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Business Groups, Universities And Incubators Team Up To Nurture Northwest Startups

Nicole Raine
Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib welcomed business accelerators, government, public universities and industry representatives to the launch of the Cascadia Venture Acceleration Network in Seattle Friday.

A wide range of business groups and universities from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia are teaming up to nurture science and tech startups. Nearly 50 organizations involved in business development signed on to the new Cascadia Venture Acceleration Network.

Peter Payne of the BC Innovation Council was elected to chair the consortium. He said one of the group's goals is to secure immigrant talent in the region, including by utilizing Canada's more open immigration policies. 

"I think the first thing that we'll be able to take advantage of with very little cost and very little organization is to see some of the U.S. companies create legal entities on this side, using the Microsoft model,” Payne said. “If it works for Microsoft, it should work for small to medium sized enterprises as well.”

Microsoft and Amazon have opened satellite offices in Vancouver, BC, in the past few years. Microsoft's office has grown to house 800 workers, including some recruits who couldn't get U.S. work visas or whose visas expired.

"We're quite happy to have those people sit here and pay our taxes, thank you very much," Payne said with a chuckle from Vancouver. "But we still want the companies or universities that were working with them on the U.S. side to still have some way of accessing that talent that they used to have."

Payne said the new consortium might also act as a "concierge desk" to direct entrepreneurs to private financing or government support programs. 

In its first year, the cross-border collaboration will rely on volunteers from member organizations because it doesn't have its own budget or staff. 

Representatives of the participating business and university groups unveiled the Cascadia Venture Acceleration Network on Friday at Cambia Grove, a health care-focused collaboration space in central Seattle. The launch announcement said the new network would initially focus on the life sciences, information technology and "clean tech" sectors, before expanding to include other industries in the future. 

"Our state's innovation ecosystem in clean technology and life sciences has grown dramatically over the past decade due to stakeholder commitment, collaboration and investment," said Erin Flynn, Associate Vice President for Strategic Partnership at Portland State University, in a news release. "It is an ideal time to join forces with our partners in Washington and British Columbia to put the Pacific Northwest region on the global innovation map." 

Other participants in the network include Oregon State University, Washington State University, University of British Columbia, Accelerate Okanagan, Oregon Bioscience Association, Cambia Health Solutions, Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Voyager Capital. 

CVAN is an outgrowth of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, a two-year-old, border-straddling partnership backed by political and tech leaders from the three states to boost connectivity, research collaboration and startup activity across the region to better compete with larger tech centers such as Silicon Valley. 

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.