Startup Spokane Blog

News and Happenings From Spokane’s Startup Scene

Sweet Annie’s Artisan Creamery – Spokane showed up for me


Returning home to the Inland Northwest after eight years spent living and working in Manhattan, Annie Stranger brought with her a new energy toward contributing to her own community and a passion for eating regionally sourced foods. She knew she wanted to contribute to that sense of community here in Spokane. But how? A graphic artist by trade she wasn’t sure the role she would play.

During trips home to escape the hot NYC summers, Annie and her mom began making small batch ice cream creations and serving them to friends and family at ice cream socials. Through the results of these “lab tests,” Annie discovered that ice cream making was something that could build on her existing skills as a designer — and allow her to engage with her community in a meaningful way. At that time, there were no commercial kitchen resources to rent in Coeur d’Alene where she was living, so she tabled the idea out of frustration for lack of resources.

Shortly thereafter, Annie attended a small business development workshop at the Women’s Business Center operated by SNAP. It was there that she was introduced to other resources in the ecosystem. In October, Annie launched her Pints Club for friends and family. Members tested various product creations and provided valuable feedback. The search for a business model for Annie’s ice cream was on.

In February 2016, Annie attended the University of Wisconsin’s Ice Cream Short Course where she learned how to produce her hand crafted creations in larger quantities and what to look for in sourcing products. She purchased a new, commercial-grade batch freezer and a small mobile cart from which to sell her product at local farmers markets.

For several months, Annie worked diligently to establish her business plan by focusing on the data needed to support a robust plan and identifying her target market. Then, Alan Stanford with SBDC helped Annie dial in her numbers and create her financials. With this, she was finally able to obtain a small business loan to help launch her business.

One year after her first day at the SNAP course, she found sources in the community to supply her dairy and produce, including Pure Eire dairy in Othello, Chattaroy Cheese Co., and Fleur de Provence Lavender Farm. Her locally-sourced, small batch ice creams and newly found mixologist skills led her to serve scoops at the Thursday Market on Perry Street, Fairwood Farmers Market, and other events throughout Spokane. This summer, she served hundreds of people each week and added new members to her Pints Club.

Annie’s newest point of pride is her homemade waffle cones — with flour sourced from Joseph’s Grainery in Colfax, WA. She has also collaborated with Vessel Coffee Roasters and Townsend Winery to create unique flavors and host special events that feature other exciting producers in the area. When asked about her experience in starting a business in our area, Annie says, “Spokane showed up for me. I’m astounded by the resources available and generosity I’ve received.” Annie has created more than 30 flavors to-date, and continues to craft new creations each month. She is continually inspired by the bounty of local farmers.

If you’re interested in joining in on the fun, you can become a Pints Club member for only $20 per month. You’ll receive two unique pints per month, get first-taste access to new flavors and seasonal specials, and get invites to two annual members-only ice cream socials. Keep an eye out at Rocket Market where Sweet Annie’s will be on the shelves soon.

In addition to the services at the Women’s Business Center, Annie utilized several resources available to entrepreneurs in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area. Her path to launching her business looked something like this:

Organization Contact Email Area of Expertise
SNAP Women’s Business Center Cara Weipert Business development, consulting and education
WSU Center for Innovation Michael Ebinger Ideation stage, business model and business plan assistance
Spokane Public Library Mark Pond Market research and analysis
Kitchen Spokane Jayme Cozzetto Commercial kitchen facility
Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Alan Stanford Business advising and education, financial analysis
SNAP Financial Access Cameryn Flynn Small business and startup loan funds

To learn more about Sweet Annie’s Artisan Creamery, visit the website.

Entrepreneurship in Spokane

From Journal of Business Insert on 10/6/2016

Entrepreneurship in Spokane

By Steve Trabun, Regional Business Manager, Avista Corp., and University District Board Vice Chair

Earlier this year, Spokane was fortunate to host Steve Case, Founder of America Online. In addition to his journey with AOL, Steve talked about how innovation and entrepreneurship are no longer confined to places like Silicon Valley, but are flourishing in cities across the United States. His recommendations for our region are to create a community of connectedness and to focus on two or three areas that play to our strengths.

