Startup Spokane Blog

News and Happenings From Spokane’s Startup Scene

Startup Weekend Spokane #10

Spokane’s 10th Startup Weekend was held at Avista’s headquarters November 10-12 for this 54 hour ideation event.  With 80 registered participants, and another 30-40 coaches, judges and organizers, this was by far the best Startup Weekend Spokane yet!

The event started with 33 initial pitches that were narrowed down to the top 9 ideas by vote of the participants. The teams were comprised of a wide variety of participants, including high school students, college students and working professionals. In spite of their differences, they formed highly productive teams and created viable business models, complete with working prototypes and Webpages!

           

Here’s a list of the teams and their respective ideas:

  • Lil’ Omelette (first place) – Online courses for children ages 5-12 to learn to cook
  • Sound Barcode (second place) – ability to receive product and/or promotional information on your smartphone by scanning barcode
  • Work Bid (third place) – Marketplace for connecting homeowners with contractors for home improvement projects
  • Bite Box – Deliver readymade meals
  • Musinect – Social network for finding other musicians
  • Connect Ion – Kits and videos for STEM education
  • Brown Book – Changing education through affordable textbooks via an online streaming platform
  • Epi-N – Epi-pen user community app that notifies first responders, family and other epi-pen carriers in geographical proximity to assist
  • Sparespace – peer-to-peer market for storage, targeting college students

        

The event concluded on Sunday evening with a keynote address by Mayor David Condon, followed by each team making a five minute pitch before a panel of judges

          

          

The top three teams received $3,000 of in-kind legal assistance from Lee & Hayes as well as a complimentary coworking membership to Startup Spokane.  Many of the teams are continuing to pursue the launch of their businesses, and Startup Spokane is providing ongoing guidance and direction to each of them.

         

For a full recap of the weekend, please visit https://www.facebook.com/StartupWeekendSpokane/

Congratulations to all who participated in this very successful event!

PHOTO CREDIT: Atom Images and Inland Northwest Technologists (INT)

Web-Based Kids Cooking Class Wins Startup Weekend Spokane

Business concept created by high school sophomore

LeAnn Bjerken

***Please note, Startup Weekend Spokane is an independent program. Startup Spokane is a collaborator and supporter of Startup Weekend, but the event is coordinated and planned by an independent committee.***

Startup Spokane, a program of Greater Spokane Incorporated, has named Lil’ Omelette, a web-based cooking class for children, the winner of its 2017 Startup Weekend.

This year’s winning idea was pitched by 16-year-old Bella Memeo, a sophomore at Spokane’s Riverpoint Academy.

“This is my first year, and I didn’t know what to expect,” says Memeo. “It turned out that a team of very talented professionals chose to form around my idea, because they believed in it.”

Memeo says she came to the event with an idea for teaching kids the basics of cooking, that eventually became Lil’ Omelette, a web platform that offers three different levels of cooking classes—beginner, intermediate, and expert—for children ages 5 to 12.

Megan Hulsey, program manager for Startup Spokane, says the site also aspires to include interactive characters to help engage kids, teaching them to navigate the kitchen and build cooking skills alongside their parents.

“It’s a really fun and creative idea for a business,” says Hulsey. “Some of the characters the team came up with over Startup Weekend are pretty cute.”

Hulsey says Lil’ Omelette was chosen by a team of judges at Startup Spokane’s annual entrepreneurship event held Nov. 10-12, at Avista Corp.’s headquarters, at 1411 E. Mission.

She says this year’s event had about 70 entrepreneurs participate, who presented about 19 different start-up ideas, the top 10 of which were selected as finalists. Over the course of the event, finalists and their supporters then worked together to conduct market research on their ideas while consulting with members of the business community on financial and legal matters associated with starting a business.

At the event’s conclusion, the top three business plans were selected, with the winners receiving $3,000 in legal assistance from Spokane-based intellectual property law firm Lee & Hayes PLLC as well as free membership to Startup Spokane.

Hulsey says as the first place winner, the Lil’ Omlette group now will work with Startup Spokane to determine future steps for the business idea, including trademarking characters and developing plans for the content of its online cooking classes.

She says the start-up idea also will be put into consideration as a competitor for Global Startup Battle, an event which pits winning teams from similar events around the world against one another in a global video competition.

Memeo says participating in Startup Weekend helped her to understand the work that goes into creating a business.

“I learned that it’s okay to take risks even if I wasn’t sure of myself or my ideas,” she says. “I went from someone who just wanted to attend and learn, to winning, and it really has boosted my confidence in myself.”

