Leaders from the Seattle technology community gathered in the basement of TechStars on Tuesday night to discuss ways to strengthen the startup ecosystem and make it easier for entrepreneurs to build their companies here. Organized by Startup Weekend’s Jennifer Cabala, the brainstorming session was one of the first steps in an effort backed by the Kauffman Foundation to turn people into “job creators, not job takers.”

The 7-city project, known as the Startup Foundation, is just taking root. And Seattle is one of the test beds for the concept, which could be expanded elsewhere if it meets with success.

Last night’s brain dump certainly was a topic close to GeekWire’s heart, since we’re of the belief that an independent Seattle-based news source is an important ingredient in making the community a stronger place to live, work and play.

Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, non-profits and representatives from Microsoft pitched various concepts which they felt would strengthen the community, attaching their ideas on Post-it Notes on the wall under topics such as brain drain, mentors and events.

It was a good discussion, and below you’ll find some of the ideas that folks floated in their 2-minute pitches. But, in the spirit of keeping the conversation going, we’d like to ask you this question: How do we make the Seattle startup ecosystem stronger?

Red Russak

Red Russak of Lean Startup on retrofitting the community space in the basement of TechStars: “A lot of magic happens down here, and we want to make it more of a magical space visually, audio-wise, etc. So, I am on a path right now to finding ways to fund raise for this space by having startups and organizations put in some level of funding and get recognition as well.” (Note: Startup Foundation has already committed to match $5,000 in donations for renovating the space).

Red Russak on promoting Seattle: “You ever been to a place that you’ve never been before, and that nice guy walks up to you and says: ‘Here’s a pamphlet to find out more.’ Well, I want to do that with the Seattle startup scene. I want everybody, if they can, to just carry 10 little Startup Foundation cards. If you meet someone who is new to Seattle … hand them a card that will have resources with links to Web sites like Seattle Tech Calendar, as well as different resources in Seattle.”


Franck Nouyrigat of Startup Weekend on education: “The proposal is to teach people how to program who have never programmed. The reason is that all of the Startup Weekends we’ve been organizing, so many times I’ve seen business people struggling to find a technical co-founder to do something very basic.”

Bob Crimmins of Moon Tango and Poker 2.0 proposed “Project Snowshoe:” “I think in Seattle we’d do well to have a bit more cross pollination, know what is going on in other regions and have other regions know more about what is going on here. So, whatever the event is that you have, I’d like to have everybody think about how we take that idea on a roadtrip. And take it to Boston or New York or the Valley or wherever, and have it become known as that event that comes from Seattle…. I call it Project Snowshoe. We want to make tracks, and leave tracks to the other regions so they know how to find us, both to attract talent and to attract capital.” (Note: Crimmins says that he is taking the Poker 2.0 event on the road and is working with Startup Foundation to figure out how to do that).

John Sechrest on sparking angel capital: He proposed a startup bootcamp and angel conference where the winning team could take home $200,000 in startup capital. “I’d like to see us map the ecosystem and … find a way to increase the number of angels that are investing in startups early. One of the ways to do that is to give them a chance to start small, and the Oregon Angel Conference is doing that as a mechanism.”


Marcelo Calbucci of Seattle 2.0 on events: “I want Seattle to have events that are really big. I am kind of tired of all of the meetups, and the things here and there. We have none of the events where we attract outside people to come here and get to know us as a tech city or a startup city.”

Ludo Ulrich of Microsoft Bizspark on events: “Please consolidate the number of events. From a big corporation standpoint, it is great to have something clear and with a clear outcome. Follow the example of Startup Weekend. It is … easy to understand…. It is easy to explain, there are companies coming out of the weekend. If it is all about networking and schmoozing and all of that, that’s great, but it is harder for us to support stuff like that. So, let’s make it easy.”

Ludo Ulrich on supporting homegrown technologies: “I am proud of Seattle and I want to put Seattle on the map….I’d like to see more companies betting on Microsoft technologies and … be proud of homemade, locally made technologies…. Let’s be proud of the success stories in Seattle, and whether it is Microsoft or Amazon, I don’t really care. But let’s be proud of that because there are a lot of opportunities that can be created out of that. New York doesn’t have that. Austin doesn’t have that. Paris doesn’t have that.”


