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.