I had the chance to attend a local event yesterday called Idavation. This event is in its 4th year (formerly Kickstart) and was created by the local entrepreneur support organization, Kickstand, in which I have been heavily involved over the last 5 years.
I have been involved in the creative economy here in Boise, for a while now and it finally feels like there is a ground swell beginning to happen. Despite its myriad of national rankings in publications ranging from Fortune to Inc, at times it seems the success the Treasure Valley has seen is nothing more than a happy accident.
To begin with, while there is support from local government, the state government has gone beyond apathy to sheer negligence of the technology and creative industries here in Idaho. Our rankings in research, monetary support for technology, and tax incentives are abysmal. In one of our rankings we are even behind Puerto Rico. Not only does the state government, and Governor Otter specifically, show a complete lack of support for the industry that drives the majority of the state’s growth, at times it seems as if they actively campaign against it.
However, what I see now is a voice that refuses to be silenced. I witnessed entrepreneurs, service providers, and public officials come together together at the Idavation event to discuss how we can continue to grow these industries in Idaho. With a keynote from Gary Hoover (founder of Hoover’s Online) to kick things off, discussion centered around business creation, technology transfer, and how to overcome the negative side effects of doing business from Idaho.
Kickstand has been a fixture in the community for the last 7 years or so, however, now there are other pieces of the ecosystem falling into place. The Watercooler, which I mentioned in a previous post, gives this movement a gathering place. After hearing a couple of speeches from Mayor Dave Bieter of Boise, I firmly believe the City is not only behind the efforts, but donating funds and resources to the cause.
Kickstand has recently launched the Entrepreneur Resource Network (ERN) which is an online directory of service providers for entrepreneurs. A group of technology executives have banded together to create the Idaho Software Employers Alliance in order to encourage computer science education among other support for the technology industry. Funding alliances like the Boise Angel Alliance and Fund and the Keiretsu Forum have active groups in the area and are starting to fund new ventures. Groups have popped up to support and document the tech industry in Boise like TechBoise. Even the local university, Boise State, has changed its mission to become a “Metropolitan Research University of Distinction”.
Putting my marketing hat on, if I were to take Governor Otter through a strategy session, it would go something like this. First, can Idaho be number one in agriculture? It can hold its own, but it is definitely not number one. Heck, Idaho is almost not even number one in potatoes anymore since Washington keeps stealing its market share. The reality is that agriculture is the past. You still want to maintain a strong agricultural base, but if Idaho were to focus its efforts on raw goods, it would experience declining terms of trade. As the picture below shows, except for a blip during World War II, generally raw goods decrease in price over time. (By the way, I stole this from Professor Roy Nelson’s PowerPoint at Thunderbird School of Global Management)
However, what Idaho does have going for it are some of the biggest rankings and PR of any state for technology and business creation. Idaho and Boise regularly receive accolades from Forbes, Fortune, and Inc for being a technology hotbed, being a great place to start a business, and for being a great place to work and play. Boise has two key anchor employers in HP and Micron and now with the addition of Microsoft, has several of the biggest names in technology right here. It has all of the previously mentioned efforts working in conjunction with each other to create a ripe technology environment. It appears that technology and entrepreneurism are the future of Idaho.
How do you market a state? You pick what it is that you do best and you focus. It is the same principles that apply to any business venture. If politicians thought more like business people, then states would be better at positioning themselves to grow. If you try to mean everything to everyone, you end up meaning nothing to nobody. It is amazing what a unique vision can do to rally the resources of an entire state around a core cause.