Jennifer Cabala of Startup Weekend on startup pitch events: “Having an opportunity for people to really get out there and pitch their ideas, and get that kind of feedback will help those startups so much more because it will improve their pitches and they won’t spend a lot of time working on something that has such obvious holes. So, when they get up to pitch investors, they have a much better chance of succeeding. I’d love to work on a pitch event that is more frequent — perhaps monthly — that has a couple of judges and maybe three or five startup pitches so it is a more manageable amount.”

Marc Nager of Startup Weekend on mentoring: “One of the biggest competitive advantages we have in Seattle is the number of really smart, accomplished people who are willing to help and reach out…. I would like to propose an initiative that really solves the problem of mentoring. We have a lot of platforms out there online, and some other mentor ‘dating’ type events. But I’d like to help mentors and mentorees learn how build that relationship and do it more structured in an intentional way, so that mentors can be very, very specific about how they are spending their time and know how to set expectations for the mentorees. And the mentorees know how to utilize the time and get as much valuable as possible out of the mentors.”

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews and Facebook.

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  • http://twitter.com/reneelico reneelico

    great article!  love the enthusiasm and start-up culture in this area!

  • http://twitter.com/RedRussak ‘Red’ Russak

    Great write up. Last nights event was incredible and I see a lot of amazing things coming from the Foundation’s efforts. I’m very excited to be contributing and the opportunity to help other people contribute as well. Rock on!!!

    • http://twitter.com/reneelico reneelico

      Hi Red! I’d love to help out and get involved! 

      • http://twitter.com/RedRussak ‘Red’ Russak

        Renee, I’d love to have your help. E-mail me via the contact form on http://RedRussak.com and I’ll find time to chat for sure.

  • Dave

    If you want the field to be larger, don’t you have to broaden the base somewhat so that those in the technology community–but not just the early stage technology community–are interested.  The Seattle market seems to have the same people at all the same events without really ever broadening the base. There are too many events with no purpose and few people outside of the early stage market are going to attend them. In financings, Geoff Entress and Bill Bryant are great, but cannot be in every single angel deal. Or perhaps we just need to acknowledge the early stage market in Seattle is strong but small.

    • johnhcook

      Totally agree Dave, and I spoke about this issue at length last night with Susan Sigl of the WTIA. Bob Crimmins also touched on this idea of getting some of the Seattle tech luminaries out to events, and making it worthwhile for them to participate. 

      GeekWire will do its part to help out on that front. But I agree that more needs to be done to diversify the people showing up at the events, and making an effort to build a robust ecosystem. 

      The cross pollination idea that Bob Crimmins mentioned above is great, taking the Seattle story on the road. But we need to do a better job of cross pollinating in our own backyard, making sure the people at Amazon, Expedia, RealNetworks, T-Mobile, etc. are talking to the venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and startups. 

      Too often those groups don’t cross paths. Ludo Ulrich’s comment about celebrating the hometown successes and working together was a good one, and I think the community would benefit from some of these tighter bonds.

  • Thomas R.

    Have any of these people ever been to Palo Alto? You go to any coffee shop or restaurant in that city and I guarantee you will overhear someone pitching a startup or talking about a startup. There’s nothing like that energy in Seattle.

    You will see and run into the VCs and angels you read on TechCrunch just walking around Palo Alto. Why? Because their offices are just around the corner or they live nearby. 

    There’s nothing like that in Seattle. Most of the VCs are downtown and most of the startups are scattered all over. 

    Honestly, improving the basement of FC/TechStars won’t result in more deals closing. Nor will adding more events. I don’t think angel investors have time to attend events, they’re too busy closing deals and meeting with people. There’s a scarcity of investors so why would they need to meet more companies. The problem isn’t having enough startups, the problem is having enough angel investors. 

    I gotta say the VCs here act more like corporate MBAs in their nice offices downtown away from startups than the VCs down in the Valley, who are embedded with startups and share their office space with startups. 

    • Sean Bell

      So, Thomas, your clear recommendation is…move to Palo Alto and just write off Seattle? 

      • Thomas R.

