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Seattle

The fastest-growing major city in the United States, Seattle is home to established companies such as Boeing, Nordstrom and Starbucks. Moreover, since prominent tech companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Expedia set up in the Emerald city, a stream of startups have followed suit. Over the last decade, Seattle has flourished, and today boasts a robust and diverse startup community. Top-tier accelerators like Techstars catapult young entrepreneurs forward, while dark rainy winters keep them imbibing coffee and coding hard. The surrounding outdoors attract adventurers and risk takers – many of whom pioneer startups. The University of Washington churns out talented software developers and engineers, fueling the local tech industry. Still, lots of that talent is attracted toward larger and well-established businesses, while a limited number of local VCs complicates fundraising for startups. Nevertheless, the recent string of major IPOs and a close-knit startup community are signs of a promising ecosystem that’s expanding its national startup identity.

In This Market

These businesses offer industry expertise and are a source of startup talent and potential customers. They help fuel the local startup community.

Opportunities

  • A legacy of success. Seattle is now on its third wave of startups -- beginning with Microsoft, Amazon, Immunex and Expedia, moving into success with Zillow, Zulily, Juno, Concur, Valve, Isilon, etc and now seeing momentum with the likes of Redfin, Apptio, Rover, Smartsheet, Porch, Extrahop and beyond. This pattern inspires.
  • Multiple major companies spinning off talent. Local tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon, with recent additions of large engineering satellite offices for Facebook, Google, Alibaba and others provide a vibrant engineering community for startups to recruit from. Other large businesses like REI, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco and more provide industry insights, acquisition opportunities and a revolving door for entrepreneurs.
  • The University of Washington houses one of the top 10 computer science programs in the country and provides a steady flow of talented graduates and innovative research. Its top medical program also churns out innovations in medical workflow and gene therapy.
  • Compelling outdoor lifestyle: skiing, hiking, kayaking, sailing, mountaineering, climbing, or just about anything else outdoors. Add to that healthy food, microbreweries, and a tremendous arts and culture scene and you’ve got a city that easily attracts and retains talent.
  • Excellent designers. Leveraging the presences of Adobe, Slalom Consulting, Tether, and dozens of other design agencies, Seattle startups benefit from a plethora of talented designers.
  • While there is definitely criticism of local angels for risk aversion and ample opportunity for more investors to exist (especially given the amount of local technological wealth), there are a decent number of active angels with good support. Events like Pitches and Beer, the Seattle Angels Conference, and more help convene the early-stage investment community.
  • Industry strengths: B2B, cloud and data storage, aerospace, eCommerce, retail, medtech, gaming, and data visualization.

Risk Factors

  • Risk aversion / small thinking. A regular critique of Seattle entrepreneurs (and investors) is that they 'lack hustle' or 'dream too small.' They build plenty of great companies but get overshadowed by all the Valley noise about unicorns. It's also a bit scarier to fail here; as several Seattle angels explained, "If you fail once here it's ok. If you fail twice it's not."
  • Big companies eating up talent. A lot of Seattle’s top tech talent is ‘stuck’ in the larger local companies, which makes it hard for startups to recruit.
  • A disconnected startup community. Startups are spread out geographically -- whether thats Eastside or Westside, Pioneer Square, the U District, International District, Capitol Hill, or elsewhere, these pockets show there’s a lot of activity but also a lack of integration.
  • Traffic. Probably as a result of its attractive lifestyle and economic boom, Seattle is ranked as the 5th most congested city in the U.S. by TomTom. The landscape forces vehicles onto a couple congested routes. Getting Big Bertha permanently stuck while drilling a new transit tunnel certainly didn’t help.
  • ‘Valley hangover.’ Silicon Valley is quite close - a 90 minute flight on the ‘Nerd Bird.’ This adjacency is sometimes great, but often causes a disconnect between entrepreneurs and investors on startup valuations, with entrepreneurs expecting big Silicon Valley valuations and investors looking to grind founders down on price.
  • Limited VC capital. While the likes of Maveron and Madrona are valuable assets to Seattle, there’s just not a lot of VC money to finance A rounds and beyond. Startups can and do go to the Valley to fill this gap, but often have to relocate.
  • Darkness. A pro and a con. Some say it makes you work harder in the winter months, others point to its emotional and mental consequences. Suffice to say, it definitely impacts struggling entrepreneurs.
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