At every point of the compass in our city, especially in The University District, you will see the entrepreneurial ecosystem booming. All of the critical elements to fuel an innovation economy exist here, including eight regional colleges and universities, access to capital, as well as a high growth companies who collectively employ thousands across technology, robotics, health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing and more. Our region has not only analyzed our strengths but also addressed any gaps in resources and services that could impede the growth of new and existing businesses.

Entrepreneurship is just one economic development driver in our region. Equally important is retaining a greater percentage of the newly educated workforce, many of whom previously relocated to larger cities for higher paying jobs. Regardless of whether graduates relocate elsewhere, our region remains focused on creating high growth companies across a multitude of industry sectors, which provide high wage jobs. A critical mass of companies and jobs will enable us to attract and keep top talent in our city.

Startup Spokane, a program of Greater Spokane Incorporated, is a gateway for our entrepreneurial community, providing a variety of services and resources for new business owners and startup teams including:

  • Spaces and places for people to work, meet and share experiences such as coworking spaces, commercial kitchens, maker spaces, and research labs.
  • Education across a multitude of disciplines, with entrepreneurship being taught as an interdisciplinary approach.
  • Access to health and life sciences research led by our universities, public and private sector organizations.
  • Incubators and accelerators for startups such as Ignite Northwest’s program for high growth technology, health and life sciences; Toolbox for product-based manufacturing startups; and McKinstry for second stage technology companies.
  • Extensive network of mentors, advisors and industry specific experts providing assistance to startups facilitated by Startup Spokane.
  • Access to capital via traditional/non-traditional financing options such as angel and seed investments, revolving loan funds, and venture capital.
  • Service providers with an affinity for early-stage entities that provide countless hours of subject matter expertise and advice to emerging and growing companies.
  • Regular networking and educational events to maintain a strong sense of connectedness and collaboration.

The University District, at the heart of Spokane’s research and entrepreneurial ecosystem, provides the perfect canvas for emerging high growth companies in technology, robotics, and life and health sciences. Intentional efforts to create, expand and recruit high growth companies to The University District will, in turn, attract housing, retail, hospitality and other service-based companies who will collectively enhance the work, live, learn and play environment in The University District.

Startup Spokane’s Inaugural Triangle Venture Expo!!!



After nearly a year in the making, Startup Spokane’s inaugural Triangle Venture Expo did not disappoint.  The September 15th day-long event attracted more than 230 entrepreneurs, community leaders, and investors.   Stacey Cowles, CEO of Cowles Company kicked off the morning with an energizing keynote presentation about the robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in our region and the extensive amount of capital invested in our regions’ high growth companies.

Brief company presentations were made throughout the day from thirteen of our regions’ high growth companies, including etailz, 2nd Watch, APANA, Demand Energy Networks,  H-Source,   HyperSciences, Imprezzio, Kochava, Next IT, PawPrint Genetics, RiskLens, Rohinni, and StayAlfred. These companies currently represent nearly 1,000 direct jobs in our region and continue to expand.

The day concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Tom Simpson, with Chip Overstreet and Jim Fowler who spoke about their entrepreneurial success and what attributes exist in our region to support entrepreneurship.

The feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive.  A huge THANK YOU to the organizing committee (Tom Simpson, April Needham, Meagan Garrett, Chip Overstreet, Rick Repp, Bill Savitz, and yours truly) as well as the GSI Events and Marketing team (Lisa Bridston, Carsen Quinnett, Maria Vandervert, and Tammy Pruitt)!!! This event would not have been possible without our generous sponsors, including the Spokane Angel Alliance, Cowles Company, US Bank, Avista, Ignite Northwest, Numerica Credit Union, and Moss Adams.

Planning is already underway for next year’s event, so stay connected with Startup Spokane to learn about events and programming coming your way!!!