        Yes. You’d be stupid to stay in Seattle if it’d help your business more to be in Palo Alto. It’s a business decision not a “I love Seattle so I’ll stay here and languish in mediocrity” decision. Case and point, Box.net, Twilio, etc. 

        • Thomas R.

          And let’s be perfectly honest. What would make all these people happy is if their own startups or more startups got funded. But instead of reaching out to the mid level-executive millionaires at Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing or Starbucks who could be potential angel investors, these people complain about how the 20 or so existing angels in the Seattle area don’t do more deals. If you want to accomplish something invite those millionaires and try to get them excited and interested in investing instead of just gathering a bunch of the same startup people who can’t solve the systemic problem with the lack of angel investment in Seattle. 

          When you gather just startup people who are desperate for money (and seem to have an inordinate amount of spare time to lament the lack of angel investment in Seattle instead of building their startups), the whole event turns into a big circle jerk about who is more “passionate” about Seattle startups. Maybe if people spent more time on building great companies, we would attract investment interest from other regions instead of having to go to other cities to get investment. You work at a startup, don’t bitch about the hand you’re dealt, find some way to succeed regardless. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Murch/705204492 Steve Murch

    A small suggestion — I noticed a while back that some NYC startups (and even larger companies) have a link to a “NYC Startup” web-ring in their footer.
    It’d certainly be possible to do a voluntary “eSeattle” type web ring, where the link goes to a page with all the Seattle tech companies, and those that have added the link get a link (WITHOUT nofollow) to their sites. 

    Not sure of the naming of such a web-ring, but I don’t think it should be just startup-focused, as I’d sure like to see if I could benefit from Amazon.com’s link-juice :-).

    • http://twitter.com/billnordwall Bill Nordwall

      Hey Steve –

      I know that Seattle 2.0 has a fairly comprehensive list of startups with followed links: http://www.seattle20.com/startups.aspx.

      I’m not sure how effective this would be at moving the needle SEO-wise. Web rings like this tend to have an overtly-reciprocal inbound link-graph that, historically speaking, Google doesn’t seem value very highly.

      /Bill Nordwall
      (GeekWire Webmaster)

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Murch/705204492 Steve Murch

        Good point — beyond SEO (which may actually hurt, as you note) I guess I was also suggesting it in terms of user – journalist – community – bizdeal opp’y awareness. 

  • http://twitter.com/chrisamccoy Chris McCoy

    Seattle would benefit if TechStars (or equiv) could guarantee each startup it selected $100k (assuming 2-3 person teams). Would be enough to pull out the uber talented at Microsoft and Amazon. Till it exists I just don’t think the most talented in Seattle are starting companies. They’re still on the sidelines. That’s problem #1. 

    Problem #2 is wealthy aren’t investing in startups as an asset class at scale. So we have a chicken and the egg problem. 

    Guaranteeing the region’s most talented–who are currently very well taken care of inside the 2 big motherships–a year of cash to ship and iterate multiple times on a scalable product idea would move the needle substantially, I think. You’d have more talent in the ecosystem. 

    Then from there, exits hopefully happen. And those same entrepreneurs invest back into the region spurring more talented entrepreneurship. 

    This model worked in Silicon Valley and I see no reason for it not working in Seattle. The talent is here, the money is here–they’re just not synced very well.

    TechStars is HUGE HUGE move in the right direction. It’s the perfect start, really. Geekwire is critical too. 

    I agree with Marcelo – too many avg. “networking” events. We need more people shipping, less people having coffee. Seriously. Don’t meet till you ship, basically.

    America needs new industries, not new jobs. It’s entrepreneurship that gets us there. Seattle could be a foundation for the new frontier. We just need to get the incentive vs. risk vs. fear of failure thing right. 


  • http://blog.daryn.net daryn

    Sounds like a great initiative. 

    Comments appear to be disabled on the startupfdn initiatives pages, so step one would be turning that on (ideally with disqus) so that more of the community can participate. Also, I like the idea of OpenCoffee being moved to The Easy. There’s a much higher likelihood that TechStars/FC people would attend, and there are a lot more people in the neighborhood than near Louisa’s.  I don’t think it needs a sponsor, in fact I think it’d be better to have a $5 donation box – people would have spent that on coffee/doughnut anyway. It does require someone to show up early every week with the food & drink though.

