Startup accelerator Ignite Northwest is getting a facelift under the direction of Tom Simpson, a well-known angel investor and co-founder of retail company Etailz. Ignite has been operating in Spokane as an accelerator for several years, but Simpson plans to broaden the organization’s mission to foster the startup community of Eastern Washington.
“There are a number of really exciting, rapidly growing companies here in the area,” said Simpson, who is now president of Ignite. “And we have a number of organizations providing resources to nurture these companies. So my goal with Ignite is to unify those, put them under one roof, so there’s one-stop shopping, so to speak, for an entrepreneur.”
The main resource Simpson wants to provide is access to capital. Simpson manages the Spokane Angel Alliance, which has funded around 45 companies with nearly $50 million over the last decade. As the managing partner at Northwest Venture Associates in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Simpson oversaw investments in AdRelevance, NetMotion Wireless and Sur La Table, among others. He also sold Etailz for $75 million in 2016.
Ignite will work with other sources of startup support in the region, including Mind 2 Market, StartUp Spokane and local universities like Washington State University and Gonzaga. Simpson said Ignite would mainly focus on the cities of Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.
Beyond funding, Ignite aims to establish a formal network of mentors, provide networking and educational programs, and help startups with recruiting. The organization’s offices are located above Indaba Coffee in downtown Spokane, but Ignite aims to find new digs and establish a co-working space within the next two years.
“I view this as an opportunity to build a powerful base of resources for entrepreneurs that will be sustainable for a number of years,” Simpson said.
The Spokane region has spawned a number of successful startups in recent years, including vacation rental firm Stay Alfred, cloud migration service 2nd Watch and RiskLens, a cybersecurity startup.
In addition to supporting startups with high growth potential, Simpson wants to attract outside firms seeking to establish offices in and around Spokane. The city has become a popular landing area for companies who face labor and land constraints in Seattle.
Ignite currently has a budget of around $600,000 and operates with a lean team consisting of Simpson and CFO Jeff White, who previously led finance for grain storage company SCAFCO. The organization’s board includes Simpson, as well as:
- Richard Denneny, president of intellectual property law firm Lee & Hayes
- Skye Henderson, corporate controller of media firm Cowles Company
- Tyler Lafferty, principal of marketing agency Seven2
- Wayne Williams, former CEO of telecommunications equipment manufacturer Telect
- Mark Gustafson, director innovation and strategy at Avista, is a board observer
Ignite plans to add more board members and is hiring a director of events and marketing as well as a director of communications.