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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.

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