Written by Kate Hudson, Public Relations Manager for Visit Spokane
Spokane is on the cusp of something big. Pay close attention to the undercurrent, and you’ll feel an energy and enthusiasm permeating post-pandemic Spokane. Restaurants, shops, bars and attractions are suddenly busy again. Conferences and significant events are back and filling downtown streets with people thirsty for travel and new experiences.
COVID unwittingly coughed up a new era of free-flowing creativity and forwarded movement across many industries. Traditional work models – desk jockeys working in person from 9 to 5 – no longer exist, and many people have discovered they can work from anywhere, which is a boon to mid-sized cities like Spokane. U.S. News & World Report* says Spokane is currently one of the top 25 fastest-growing cities in the country. The U.S. Census** shows the population has grown 2.63% since 2020.
Nowhere has this new work model been more welcome than to a thriving and surprisingly diversified industry that has until recently flown under the radar. Spokane’s startup scene.
In a loft above Indaba Coffee Roasters on Riverside Avenue is Ignite Northwest. CEO Tom Simpson – investment banker, venture capitalist, angel investor and entrepreneur – is at its helm. Ignite funds, enlightens, and mentors new companies on the verge of greatness. Oh, what a time it is to be a startup in Spokane! The city is ripe for advancement and filled with people with the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-work mentality that has always been part of Spokane’s blue-collar roots. It’s a winning combination.
At Ignite’s 25+5 Awards – 25 innovative companies, plus five promising newcomers – in March 2023, the room at downtown winery Barrister throbbed with energy and excitement for future Spokane.
The event celebrated the region’s most extraordinary, brightest, and promising companies. These companies have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in the area over the last 20 years. The work is exciting and puts Spokane in the spotlight. Rohinni is a leading provider of advanced precision semiconductor placement solutions. Slate Dental, a high-tech flosser. Tokki, reimagining gift bags made from recycled materials with a scannable QR code that allows gift givers to upload personal messages, will soon be sold in Target. These are only a handful of startups putting Spokane on the map, companies started with a single idea, risk, and investment.
The Ignite 25+5 awards sparked a vision for a future Spokane and a promise to spend the next 30 years making our city one of the most innovative places in the U.S. Smaller cities like Boulder, Colorado, or Burlington, Vermont, currently sit on the current list alongside the usual suspects like San Francisco and Seattle. So why not Spokane?
The definition of an innovative city is the combination of new practices, solutions and services to improve the quality of life for residents by ensuring economic, social and environmental sustainability. And patents. Lots and lots of new patents. Every startup in the Spokane area is already innovating, filing patents and coming up with new solutions.
Spokane has the tools to make that list of the most innovative cities in the U.S., including a downtown core packed with beautiful greenspaces, architecture and art.
The ever-expanding University District fosters young minds bursting with new ideas. City leaders are tackling sustainable urban planning, the community is diversifying, and entities like Downtown Spokane Partnership, Visit Spokane, and Greater Spokane Inc. promote and market the city as a viable place to live, visit and do business.
Future Spokane runs much like a startup. New ideas, risk-taking, and investment prevail to create a city where all feel welcome, empathy reigns, and sustainable urban planning isn’t an afterthought. A Spokane filled with people from all walks of life. Startup culture fosters an environment that values creative problem-solving and open communication. As remote work becomes ever more accessible – and a long-term reality for many companies – places like Spokane will become new hubs for young entrepreneurs.
We have to get unruly. Let’s take risks; let’s put ourselves out there. 25 + 5 = 30. That’s 30 years to create an innovative Spokane so admirable it lands on the top 25 most innovative cities in the U.S. When that day comes, we’ll no longer have to say, “Spokane is on the cusp of something big.”
We got this.
This piece was featured in the Downtown Spokane Partnership’s 2023 Annual Report. To read the full report, click below.