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UW CoMotion Program Encourages Entreprenurial Activity in Spokane

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University of Washington
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In Seattle, startup companies and entrepreneurship are viewed as old hat. University of Washington medical researchers, for example, have long worked to turn ideas into products and services. In Spokane, that entrepreneurial spirit is still in the development phase. While Spokane does have some venture capital, this is not yet a place known as a hot spot for angel investors.

But perhaps that’s changing with Startup Spokane and other organizations offering help to people who have ideas. The University of Washington has opened a satellite office of its CoMotion Labs at its Spokane Center.

Elizabeth Scallon: “CoMotion Labs is a program that can help take early stage ideas and help you grow those, through networks, through mentors, subject matter, experts, through learning opportunities, sort of the fundamentals about startups," said Elizabeth Scallon, CoMotion's associate director. "And then we can also introduce you to capital, to angels and VCs in the areas.”

VCs stands for venture capitalists.

“We’ve been here for a year and change," said Brady Ryan, who manages CoMotion Labs in Spokane. "We spent a lot of time when we first got here making sure we understood how the ecosystem worked.

“By the way, when we talk about an ecosystem, we’re talking about everybody involved in making a city a good place to have a startup," he said. "So it’s the startups themselves, it’s the entrepreneurs that work on the startups, it’s the funders and the investors that help keep the lights on. And then it’s the people we call the ecosystem players; so folks like us who have resources to help the startups.”

“CoMotion Labs looks at high-tech, high growth startup potential areas," Scallon said. "We have over a hundred startups that are part of our program. They focus in on biomedical, robotics, engineering, all the buzzwords, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, software. So we do have that nice portfolio of emerging tech that we’re engaged with.”

“Here in Spokane, there’s about a dozen that we’re working with and engaging with every day. A lot of them are very interesting," Ryan said. "We have one company that we’re working with that’s helping improve sleep. And it seems simple, but they have a multi-pronged approach that helps understand how you’re sleeping. It helps you get the help you need better and cheaper than you otherwise could and has really big impacts down the road for health and wellness and productivity.”

CoMotion offers workshops that are open to the public, including one recently at the UW's downtown Spokane Center. As people munched on pizza, Brady Ryan trying to focus their attention.

“Hey guys, we’re about to get started," Ryan said. "I just want to give a quick chance to go around and do introductions. More people will file in, I’m sure.”

People talked about their reason for coming to this event as they waited for a live YouTube presentation from Seattle by Susan Preston, from the Seattle Angel Fund and SeaChange Fund.

“What we’re talking about today is the challenge of doing a very effective pitch to investors. This is not the easiest thing to do," Preston said. "And it is something that you need to spend a lot of time working on. How do you approach investors? What do they think? How do you get your message across in an effective manner?”

Tim Krauss with App-to-Market was one of the people at the event. 

"We help entrepreneurs and college students produce apps of their minimum viable product at a very reasonable price and very quickly so they can test the market with a real product,” Krauss said.

Soon he’ll do his own presentation for CoMotion. He’s impressed by the energy that’s building around entrepreneurism in Spokane and happy to have a growing infrastructure for newcomers.

“I like what CoMotion is doing. What they’re trying to do is create opportunities to learn and grow. They’re outside of the university experience so anybody in Spokane can come," Krauss said. "And I talked to Brady (Ryan) and said, yeah, let’s do something on app building because this is an area that’s very hot right now. It’s going to continue to grow. Everybody’s got an idea for an app, but hey, let’s put it in practice. Let’s get it on paper. Let’s see how well this can go.”

Brady Ryan says he’s impressed by the collaboration among entrepreneurs in Spokane. He says the environment for startups is beginning to permeate not just Spokane, but other parts of the Inland Northwest as well.

“Between the Tri-Cities, Wenatchee, Coeur d’Alene, you know, there are a lot of really interesting places here within a few hours drive and there’s no reason we shouldn’t all be working together," Ryan said.