Building A Grassroots Ecosystem for Entrepreneurship in the Seattle Rainforest
Seattle has become a powerhouse metropolitan city in just a decade, housing massive corporations whose canopy of influence covers the world. Like large trees in a forest, their canopies look majestic from the outside, however, inside there is a young hidden ecosystem on the forest floor. On the ground, competition is heavy for the sparse resources needed to thrive and grow. Just like anything that grows too quickly, portions of Seattle’s entrepreneurial ecosystem are fragile, broken and in some communities, non-existent.
After two years of living in downtown Seattle, it is very clear to me that the most fragile part of this global marketplace is at the ground level (or the forest floor) where new residents and early-stage entrepreneurs dwell. I realized this a few weeks after my wife and I moved here from Phoenix, where I experienced a thriving ecosystem for newcomers and entrepreneurship. My first two weeks in Seattle I met with over 50 people who were current or past Amazonians, Microsofians, and all other “-ians”. Long story short, they did not want anything to do with the guy who just moved here and was starting a small business. Can you blame them? I quickly realized this was how most entrepreneurial newcomers are welcomed to this city and is the reality of most early-stage entrepreneurs who are starting a business for the first time.
The opposite of Seattle, Phoenix lacked in resources but made up for it with a rich grassroots community. I saw this as a huge opportunity! So, instead of complaining about it, I began building a grassroots entrepreneurial ecosystem anchored in generosity, compassion, and vulnerability. By partnering with a few key organizations I set out to create a safe safe environment for these seeds of innovation to grow in Seattle.
In December of 2017, my company, a small studio, partnered with Young Professionals of Seattle to enhance their already significant impact on the city. With almost 1,200 young professionals moving to Seattle every month, YPOS was the perfect organization to get involved with. We helped them build a brand that empowered their members to wave the welcome flag and has become a landing pad for many newcomers. With access to a community of almost 13,000 young professionals, programming was next. I knew it had to be programming that was proven and backed by large respected brands. This was how we could give the seeds access to the light and the resources they need to grow.
In May of 2018, we launched 1 Million Cups in Seattle. 1 Million Cups is a national community organization that brings those passionate about entrepreneurship together to connect, learn, and support each other while enjoying coffee. It was started in 2012 by the Kauffman Foundation, a leader in research and funding for entrepreneurship in the US, and now has 163 communities across the country. Every Wednesday at nine o’clock in the morning, 20–30 people gather to hear how a local entrepreneur is attempting to solve a problem in our world and proceed to give them the guidance and support they need to continue moving forward on the lonely and difficult journey of entrepreneurship. A year later, the community is thriving and we continue to get feedback from attendees that they have never felt such a warm entrepreneurial community.
Although 1 Million Cups has been a success in Seattle, I came to understand that these organizations alone were not enough to grow a thriving ecosystem. We needed to be able to educate and equip these entrepreneurs who wanted to make our city, country, and world better. So I decided to partner with another proven non-profit, who is also backed by the Kauffman Foundation, SEED SPOT. SEED SPOT is an incubator with 8 years of success supporting impact-driven entrepreneurs as they set out to solve social problems they are passionate about. To help make this a reality, I led recruitment and facilitated the workshop and creation of the curriculum. On July 20th, the first class of Seattle impact-driven ventures completed the 2-Day Launch Camp we developed! They were supported by the incredible SEED SPOT staff, myself, 10 corporate donors, and 30 mentors & volunteers who are passionate about supporting early-stage impact-driven entrepreneurs. The result was, to say the least, impactful.
As I look to the future of this grassroots ecosystem that is being built in Seattle, I am optimistic as I see more and more residents building towards the reality we all hope for. A reality where every seed has an equal opportunity to grow in this lush rainforest we call home. The big trees must often focus on sustaining their own size, which is understandable, but we have forgotten how these trees came to be in the first place. Amazon started as a seed and without generosity from his city, compassion from family and friends, and vulnerability to share the vision it would have stayed a seed.