From GSI Blog: Mentor Connect and Startup Spokane Central assist new entrepreneurs

startup1Small businesses are at the heart of Spokane’s economic ecosystem. To support that ecosystem, Startup Spokane provides two resources for Inland Northwest entrepreneurs seeking to launch and grow successful companies: Mentor Connect and Startup Spokane Central.

Startup Spokane, a n entrepreneurial program of Greater Spokane Incorporated, offers its Mentor Connect initiative at no cost to entrepreneurs taking their first steps in beginning a new business. Mentor Connect provides invaluable connections with successful business leaders in our region who know first-hand the difficulties and challenges involved in growing a company. These leaders share their insight and spur new entrepreneurs over three to six months to meet their business launch goals.

Built for businesses moving beyond the “idea” phase, Mentor Connect is a perfect resource for businesses with their eyes on the next level. Startup Spokane pairs entrepreneurs with an appropriate mentor, who helps ensure startups have everything they need to create a foundation for their success.

“Startup Spokane has been a great resource and an awesome environment to work in. Whether it is free legal consults, help with your business plan, or you just to take advantage of other members knowledge and advice, Startup Spokane has been key to our success,” Kelly Gibbons of Synergy Web said. “Whether you’re a startup company or just looking for shared workspace, membership is a no brainer!”

It all takes place at Startup Spokane Central, a dedicated coworking facility in the heart of downtown Spokane. Startup Spokane Central is designed to facilitate opportunities to meet, connect, and learn through collaboration. The facility also serves as a perfect office for freelance and remote workers seeking a comfortable work environment.

Startup Spokane Central has a wide array of amenities to assist venture startup needs as businesses grow and expand. Members have 24/7 access to the 2,500 sq. ft. facility, which is designed to meet your venture needs. Additional membership benefits include use of meeting rooms equipped with projectors, discounted parking, private phone booths, and access to networking and educational events hosted by Startup Spokane and community partners.

Memberships to Startup Spokane Central start at $100 per month and require no long-term contracts.

To become a Startup Spokane Central member, or to receive more information on the Mentor Connect program, please contact April Needham, Community Manager for Startup Spokane.

Journal of Business: Helping mentors, startups mingle

Editors Notebook: Helping mentors, startups mingle

One of the roles I’ve filled for the Journal in recent years has involved interviewing business owners and community leaders for question-and-answer articles. 

Those stories give us an opportunity to provide insight into a source’s journey, through his or her own words. 

One common thread in those pieces is the mention of mentors. Some don’t use that word, but nearly all talk about someone early in their careers who helped them find their professional path.

That, coupled with my own experiences in the workplace, made me glad to hear about a planned new program through Greater Spokane Incorporated’s Startup Spokane, called the Startup Spokane Mentor Connect Program. 

With that initiative, Startup Spokane plans to connect business and industry professionals with entrepreneurs, the simple idea being that those who have been successful can share insights with those who are just getting started. 

As Startup Spokane points out in its literature about the program, the first year is a critical time in the life of a company, and the organization is working to ensure that those young concerns can access key resources and get advice that can help them to be successful.

Meagan Garrett, interim entrepreneurship program manager at Startup Spokane, says the organization plans to host its first Mentor Mingle event in October. During that event, budding businesspeople will be give one-minute pitches on their business—or business idea—and what kind of help they’re looking for from a mentor. Ideally, she says, those entrepreneurs will leave the event with a mentor. 

Currently, the organization plans on hosting two such Mentor Mingle events a year, she says. 

Beyond the events, Startup Spokane hopes to compile a list of willing mentors that it can pair with startups as the need arises. 

Startup Spokane has put out the first feelers on the event and is pleased with the response, she says. Fifteen potential mentors have stepped forward, saying they’re willing to help entrepreneurs. 

However, she says she’d like to find more businesspeople to participate in the program. Between two and five startups contact the organization seeking assistance in a typical week, Garrett says, and she suspects the demand in the market for mentors is great. 

“We want to build out an extensive network of mentors,” she says. “We want them to know they have this resource available.”

She adds, “This is a critical component. We’ve seen it move the dial.”

