Fostering the startup ecosystem in Kitsap

All across the globe, startup ecosystems are exploding, with varying levels of success. Will Kitsap and the greater West Sound region be next? Many of us believe the answer can be yes.

But what exactly is a “startup ecosystem” and why should anyone care?

Simply put: a strong startup ecosystem gives people with vision the support, connections and networks they need to turn great ideas into flourishing, scalable businesses. It includes people, new businesses in their various stages, and a diverse range of organizations and institutions, all interacting as a system to create and foster new ideas and companies.

Two years ago, my family and I got the itch to move back to the Pacific Northwest. After 17 years spent living and working in cities major cities across the globe, the water, mountains, good schools, relative affordability and strong community were calling. But there was one major hangup: we, like many others, knew that Kitsap’s tremendous “quality of life” does not always offer tremendous “quality of career” in the paths we had chosen.

This reality is at the heart of why Marcel Imbach and I founded Vibe Coworks from the confines of our 800-square-foot Manhattan apartment with 18-month-old twins by our side: we believe in a life where you can be the master of your own career, from wherever it is you love and choose to live.

As the West Sound region’s newest shared workspace and coworking community, we created Vibe Coworks to give people here in our community the opportunity to commute less, connect more and enjoy a happy alternative to lonely home offices. We also created Vibe to help draw the players of a thriving startup ecosystem together in authentic, purposeful, action-oriented ways.

Marcel and I are not unique in this vision. Many individuals and organizations have been doing the hard work of building up our collective regional potential for decades. We’re grateful to join in those efforts.

Since opening our temporary space, the Vibe Lab, in September 2017, we’ve been inspired by dozens upon dozens of consultants, creatives, engineers, nonprofit leaders, remote workers and business owners who’ve come through our doors. Many — though by no means all — of these Vibe members and visiting guests work in the technology sector.

This is important in the context of the regional reality that my colleague Brett Eddy, founder of Eddy Digital and Ignition Garage LLC, speaks to often. Recently, Brett shared some compelling stats that show how technology startups have surged 47 percent in the last decade, representing an outsized impact on the US economy. These companies, data shows, “provide better-paying, longer-lasting jobs and contribute more to innovation, productivity and competitiveness, as compared to other startups.”

So what does this mean for Kitsap, beyond the housing shortage brought on, in part, by the swelling number of Seattle-based technology workers and their families seeking to achieve the quality of life we’ve long enjoyed? It means there’s never been a better time than now to support local technology innovators and other founders who would like to grow their big ideas right here at home.

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That’s why Startup Kitsap — a newly launched website and vision for our collective future — is so exciting to me. Startup Kitsap is an organic work in progress, representing the very best of what’s happening across our community currently, and an exhilarating picture of what might be yet to come.

The vision is simple: that by harnessing our collective efforts across the public sector, private sector, academic institutions and more here in Kitsap and the greater West Sound region in ways we’ve not done before, Kitsap can become home to a vibrant startup community, including:

  • 500 committed ecosystem members;
  • 25 new startups launched;
  • 150 students trained; 
  • $250k in startup seed capital ready to deploy

If Kitsap is to succeed in this, entrepreneurs in our region must be prepared to compete on a national and global stage. This starts with having opportunities to vet new and creative ideas with fellow entrepreneurs, receive meaningful feedback and find the right connections to take that idea forward.  

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6-Month Startup Kitsap, a new series kicking off in Poulsbo on June 6, does just that. Launched through a partnership with acclaimed tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and author, Dave Parker, the program gives aspiring founders, corporate innovators, transitioning military service members and their spouses, digital nomads and students the opportunity to refine their big idea, understand how to make money with it, and make an informed decision about whether to leave their day job and pursue their idea full-time.

Successful ecosystems are built in decades, not months. They also require the engagement, investment and give-first mentality of a diverse slew of key players. From entrepreneurs themselves, to experienced mentor-leaders, investors, academic institutions, corporations, government, networking groups, chambers and the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance, propelling our local startup ecosystem is going to take a full-court press from all of us.

Will we achieve our vision of 500 committed ecosystem members, 25 new startups launched, 150 students trained and a $250,000 seed fund? Truthfully, we don’t know. But as a collective of citizen do-ers: people passionate about introducing, connecting and expanding the frictionless interaction of talent, ideas and capital across the West Sound region, we’re ready to give it our best shot. Join us in making it happen:

Guest column by Vibe Founder, Alanna Imbach.
As published in the Kitsap Sun online and in print, May 24, 2018.