Startup Seattle funding avoids City Council budget axe, allowing initiative to proceed

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Councilmember Nick Licata discusses his proposal to delay funding for the Startup Seattle initiative. (Via Seattle Channel webcast.)

A divided Seattle City Council voted this afternoon to go forward with $151,000 in funding for the Startup Seattle initiative — a victory for startup leaders who have been pushing for the creation a new city position to help support and expand the city’s startup community.

The council voted 6-3 against a budget amendment from Councilmember Nick Licata that would have kept the funding away from the city’s Office of Economic Development until the office met requirements including “a sustainable, long-term plan for maintaining Startup Seattle,” including 2014 funding commitments for the initiative from supporters outside the city government.

The attempt to delay funding had sparked a debate between startup community leaders and some councilmembers over the relative merits of spending city money with the goal of improving the climate for tech startups in the city.

Addressing the council this afternoon before the vote, Licata cited reports in publications including GeekWire stating that Seattle ranks among the top cities in the country for technology and startups by various measures. He said he wasn’t convinced that the promise of incremental improvement was worth the cost without a clearer gameplan for the future of the Startup Seattle initiative.

“If the argument could be made that we could do better in this industry, the argument could be made for any industry. Where do you draw the line?” he said. “If you’re No. 1, then you’re going to argue that we don’t want to drop to No. 2. … That argument is somewhat weak in justification.” He later said that he didn’t see any “firmness” to the Startup Seattle effort, and said that he really didn’t want to create “city positions that are ill-defined.”

Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who voted against Licata’s amendment, acknowledged the need for a gameplan but disagreed with Licata’s line of reasoning.

“A great city will play to its strengths,” said Harrell, who chairs the council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee. “One of our strengths is that we have a thriving high-tech and biotech and green tech world. These startups are something we need to nurture aggressively.”

Startup Seattle, launched by Red Russak as an independent initiative, was later taken over by the city and championed by (now outgoing) Mayor Mike McGinn, but hasn’t yet had funding for a full-time staff position.

Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Jean Godden, and Licata voted in favor of the amendment to effectively delay the Startup Seattle funding, while Tim Burgess, Sally Bagshaw, Sally Clark, Richard Conlin, Mike O’Brien, and Harrell voted against the amendment, allowing the funding to go forward.

The decision won’t be official until the full budget is approved next week.

  • Red Russak

    Woohoo! Not going to get too excited until it’s official, but happy to see this little episode is over. Upwards and onwards…

    • http://moz.com/rand Rand Fishkin

      Go Red go!

    • @JLCBeck

      Red: I am open to any suggestions you may have about mobilizing the entrepreneurs/start up oriented folks to better lobby the City Council and Mayor-elect Murray.

      • Red Russak

        Thank you! As of now, no mobilizing/lobbying necessary. This doesn’t depend on Murray. This will be run by the Office of Economic Development and simply requires final approval by City Council on Monday.

  • Guest

    Thanks. I only hope that Mayor Ed “Comcast whore” Murray takes office, our tech sector will survive.

    • Red Russak

      Whoever takes the role as ‘StartupSeattle’ liaison in 2014 will have many opportunities to work with the Mayor. Then again, our “survival” doesn’t really depend on the Mayor ;-)

  • Fortunato Vega

    Lets keep our fingers crossed but I’m super positive. Thanks for all your good work Red.

  • Joel Grus

    If a new city employee doesn’t help the local startup scene take off, nothing will!

  • Bubbles99

    I have to say that, as described in this article, Licata sounds a lot more intelligent and thoughtful. Just as throwing bodies at a software project rarely helps, throwing money at a vague goal doesn’t help without a concrete plan. The end result, 99.9999% of the time, is to create ineffectual sinecures until the money runs out.