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 Commercialization: As 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.