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Washington state Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib announces the launch of the Cascadia Venture Accelerator Network at Cambia Grove. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Despite its tech giants, leading universities, and talent, Seattle still struggles to stack up to Silicon Valley when it comes to venture capital funding and the startup activity dependent on it. But if Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., and Portland can fuse into one, connected technology ecosystem, the region becomes much more competitive.

That’s the thesis of the Cascadia Venture Acceleration Network (CVAN), a new group founded by nearly 50 Pacific Northwest organizations that aims to foster cross-border collaboration and increase funding opportunities in the region. Healthcare hub Cambia Grove is a founding member of the group and hosted its launch event in Seattle Friday. Officials from British Columbia and Washington, including Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, spoke at the event.

Initially, CVAN will focus on opportunities in life sciences, information technology, and clean tech, expanding to additional industries down the road.

“We need to take a regional approach and this isn’t just true for the economic benefits that we want to see,” Habib said during his remarks. “It’s true for solving the greatest problems of our time. The three sectors that were mentioned here today — ICT, life sciences, and clean tech — have, as their natural implications and end point, solutions to our world’s greatest challenges.”

CVAN is separate, but complementary, to the Cascadia Innovation Conference, a partnership between regional leaders that formed in 2016. That partnership convenes government officials throughout the Northwest on projects like a proposed high-speed rail that would connect the region’s top cities. The shared Cascadia name is intentional; Habib sees CVAN as another opportunity to brand the region as an innovation hub.

“People don’t think of Silicon Valley as just software,” Habib told GeekWire. “They don’t just think of it as hardware. Silicon Valley started out as a hardware proposition but then it became software, internet, social, now it’s life sciences in tech, retail. It doesn’t mean anything anymore other than ‘innovative area.’ So branding really, really matters and now that we’ve got a second agreement and arrangement and understanding here, using this title, let’s build on that.”

By connecting scientists, entrepreneurs, and investors, CVAN hopes to help startups with commercial-ready innovations get funding and redirect concepts that aren’t quite ready to go to market to research institutions. The organization will also hold events and workshops and support cross-border trade agreements.

Cambia Grove Director Maura Little told GeekWire that with “governments as the first mover, we’re taking the next step from the private, non-profit, academic sectors to build an even stronger network in the Cascadia region.”

A wide range of organizations signed on to a memorandum of understanding associated with the launch of CVAN. Some of the founding members include the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, University of Washington, Voyager Capital, Washington Technology Industry Association, Oregon State University, Cascadia Venture Forum, BC Tech Association, and University of British Columbia.

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