Ambitions To Elevate The Northwest's Venture Capital Game

Sep 13, 2017

Big names in Northwest business are coming together to deepen the financing pool for the next great tech startups. Microsoft and Madrona Venture Group want to integrate the venture capital communities of Seattle and Vancouver, BC.

Microsoft president Brad Smith described ambitions to compete better with Silicon Valley and Boston. 

"If you talk to people in the tech sector in North America, they would say rightly that one of our shortcomings as a region is the shorter supply of venture capital,” Smith said Tuesday. “So by pooling resources across the border, we have the opportunity to accomplish together in a key area something I think we're not yet doing enough of on our own.”

Smith spoke on the sidelines of the second annual Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference taking place in Seattle Tuesday through Wednesday.

Also at that meeting, five universities from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia along with a number of business consultancies signed a partnership to coordinate cross-border support for startups. 

The initial university participants in the cross-border startup accelerator project include the University of Washington, Washington State University, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland State University Business Accelerator and the University of British Columbia. 

Madrona Venture Group Managing Director Tom Alberg on Tuesday said he has observed lots of inventors and entrepreneurial talent in the Pacific Northwest, but there’s a catch.

"There's a good case to be made that the investment side has not been able to keep up," he said, especially in nurturing early stage companies. 

Alberg said the objective of the soon-to-be-launched Seattle-Vancouver Financial Innovation Network would be to create a financial center to encourage more investment in early stage companies, in hopes of securing new headquarters in the Northwest and keeping talent local. 

Neither of the idea's main backers, Microsoft and Madrona, specified any dollar amount they might put into a cross-border investment fund, although that might eventually come out of this. 

Joining Alberg on stage to describe the regional venture capital scene were founders of hot startups Redfin, a real estate firm based in Seattle, and mobile app developer EventBase of Vancouver, along with angel investors from each of those cities. 

The larger border-straddling effort to boost innovation and connectivity dates back to the first Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference held last September in Vancouver. 

"I feel good about the first year of progress we have made in really advancing this whole vision of a Cascadia innovation corridor," said Smith, a principal driver of the whole thing. "The idea has definitely spread to Portland. People have started to take concrete steps to invest in transportation, high speed rail studies, get collaborative research going on across the border in universities." 

Another announcement made at the conference Tuesday was that commercial seaplane airline service between downtown Seattle’s Lake Union and Vancouver's harbor front could be coming soon. A convenient hop taking less than one hour between the urban centers is an item high on the wish list of business and tech titans such as Smith.

A final announcement from operators Harbour Air and Kenmore Air with details on the route's start date is expected later this year. Existing direct flights between Seattle and Vancouver operate between the international airports on the outskirts of the respective cities.