Based on the stories I’ve heard—and the experiences I’ve had in my own career—many professionals are generous with their time and insights when connected with a person new to the business world. An initiative such as Mentor Connect likely will benefit a number of young companies and become a rewarding experience for those willing to help. 

People involved in startups talk a lot about creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem. A big part of that could be to bring along business owners who understand the importance of helping those who come after them. The new program could be a big step in that direction.  

To view the article on the Spokane Journal of Business website, click here.

The Ecosystem – It Takes A Village


As I have been involved in the Spokane entrepreneurial ecosystem for the past several years, it is very clear that many individuals and organizations have worked tirelessly in their respective ways to encourage and support entrepreneurship.  Our region has established tremendous momentum, and this posting is intended to take a moment to celebrate our success and all that we are doing as a community to support entrepreneurship and small business.

I would like to start with Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI).  As many of you are aware, GSI added entrepreneurship and business formation to their economic development strategy 18 months ago.  They hired a program manager and created Startup Spokane as the physical and online place for entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses to access support resources.  Today, GSI has a program manager and a community manager, who are taking Startup Spokane to an entirely new level.  They are providing one-on-one entrepreneur assistance, and are formalizing Mentor Connect, a network of individuals who will make themselves available to mentor entrepreneurs and small businesses for up to six months.  Additionally, they have activated Professional Connect, a network of service providers and business professionals who are interested in providing entrepreneurs and businesses with their respective subject matter expertise.  Startup Spokane Central has created a strong community for coworking, learning, sharing and meeting.  And a myriad of events and workshops are regularly delivered by GSI and other 3rd party organizations at Central.

Inland Northwest Technologists (INT), led by Zach Shallbetter and Elliot Stoll, has become the connector of our technology community.  From leading various meetup groups, to hosting events like “Code in the Dark”, INT is on a mission to retain computer science and engineering students in our region as they complete their educational journeys.

Planning is underway for the upcoming Startup Weekend Spokane this fall.  The organizing committee, led by Andy Brunsch and Michael Williams, is committed to making the 9th event, held November 11-13th at Gonzaga University Jepson Center, the biggest and best ever.  With over 150 participants, there is no event that generates this number of fresh ideas over a 54-hour weekend event.

Ignite Northwest has completed two cohorts of their accelerator program, graduating nearly 30 high growth startups.  They are accepting applications for their upcoming fall accelerator class.

Our region is gearing up to showcase twelve high growth startup companies from around the area.  The Triangle Venture Expo is planned for Thursday, September 15th and will feature presentations from etailz, 2nd Watch, Stay Alfred, Apana, Hyper Sciences, Risk Lens, Demand Energy Networks, Rohini, Kochava, Paw Print Genetics, Next-IT, Imprezzio, and H-Source.  These companies, all of whom started in our region, represent nearly 750 jobs and are continuing to grow.

And while all of this great work and more continues in our region, let’s take a moment to celebrate our remarkable progress!!!

Funding Resources: Grant Opportunities and Investment Funds


There are a variety of funding sources available to entrepreneurs and startups in our community.  The following is a list recently shared by the Washington Department of Commerce that details new investment funds as well as local and federal grant opportunities to which entrepreneurs can apply.  Some of these sources of capital and grant opportunities may be a fit for your company and a source of capital you hadn’t thought of pursuing yet.

Detailed information about each investment fund and grant opportunity, as well as how to apply, can be found in the individual press release that accompanies each funding opportunity description.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the launch of a new private investment fund with the potential to inject $100 million into small food and agriculture businesses across rural America. The fund, known as the Open Prairie Rural Opportunities Fund, will be the fourth Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) the USDA has helped to create since 2014, and is part of USDA’s ongoing efforts to help attract private sector capital to investment opportunities in rural America to help drive more economic growth in rural communities. View the press release here.

