Nick Licata and Chris DeVore
Nick Licata and Chris DeVore

Well, it’s not quite the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

But Founder’s Co-op general partner Chris DeVore and Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata recently were brought together by the online news site Crosscut to debate the issues around the Startup Seattle Initiative.

As you may recall, Licata attempted to torpedo the efforts to create a $151,000 startup concierge position at the city level, saying that the effort was “programmatically vague.” DeVore, who was on the committee that helped create the Startup Seattle Initiative, shot back in a blog post that Licata was “just classically shortsighted,” noting that “I’m so pissed I can’t even speak.”

The initiative made it through the budget axe after Licata failed to seal the votes, but the debate continued over the role of government in helping to foster startups.

Now, thanks to Crosscut, the two men gathered for an informal discussion on the topic — making for some interesting viewing.

Chris DeVore of Founder’s Co-op started the discussion:

“In the background, I was wondering how anyone could object to this modest use of funds with the state’s — this is not the city, but the state’s simultaneous effort to deploy $8.7 billion to retain some jobs of a company that was built here a century ago, Boeing, and unsuccessfully having those jobs ultimately go to … a right to work state. It may have been a matter of perspective of $8.7 billion to save some jobs — to borrow the barn door after the horse had left — versus $151,000 to help build the next Boeing or the next Starbucks or the next fill-in-the-blank in Seattle. I think I got frustrated and confused about the relative use of public resources in the service of the public good.”

Next up was Licata who

“What burned me in my mind was — where do we draw the line? Where do we finally say, essentially, do you need this extra money to be competitive? What industry is not competitive? In the editorial you wrote, you said you have to work like hell to make sure that we remain competitive. What industry does not have to work like hell to make sure they are competitive. If all industries are that way, then you have to ask yourself, what is the role of government and public funds, helping out private industry?… Overall, my question is: Where do you draw the line? Why do you select one industry over another?”

DeVore countered that startups do not represent one “industry” but span a variety of sectors, from retail to education to high-tech. “We live in a city that I think has a very powerful and I think unique combination of celebration of capitalists that have built great companies, but also I think a real desire for social justice and social mobility,” said DeVore, adding that the city should take ownership of the intersection of business, society and culture. (See DeVore’s guest postGlobal innovation + ‘big tent’ capitalism in Seattle)

Licata countered that he supported those goals, but he felt the Startup Seattle Initiative just didn’t have a framework in which things could accurately be measured. “What I ask is: Where is the measurement of where we were, and where we want to go?”

DeVore cited the rise of companies like Zulily, Tableau and Zillow, and the economic impact that they’ve had on the region, noting that their success alone should trump any need for deep measurement. (Together, those three companies have a market value of $12 billion).

“Entrepreneurs create something from a whole cloth that never existed before, and we are trying to create a culture that supports that with a very modest allocation of resource, and massive benefit back to the City of Seattle,” he said.

Here’s the full debate via Crosscut:

Editor’s Note: GeekWire co-founder John Cook was one of the participants in the city’s planning meetings for the Startup Seattle initiative.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Mark Monroe

    If startups like mine aren’t going to receive support from our own communities than why should we stay. There are other growing startup locations such as Denver, NYC and even Charleston. Their doors are opening wider and it feels like my Seattle community is tired and not willing to make the change/upgrades to support us. Great article. It really put things into perspective. We aren’t looking for handouts, we just want to build phenomenal kick ass companies that make major impacts globally. Well at least MyUnfold does.

    • That Guy

      Hey Mark? Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out of town. Really. You are not God’s gift to Seattle.

      • Mark Monroe

        Say what you will and hide behind “That guy,” but what makes a great startup environment is the environment that support them. I don’t know you and you for sure don’t know me, so unless you have something positive to add that can provide perspective, stop trolling. Thanks!

    • tryingtocalmdown

      Mark, the “community” I believe is very supportive of startup businesses. It would be good to know what specific changes/upgrades are necessary. The issue in this article and in the larger “community” is what the proper role of gov’t is and should there be specific “support” of or for startups. Chris’ point is that hiring a liaison on the city’s payroll is well worth it, if it helps build great companies, while Licata wants to know where to “draw the line” (as an aside, when did Licata ever “draw the line” on spending for homeless or other social programs or “draw the line” on tax increases?)

      I think it’s somewhat unrealistic to believe the Seattle city gov’t will ever do more than pay lip service to supporting startups. Having a person on the payroll to be a liaison is about what can be expected.

      It’s the rest of the “community”, i.e. the private sector and trade groups and incubators are those that are the ones that need to be helping. People shouldn’t waste their time with the city gov’t that is Seattle. Oh and ignore “that guy”–he loves to flip people crap to get a rise out of them.

  • Paul_Owen

    Does the “concierge” make dinner reservations for entrepreneurs? Gotta agree w/ Licata on it being vague (and weak).

    Better to give entrepreneurs a way to apply for free office space, hosting services, online services (Exchange, Sharepoint, site hosting) and discounts on city biz license. Also weekly preso from industry leader + networking session. To qualify share your biz plan on GW where readers vote you up or down.

    • pragmatist

      DeVore is arguing for a position similar to our tourism board, it seems. Not a concierge for a special group of people. I think he would be the first one to say the position should be axed if it had a negative ROI.

      Would you still oppose the position if the $150,000 a year generated $500,000 in tax revenue and $15 million in economic productivity?

      Things like 1% for public art are extremely difficult to measure. This is something we can at least test, measure results, and end if it isn’t working.

  • Bob Crimmins

    I’m with Chris on this one. The positive impact that the technology sector has on Seattle’s job market and tax base is enormous, a la Zulily, Tableau, etc. However, it’s not just the billion dollar mammoths… it’s also the much more plentiful engines of growth represented by the 10-person, 20-person, 50-person, 100-person companies that spring up every year in Seattle. These jobs are created ex-nihilo. They are not linear, incremental growth… they are more like geometric, out-sized growth. And these smaller companies are the raw material from which the next billion-dollar babies will be born.

    Seattle’s early-stage technology sector is a powerful and valuable asset that is available to only a very small handful of cities in the US. We are creating jobs for thousands out of thin air. For Seattle to balk at making a small, first investment to support the growth of that asset is, as Chris says, classically short sighted. Is there some risk? Yeah, but it’s a small risk. Is there some ambiguity? Yeah, but we’ll learn a lot and figure it out as we go. Is it worth it? QED, Mr. Licata.

  • dltooley

    Although I’m still a fan of Licata the fact that poorly constructed and implemented regulatory regimes are a great source of billing for the Downtown Legal establishment. Though these folks think they themselves are responsible for the Seattle Miracle they are, in reality, just leaches.

    Would something along these lines be an appropriate articulation to the efforts ‘responsibilities’?

  • Bob Crimmins

    BTW, can we never refer to this position ever again as a startup “concierge”? It made some sense when Red was running Startup Seattle and was personally introducing startups to resources and each other and generally being a good guy to know in Seattle. Red continues to be a good guy to know in Seattle but ‘concierge’ is an utterly inadequate description of this new role.

    con·cierge (kô-syârzh) – n.

    A staff member of a hotel or apartment complex who assists guests or residents, as by handling the storage of luggage, taking and delivering messages, and making reservations for tours.

Job Listings on GeekWork