Second place at Startup Weekend was awarded to Sound Barcode, a marketing concept that involves embedding audio files in barcodes. Work Bid, a platform and service for homeowners searching for a contractor, won third place.

Companies created in past Startup Weekends include iCPooch, Beardbrand, and Spiceologist.

Three Things to Know About Pitch Clinics When Raising Capital

Startup Spokane recently hosted the 2nd annual Triangle Venture Expo featuring seven emerging companies from our region.  The event was a great success, but some entrepreneurs questioned whether or not it was OK to tell the audience they were raising capital for their company.  Startup Spokane generally cautions entrepreneurs not to announce to the audience that they are raising capital or seeking investors unless the entrepreneur has made an intentional decision to comply with the securities laws that permit general solicitation of the public.    Here are three things an entrepreneur should be thinking about when preparing a presentation for a pitch clinic or demo day type of event:

  1. Telling the public you are raising money for your startup is generally prohibited.

Unless you are conducting a registered public offering, complying with crowdfunding rules or taking steps to ensure only accredited investors invest in your company, then you may be violating the “general solicitation” rules if you inform the public you are seeking money for your company.  General solicitation occurs when interstate communication tools, including the telephone, email and internet, are used to advertise or communicate with the public about an investment opportunity.  It can also occur if an announcement is made at a public event.

  1. Know your exemption.

Rules permitting general solicitation of the public have been enacted in recent years, including state and federal crowdfunding rules.   The rules that permit general solicitation are stricter and more burdensome for a company to comply with.  A company may be required to comply with dollar limitations and disclosure requirements, in the case of crowdfunding, or take steps to ensure only accredited investors participate in an offering.   The most popular offering exemption for funding startups continues to be one that permits a company to raise an unlimited amount of money from an unlimited number of accredited investors, but does not permit general solicitation of the public.

  1. Know your audience.

Any seminar or meeting, including a pitch clinic, that has been publicly advertised or to which the public has been invited is generally deemed to be a public event. If you know members of the public will be attending your event, then unless you are willing to comply with the heightened compliance requirements for generally solicited offerings, you should focus your presentation on the company’s business and not its capital needs.

For any questions or more information on these or related matters, please contact Rick Repp at (509) 624-5265; rar@witherspoonkelley.com

 

This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice.

© 2017 Witherspoon Kelley

Celebrating Entrepreneurship Across the World

Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is a weeklong celebration of entrepreneurship which goes into full swing on Monday, November 13, and runs through the following Sunday, November 19. This celebration has been occurring in ecosystems across the world for the past 10 years. Startup Weekend Spokane kicks off GEW on November 10.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Network website:
GEW serves as a community-building season to reach out to the public at large to inspire more people to engage with their local entrepreneurship ecosystem. During one week each November, thousands of events and competitions around the world (more than 170 countries) inspire millions to engage in entrepreneurial activity while connecting them to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors. Powered by the Kauffman Foundation, the initiative is supported by dozens of world leaders and a network of more than 17,000 partner organizations.

See below for a calendar of events scheduled for GEW in the Spokane area:

Date Event Name Presented by Location
10-12 Startup Weekend INT & Techstars Avista
13 Business Plan Workshop SCORE Pend Oreille Library
14 Demo Day Ignite Northwest Lincoln Center
14 Spokane PHP PHP Meetup Startup Spokane
14 Quickbooks Desktop SNAP The Business Center
15 Networking Lunch & Learn Startup Spokane & Numerica Startup Spokane
15 CDFI or SBA Loan Startup Spokane, Craft 3, WA Trust Startup Spokane
16 Entrepreneur Connect Startup Spokane & UW CoMotion Startup Spokane
16 Quickbooks Desktop SNAP The Business Center
16 Get Money for your Business SNAP The Business Center
16 Innovation Trade Show Tri County Economic Development SCC Colville Campus
17 Creating the Team/Hiring/Culture UW CoMotion Labs UW Spokane
18 Get Started-Business plan SNAP The Business Center

Be sure to check the Startup Spokane events calendar to register for these and other great entrepreneurial focused events!

 

Calling All Tennis Aficionados – The Game Set Match App is Here!

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.”

Transforming Ideas into Real Business Ventures

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.

Local Startup Spotlight: S2 Media

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.”

Local Startup Spotlight: Hammr

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!

Local Entrepreneur Spotlight: Ginger Ewing

“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

Mentor Connect trains the next generation of Spokane businesses

Published  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.