Hundreds of members of the Seattle tech community gathered at the Technology Alliance annual State of Technology luncheon in downtown Seattle today, and we took the opportunity to ask several attendees what they would how they would improve the Seattle tech economy, if they could tackle just one or two things.

Continue reading for their answers and ideas.

Villette Nolan, HomeSavvi Chief Executive: I’d increase access to capital and absolutely increase the amount of engineering talent that we could access here in Washington state. There’s an awful lot of discussion right now on increasing funding at not only the secondary education level but K-12.

I’d personally really like to see programs that are encouraging young women to stay in math and science, and to really formulate careers in that area. I think we’ve got to tap into a pool of people that we’re not already tapping into.

That focus for young women is just missing. I would also focus on female angel investors, and getting more women knowledgeable and ready to invest in innovation companies.

Sailesh Chutani, CEO of Mobisante (named the “Showcase Company of the Year” at the event): I would get rid of the non-compete clause enforcement in the state of Washington. It prevents people from spinning off, leaving established companies to start new startup companies. The non-compete gets in the way.

If you look at California, the courts do not recognize non-competes. You can see the genealogy of the companies that have come out. It’s not that they’re taking the IP away. In a big company you have lots of people with interesting ideas. The big company doesn’t have the capacity to cater to all of them, or there’s not a good fit. So these people leave and start companies. In Washington, you do that and you have a lawsuit. To me, that’s structural, and this is a policy issue.

Being able to address that would help the state so much. That’s not to say people are going to steal IP. No. That’s enforced very strictly everywhere in the U.S. and that’s a good thing. But to prevent people from starting their own businesses because of the threat of a lawsuit — even if you’re doing something totally unrelated — to me, that’s crazy.

Linden Rhoads, Vice Provost, UW Center for CommercializationAs an entrepreneur, and someone who did it serially, which means many different times I had to raise money, I’m always going to say there’s a shortage of capital. I would like there to be more capital available per event that is held in this community.

There’s a lot of events, and I don’t think there’s a lot of capital available, were you to look at the denominator, for all the events that we have. I think for certain sectors it’s a really big problem. Life sciences is one, but it’s really hard out there to raise money for even very good ideas. That’s a challenge and you don’t want people having to move. Investors usually want earlier stage companies to be local to them.

I think if we’re going to have a slightly longer-term view, we have to understand that if we don’t produce not only people with the right kind of technical degrees but excellent technical degrees … then you’re going to have a situation where eventually employers figure out that there’s only so many people they can import, and they do try opening offices everywhere but here. … I’m partisan here, I think of the University of Washington and its computer science department (as an example of an excellent CSE program.) Not every CSE degree is created equal.

Ken Myer, interim CEO of Yapta, former Washington Technology Industry Association chief: Think first about the positive. What’s going well. What do we need to build on?

We tend to be pretty hyper-critical, and that’s healthy internally, as you look at your own company or your own life. Maybe you should pause a second and ask what we’re doing well, what’s working.

I think we’re supremely good at self-organizing. I think that basically what you see around this town is lots of people self-organizing to get things done. We should encourage more and more of that.

What do you think of these ideas? Suggestions of your own? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • Guest

    Replace Steve Ballmer.

  • Jonathan Paul

    Seattle has the foundation to be one of the biggest tech hubs in the US, comparable with the Valley and NYC, but while other startup ecosystem have been expanding at an accelerated clip it seems Seattle has been growing slowly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and represents the conservative nature of Seattle startup community and investors.  However, given how big the opportunity is I think we can all agree that more can be done to foster innovation and encourage startups. 

    What will improve Seattle’s tech economy? The problem can’t be narrowed down to a single factor, rather the startup ecosystem needs numerous components to develop simultaneously. 

    First and foremost, Seattle needs more technical talent. It all starts with education and computer science should be integrated into middle / high schools. Integrating CS into education programs won’t have an immediate effect, but it will do wonders for the long term. In the near term, Seattle should push for more immigration of technical talent and work with the federal government to allow entrepreneurs from around the world to come here to join or launch a startup. UW will play a critical role in developing the best and brightest technical talent. I hope to see UW collaborate with local middle / high schools to push computer science from an early age. 

    Second, Seattle needs more seed stage investors, incubators and accelerators. Techstars and Founder’s Co-Op are a great start, but for Seattle to only have a couple of incubators is a bit shocking. With Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing & Starbucks anchored in Seattle, I’m surprised more early employees haven’t become angels and seed funded more companies. In the valley, there is a cyclical nature to the ecosystem. As people start or join successful companies, they pour part of their profits back into the ecosystem in the form of seed stage funding and a new wave of startups rises. Developing a network of angels and connecting them with talented entrepreneurs will help jumpstart the tech economy. 

    Third, Seattle needs to identify its core strengths and areas to focus on. Gaming has been a big component of the startup community, but what are some other verticals that Seattle is primed to be successful in? I’d argue that Seattle should become a leader in enterprise, the cloud, big data & mobile going forward. We’re not the media or retail / fashion hub like NYC or LA, so understanding our core strengths will help guide future entrepreneurs.  

    Fourth, the local government needs to develop a digital city plan. Along with encouraging more computer science education in K-12 and helping immigrants with STEM skills set up shop in Seattle, the local government should open up government APIs, launch city focused Hackathons, reform tax and non-compete laws, showcase the benefits of launching / growing in Seattle and convert un-used government buildings into co-working spaces. 

    I could go on, but these four key factors are a good start…

  • gseattle

    unflattering pictures, nice try, get it right instead

  • gseattle

    Maybe just not so visible. Bring both innovators and investors out of the woodwork.  Instead of relatively small groups here-and-there in small venues meeting over beer for the select few connected who happen to hear about those, implement some of that investor money for a well-advertised (and well-in-advance) large public event, no charge.  Creating stuff?  Great, come on in.  Got money?  Right this way ma’am, thank you.

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