    • johnhcook

      Yeah, that was one of the ideas proposed last night. I thought it tied directly into Red’s proposal of making “The Easy” in the TechStars basement accessible to all startup events, so I didn’t break it out into a separate. Good idea on the donation box at the entrance to The Easy. 

    • JenniferCabala

      Daryn, we just launched the site so there are a few things that are being worked out but people will be able to comment soon.

      • http://blog.daryn.net daryn

        awesome, I think it’s going to be a great resource/venue!

  • Guest

    Step 1: Get people who actually run startups involved. 

    All of these people are basically service providers. Most are just event organizers. These are not the people who can make real change happen.

  • http://seattleorganicseo.com SeattleBrand

    Frankly, we need more people like Red Russak.  

    I remember sitting in a city sponsored meeting about 7 years ago before the housing bust regarding condo development & other aspects of growing a city and comparing two cities: Vancouver and Seattle.  During the session where the head of Vancouver came down to share their secrets, he explained they had a more cooperative environment.  Whereas, Seattle has a more combative one.  People are critical of one another and sit on opposite sides of the fence and won’t budge until they get their own way. Not only in the political community, but leaders and proactive members in the startup community need to do more accepting of other ideas and do more “supporting” instead of arguing that “my way is better.”  

    Red is incredibly positive and about connecting everyone possible here in the area.  Like he mentioned in your article/post, “If you meet someone who is new to Seattle … hand them a card that will have resources with links to Web sites like Seattle Tech Calendar, as well as different resources in Seattle.”

    Not only with people new to Seattle, but also with the folks that have grown up here and are long time citizens.  Let’s support one another more.  

    I’ve tried to get support from a couple folks on your list of interviewees and frankly, they treated me like some leper from the moment I started talking to them.  Fortunately, we haven’t needed their support and have done fine without them being profitable in our first year and self financing our venture.  However, with a bit of backing, I’m sure we would have the legs to eventually compete with some of the larger players in our industry.  The irony is that our clients who have businesses with millions of visits a day believe in us, but getting support from “leaders” in our startup community is like climbing Mt. Everest at times.  They love to dish out the criticism, but how about the support? 

    With this said, we are big on getting the right critique.  We need that.  

    Fortunately, we’ve met some other great folks on the way up like who are incredibly supportive & positive: Red, Chris Morse, Travis Ketchum, the guys over at HasOffers (Lee, Lucas, Micah, Cameron, Peter), John Chow, Josh Dirks, Lewis Lin, Nate Whitehill, Matthew Blancarte, Derek Johnson and I’m sure others I’ve neglected to mention.  

    p.s. I think we have a great startup community, but it’s about connecting those who are wanting to move forward and not backward.  Also, it would be great if those who have succeeded supported the smaller growing entities like the folks behind all the bigger brand successes: Starbucks, Costco, Nordstroms, Weyerhaeuser, Paccar, Boeing, Microsoft, Expedia, Amazon.  

    • http://twitter.com/RedRussak ‘Red’ Russak

      Brandon, you are the man! Thanks for your support. Part of the reason I’m here is due to your positive outlook, guidance and overall support of my initiatives. I await the day I can return the favor. Overall…WELL SAID!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bryan-Starbuck/500012914 Bryan Starbuck

    I think the practical way to grow Seattle larger would be these 4 steps:
    1. Target our local universities growing Computer Science grads by 400%.   Our strength is in our software engineers: that is why we have the startups that we do have and why valley firms are moving up here.  Only a percentage of CS grads will go to startups, but it should scale linearly which would be highly effective.   2. Make it easy for local startups to recruit CS students.   The problem is that the best students lock-in with Google/Facebook/Microsoft in Nov/Dec when they graduate in June.  Universities need to get startups to talk to those students in Sept to Oct for the students to make the mental shift to lock in on a startup.3. There are a large number of people who have the money to become angel investors in Seattle, but don’t.   Senior Microsoft employees, doctors, dentists, etc.  Mobilizing that base would be powerful.  The challenge with capital is for early stage companies, especially on more risky ideas.  This will come from angels and not VCs at scale.  We want lean scrappy companies getting products launched and securing traction with $400k from angels.   And we want this to happen at scale, which will result in the best IIR and largest results (employees, # of companies, etc.).   VCs will automatically follow — because VCs in other regions will all come here with a high flow of launched products proving traction.4. We want all startups in other regions at $10m or higher in revenue to open engineering offices in Seattle.  We make Seattle form the lock on engineering talent.  The BigCos (Microsoft, Google, Boeing) will have some engineers leave to create companies.  The BigStartups (SalesForce, Facebook, Linked-In, Zillow, etc) will have a high ratio of engineers leave to create companies.

