Startup Spokane Blog

News and Happenings From Spokane’s Startup Scene

Looking Back at 2016 & What’s Ahead in 2017

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.

Mentor Connect Spotlight

richard_repp-953-vertical_250x340Rick 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.

Rick Repp
Attorney at Law
Witherspoon Kelley
(509) 624-5265

The Northwest Entrepreneur Competition

nec-logoThe 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 in Eastern Washington


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!


Global Entrepreneurship Week – Ignite NW Demo Day


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:

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.

Global Entrepreneurship Week – Startup Weekend 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!

Inspiring Innovation through Collaboration

ebinger-michaelMichael 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

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.