes we would find insects in the media” Stephanie says, commenting on the unreliable quality or the sometimes incorrect shipments they’d receive from manufacturers. It was in both this inconsistency of a finely-tuned product, and the lack of a culture media manufacturer in the northwest, that Stephanie and her colleagues saw an opportunity.
The trio went through the business development process – writing a business plan, calculating budgets, forecasting growth – largely on their own, opening S2 Media in November, 2015 after securing a small business loan from Mountain West Bank. “We weren’t aware of the different resources available to people starting businesses” Stephanie remarked about one of the biggest struggles they faced as entrepreneurs. In addition, Stephanie identified an unrealistic expectation of conversion time for clients as another complication the company faced. “A lot of factors play into it, but clients can go six months or longer between asking for a quote and placing an order. That timeframe was longer than we had anticipated.”
No startup is without its struggles, and in spite of those faced by S2 Media, they’ve fared quite well. Citing the adaptability and well-roundedness of the three person management team, Stephanie paints a bright picture for the company’s future. “In the next few years we hope to grow both in the products we offer and the size of our team.” S2 Media is hoping to expand operations by adding high speed filling lines for larger orders. Additionally, the company has been networking with local institutions to ensure they identify and recruit qualified talent as the company continues to grow.
When asked what advice she would offer to entrepreneurs early in their business ventures, Stephanie says “don’t lose the vision and excitement you have. It’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day operations when your business is up and running, but if you can keep the fire burning inside you, you’ll always enjoy what you do.”
Like most great ideas, it all started with a problem – a leaky kitchen faucet. It was the middle of fall semester dead week at WSU and the last thing Brek Goin wanted to deal with was the notorious property management company of his rental house. After hours of frustrating and fruitless internet searching for a contractor to repair the faucet and subsequent water damage, Brek thought “there has to be a better way.” The idea of Hammr was born.
“It’s not so much a matchmaking site as it is a LinkedIn for contractors. We’re bridging the gap between homeowners and contractors by eliminating communication barriers” Brek says. Coming from a family of contractors, Brek has first-hand experience in the industry and understands the frustrations that exist between contractors and homeowners, primarily around communication.
Different than Angie’s List or other referral sites, Hammr doesn’t charge contractors for using the service – which includes a personalized webpage for each business – nor does it charge homeowners for submitting projects for quotes or bids. Rather, Hammr is free for homeowners while contractors pay only a flat percentage upon completion of a project, what Brek calls ‘pay when they win.’ Additionally, Hammr is the only site that provides homeowners with the ability to message contractors directly, again for free.
Brek has been actively developing Hammr for just over a year, with help from WSU, Startup Spokane, and Ignite Northwest. Currently Hammr exists as a landing page where homeowners and contractors can sign up to be notified when the full site is launched. “We’re still in development, but plan on beta testing in June, just in Spokane” Brek says. If all goes well, he hopes to expand methodically to Seattle then other large, regional markets.
In addition to extensive research, customer surveying, and some insider knowledge (Brek’s father is a contractor), when asked what is his biggest piece of advice for entrepreneurs, Brek says “make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. Your biggest competition will be yourself. You’ll get punched in the face every day, but if you’re passionate and persistent, you’ll have a better chance of achieving your mission.”
Brek will present Hammr at Ignite Northwest’s Demo Day on May 3rd (register here).
You can visit Hammr’s landing page here. If you’re a homeowner or contractor interested in this service, we encourage you to sign up!
“I don’t like being told my city isn’t good enough. If my city isn’t good enough, I’m going to do something to change it.” For Ginger, changing her hometown of Spokane means a unique combination of advocacy for the arts and economic development.
During her childhood, Ginger recalls being told many times that if she was going to be successful, or enjoy her twenties, she’d have to do it some place other than Spokane. As a result, “Spokane has been hemorrhaging its creative young people for decades” Ginger says. Something had to be done.
With a BA in history from Whitworth University and over five years of experience with the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture, in 2008 Ginger co-founded Terrain, a non-profit dedicated to creating a stronger and more vibrant emerging arts community in the Inland Northwest. Created to bridge the gap between Spokane’s young artists and the more formal art establishment, Terrain has been invaluable to the growth of art sales and awareness in the region.
With the steady growth of Terrain, Ginger has poured more effort into Window Dressing, a program that fills vacant buildings and unused spaces with various short-term art installations and creative enterprise. Having only been in existence since the end of 2014, the organization expanded this summer, taking on 14 local creative entrepreneurs and providing them intensive business training and one-on-one coaching. Ginger is now working with property owners to provide spaces that are currently sitting empty to nascent creative businesses for several months of low or no rent. “The idea is to give creative entrepreneurs the opportunity to test their ideas with little risk” says Ginger. Similar programs have led to long term success for both business and property owners in other cities, including Tacoma. “These projects have had a huge impact on transforming the downtown core in those cities” Ginger says.
Though most may not immediately see the correlation between a vibrant economy and a robust arts culture, it’s clear to Ginger. “When cities invest in art, jobs increase, economic growth is sparked and the quality of life goes up” she says. For the success of her endeavors, Ginger thanks the local trailblazers who have been advocating for an appreciation of the arts for decades, as well as the collaborative energy and spirit that already exists in the community. When asked what the end goal is, Ginger smiles and says “I probably ask myself that every day. We just love our city, and we really, really want it to succeed, and we’re not very good at saying no.”
Support Ginger and Window Dressing by attending the Grand Opening of a new Pop-up Shop location on Friday, April 7th! More information here
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.