The EDA recently released its Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) for the 2016 round of Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Program funding.  The application period is currently open and will close at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on June 24, 2016. This year, $15 million in Federal funding is available to create and expand cluster-focused proof-of-concept and commercialization programs and early-stage seed capital funds through the i6 Challenge and the Seed Fund Support (SFS) Grant competition, respectively. For more information, check the OIE website and sign up for EDA’s newsletter.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that it will make digital tools and resources available to America’s entrepreneurs through a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership with tech giants like Amazon, Box, Facebook, LegalZoom, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Zenefits. Whether small firms are selling quilts or cloud solutions, businesses need access to digital tools and capabilities to be competitive. Through SBA’s Small Business Tech Coalition, small firms now have access to explore and rethink online commerce and payment platforms, the efficiency of back-office operations, productivity solutions, cybersecurity protection, and improvements in customer service and shopping experiences to startup and scale their business.

The Best Buy Community Grants Program provides support to community-based organizations that are located within 50 miles of a Best Buy facility. Grants promote programs that offer hands-on learning opportunities for underserved teens to engage in learning, experimenting, and interacting with the latest technologies to build 21st century skills. Eligible programs must deliver community-based youth programs for teens, ages 13-18, during out of school time, and serve a diverse population. Examples of program activities include computer programming, digital imaging, music production, robotics, and gaming and mobile app development. The average grant amount is $5,000; grants will not exceed $10,000. Public and nonprofit community-based organizations (e.g., community centers, schools, and libraries) are eligible to apply. Online proposals may be submitted between June 1 and July 1, 2016.Visit the Best Buy website to review the program guidelines.

A coalition of artists, impact investors, foundations, and social innovators has announced the launch of a new organization dedicated to connecting artists and social entrepreneurs. With funding from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the Ford,RockefellerMellon, and Surdna foundations, and in-kind support from the F.B. Heron FoundationUpstart Co-Lab will work to connect artists with impact investing and social entrepreneurship opportunities and social innovators with the storytelling, improvisation, and creative intelligence of artists. Among other things, the organization aims to increase opportunities for artists as innovators, starting with a greater recognition of artists’ accomplishments in the private, social, and public sectors; catalyze more capital for creativity by making creativity investable through public equity, debt, and venture capital investment products; and contribute to the sustainability of creative lives by equipping artists with the skills needed to execute their ideas and linking eligible artists to existing social services and subsidies. To learn more read the press release.


Future Business Leaders of America

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Washington State Future Business Leaders of America (WAFBLA) annual conference held in Spokane.  The mission of WAFBLA is to educate and network next generation entrepreneurs and business leaders in Washington State.  WAFBLA builds programs that focus on teaching 21st Century leadership skills for youth in middle schools, high schools, and colleges.

With over 2,000 young people in attendance from every part of Washington State, it was incredible to see their individual and collective energy and enthusiasm for leadership and entrepreneurship.  One of the highlights for me was attending the keynote presentations throughout the three day conference.  One presentation in particular delivered by Roger Woodworth, Avista’s Chief Strategy Officer, had a huge impact on the entire audience. Roger shared six guidelines that help to determine the impact each of us will make in our life as leaders.

I would encourage you to watch this presentation, as it will challenge your thinking about your goals, choices, commitments, relationships, priorities, and your legacy of leadership.

Startup Spokane services continue with Interim Entrepreneurship Program and Community Managers

SustainabilityAs many of you know, Ryan Arnold has left his position as Entrepreneurship Program Director at Greater Spokane Incorporated to pursue new career opportunities. We wish Ryan well in his next endeavors.

To ensure continuity of services to the Spokane Startup Ecosystem during GSI’s search for the next Entrepreneurship Program Manager, we have contracted with Meagan Garrett, Principal of M. Garrett Consulting to serve as Interim Entrepreneurship Program Manager during this transition.  Meagan has been engaged with Startup Spokane as the program’s Marketing and Communications consultant for over a year.  Her client portfolio includes several regional startups and entrepreneurship support organizations.

Also supporting GSI during this transition will be April Needham, a loaned executive from Avista. April will be serving as Startup Spokane’s Community Manager for the Startup Spokane Central coworking space.

Startup Spokane is, and will continue to be, the Inland Northwest’s first stop for entrepreneurship assistance and startup resources.  Connect with Meagan at, April at, or for general questions at  You can also visit for additional information.