    Engineers are key — because they build shipping products that get traction with very little capital.  Enough non-engineer talent will always materialize around a strong ecosystem of engineering talent.   Seattle’s lock should be the best engineering eco-system where engineers can cycle through BigCo, BigStartups and early stage startups.

    Side fact: Puget Sound has more software engineers than Sillicon Valley, but ours are often immobile when at BigCo.

    • Anonymous

      Great ideas Bryan.

      On your point about BigCo immobile engineers – I think it’s worse than that.  People that seek out the Boeings and Microsofts are really not very entrepreneurial.  They go to those places precisely because they are big and stable – the antithesis of a startup.   I would guess that google and amazon are heading that direction as well.

    • http://twitter.com/chrisamccoy Chris McCoy

      What incentives do CS departments have steering students into startups? They’re talent shops for Microsoft. When there, why would they leave? Too much risk in Seattle:

      1) Not enough capital–or it’s too expensive if it exists
      2) Failure is demonized

  • Tom Schmitz

    It’s great to see this. One avenue is to collaborate with other tech and non-tech business groups or disciplines. For example, Seattle has vibrant marketing, social media and SEO communities, all with strong groups, meet-ups and conferences. Not every potential tech entrepreneur is a coder. 

    • johnhcook

      Someone brought up the idea last night of more cross pollination between the tech industry and music industry in Seattle. Seems like Austin is doing that well in Texas, but I am sure there’s more that could be done on that front.

      In other words, get music, art, software, mobile, film geeks talking and working together.
      The UW’s MCDM program, of which I am an advisory board member, and the Seattle Interactive Conference, of which GeekWire is a media sponsor, is doing more to try to foster those bridge building discussions.Great idea Tom. Thanks for the comment. 

  • Tom Schmitz

    It’s great to see this. One avenue is to collaborate with other tech and non-tech business groups or disciplines. For example, Seattle has vibrant marketing, social media and SEO communities, all with strong groups, meet-ups and conferences. Not every potential tech entrepreneur is a coder. 

  • Cole

    Seems like lots of people want to talk about things vs get
    action happening.  We all know that
    action is key to getting a startup going but there are so many “talks about,
    talk abouts that it becomes irrational.” 
    I personally have restricted myself from a number of these events
    because it is becoming “having a startup
    about making money off of people starting a start up.”  I know it is cynical and rightly so, I own
    the statement however. 

    When we see people post “Seattle
    market seems to have the same people at all the same events without really ever
    broadening the base.”  It is really true.  The other side of this is that a number of the
    more mature startups in the area that have become prospering businesses don’t seem
    to remember where their roots are from.  It’s
    not about their $$$, it’s about their guidance, experience and influence to
    break the path open.  All too often we
    see an experienced founder who has extreme value to others seeking to blaze a
    trail open choose to disengage, not participate in the ecosystem or be so darn arrogant/caustic
    in their response that they are no longer worthwhile to catch a cup of coffee
    with.    In my
    own vertical of a startup, there are a couple of major companies in the Seattle
    area.  Zero of their founders are active
    in the ecosystem, speak at events or reinvest with fledgling companies, yet had
    taken rounds in their infancy.  Great
    maybe they don’t want to invest, but share the growth, the path and be a
    supporter when someone is driving forward. 
    Their success can be inspiration to other withing the vertical as well
    as other verticals.  The sad part is that
    they most likely will never see the thought because they have disengaged with
    the ecosystem.

