By Lyric Esparza
Seattle is so ripe with innovative people creating ingenious products and services that new residents and startups might not know where to start. Seattle Startup Week is the answer to that problem: a smoothly designed five day mammoth of an event that puts entrepreneurs and startups first.
This week I had a chance to speak with Dave Parker, Lead Organizer of Seattle Startup Week and CEO of Code Fellows, about Startup Week’s history, events and impact in Seattle.
Startup Week is a non profit organization that sets up these “weeks” in places from D.C. to Eastern Europe to Mongolia. The organization finds and empowers leaders like Parker in crucial cities around the globe, bringing vital information and resources to entrepreneurs in a continually engaging and inclusive manner. The Start Up Week has been in Seattle for three years, with an initial attendance of 1200 and expected turnout this year of 4-5k. The best part? There’s no cost to attend.
The event is built on different “tracks,” like genres you can choose from. These tracks are organized and led by members of our community who are passionate about specific topics regarding startup work, entrepreneurship, technology. By ensuring the track leaders are members of the community, Parker says the event is kept “very homegrown” and relevant to Seattleites, as opposed to “flying in people from San Francisco.”
One exciting new addition this year is the Diversity and Inclusion track being hosted at the Northwest African American History Museum in Rainier. This track boasts events like “Real Talk: Black & Brown Startup Entrepreneurs” and “Mompreneurs: Guilt Free and Thriving.” Inclusion has become an important push in tech industries lately, with people of color and women struggling to make their voices heard. Parker is all for it:
“[We are] taking on difficult topics. People find it awkward to talk about race in – well, today. But when you start to get uncomfortable, you’re actually getting somewhere.”
This year, Parker has made it a point to partner with organizations like HERE Seattle to include areas like Seattle’s Rainier Valley – a place not “notoriously known for tech.” The event is not held in one huge location like the Convention Center – “and I will never, ever rent that place out,” Parker laughed – but about 60 places all over the city. This approach allows the organization to break into places like Black Dot, a coworking space for black entrepreneurs in Rainier.
“We really want to see diversity and inclusion and the way you do that is to go to them, not wait for them to come to us.”
Seattle’s Startup Week operates on a tight budget and is completely volunteer-ran, so they don’t typically have high end speakers on the event roster. This year, however, corporate sponsor CHASE bank booked Mel Robbins, TEDx Speaker, bestselling author and CNN commentator to speak Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. – RSVP here. (Again, free.)
Parker wants people to know that Startup Week is not strictly for the tech savvy.
“[There is a] distinction between the small business and a startup,” he says, “Small businesses are focused on their geography, so if I create one in Bellevue than Bellevue is my customer base. Startups might use technology for customer acquisition but they’re not necessarily a software company. Tech is a lot broader than the largest employers in Washington, and to get a feel for what is happening in the community, startups are where you start.”
When I asked Parker about the impact he’s seen Startup Week have on the community so far, he pointed me to a track on the event roster called “New To Seattle.” Impact – as with all non profits – has been hard to measure, but Parker said the most important observation he hears is, “Oh my god, I had no idea Seattle has so much going on.”
The concentrated amount of resources, the harvest of networking available and the caliber of teaching during the event is time and money saving for any entrepreneur. This amount of information gathering and exchange of resources could take someone six to nine months to accomplish – but with Startup Week, “you can navigate your way through the entire ecosystem of tech in Seattle in five days.”
The event also has an VR/AR track that will cover emerging technologies, pitch events that are required by organizers to resonate with the people of Seattle (again, no flying people in to read off powerpoints), a job fair on Friday that is open to anyone and an event called Ignite! that my college communications professor tried to get me to do. Essentially: super savvy, charismatic people talk through a powerpoint on typically tough topics in thirty seconds. Thirty. The result is often inspiration, laughter, and envy that you are not that talented.
Just in case you’re wondering – it’s not all talks and learning. Like any industry, these people gotta relax sometime. The opening party on Monday night has about 400 RSVPs, Parker informed me. And I later found out it also has free wine and beer, food, a DJ and a performance by a startup called Breakdancing Ninjas. Happy hours are also built in throughout the week to facilitate networking. And drinking.
If you’re a creative individual, a mom thinking of building a small business, or a person who likes free wine, come. As Parker said, “There is an insider-outsider perspective of tech in Seattle. There are those who know where to find money and resources and talent and those who don’t. We want to make it outsider friendly.”