    Cynical? Yes.  Sad?
    Yes.  Deal with it and move on, but
    remember there are many others that are facing the same issue and we value your
    experience, sometimes even more than your $$$… although the reinvestment is
    good too!!   

  • http://GeekAtSea.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky

    A couple really smart guys posted this on Facebook today and it pretty much sums up my response to all this “ecosystem” nonsense. http://vimeo.com/27933991

  • http://twitter.com/JasonLorimer Jason Lorimer

    I just published this and there are some parallels. Let me know what you think.

  • Franck

    Wow, a lot of comments!  Keep in mind this is a test, for the one who say there is nothing to be change, well I guess you can just stay home or move in Palo Alto.
     For the ones pushing some ideas, contact us (the website is still being built, but will be more interactive for sure)  we need your help, and we will open this initiative to more people on the second iteration… 

    thx for all your feedback! 

    @peignoir / franck@startupweeknd.org

  • RG

    And for folks ready to just jump into a startup, theres this: http://getarealjobfair.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=833065 Igor Shoifot

    great event – went there twice, both times met awesome inspiring and inspired entrepreneurs! highly recommended it to many people! good stuff! great fun. lovely positive energy and creativity. I launched numerous startups, and I felt very much at home in this crowd. Much success to you, guys!
    PS. I only went to parties, not the actual events – but even that was great!

  • Adam

    Love the initiative and the focus on involving more capital and outside regions.  Up here in Canada we are very sensitive to capital, being a part of a bigger ecosystem and developing and retaining talent.  We have similar intiatives underway and linking up to learn and grow from each other in the PAcific Northwest would be invaluable.

  • Dave

    To come back to my original question, is the issue a strong community or a desire for a large startup community. Seattle has a good, solid startup market and ecosystem but it is small. There are good companies, experienced founders, reasonable amounts of capital for good ideas, etc. There just are not a huge number of startups.

  • Bob Crimmins

    Kirill (and others interested in just working hard on their startup), I appreciate your passion and agree that complaining doesn’t help.  But building the startup ecosystem in Seattle is a very different exercise from building a startup in Seattle.  Yes, building more startups helps build the ecosystem but just having lots more folks leaving MS and sleeping four hours a night, scratching some itch and getting drunk on their own Kool-aide isn’t very productive in itself… especially if they’re all working on yet one more URL shortener.

    Halla-freakin-lulia that there are folks dedicated to thinking about how to grow the Seattle ecosystem… mustering resources, expanding awareness, educating wantrepreneurs, connecting entrepreneurs, hosting pitch events, sitting on panels, mentoring, writing, speaking, etc., etc.  None of these activities builds a startup per se but they serve as the grease and the glue that breeds more and better startups by building smarter entrepreneurs and a better startup ecosystem — in short, building the play field upon which guys like you get the opportunity to practice. 

    I don’t think it’s embarassing in the least to be introspective about what’s working, what’s not and what could make Seattle a more productive practice field for entrepreneurs.  In fact, it seems a very natural question to ask “how can things be done better?” 

    And to those who want to compare Seattle to the Valley… knock it off.  Seattle is not the Valley and it never will be… nor does it need to be.  But it is in our interest as a region to learn from the Valley, Boston, New York, Boulder, LA… and even those obscure little towns in Texas.  To continue to thrive, Seattle needs to attract more talent and more capital.  Having lots of folks working hard and sleeping less may be necessary but it’s certainly not sufficient.  If all that you are able to do yourself is work hard on your own startup then by all means do that — indirectly you are making a contribution to the ecosystem.  But if you want to make an impact and not just a contribution, then you have to help others do better as well. 

  • http://the1stmeeting.org Rohit Mathur

    3.99 Wishes for Seattle:

    >> Encouraging vertical communities <> Mentors..and mentoring <> Lowering startup cost <> Wish for less sun (yes, I feel more energized when it’s cloudy but then I have crazy reason for this. I feel more energized by thinking that I will be among the handful 1% who feel upbeat and ready to take on any challenge as compared to 99% who sulk in winters. Also, coffee conversations have much more fun, especially around winters when all cafes are decked up so beautifully). So, it’s only 1% wish to exclude those who still believe sun drive entrepreneurship :)

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