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Sirti helping Seattle startups

Tech firm incubator expansion in keeping with call by Gregoire

Sirti, the state-funded program that helps young tech companies grow, is building a wider audience for its services. It’s now helping Seattle tech startups, a change from past practices of focusing only on Spokane-area firms.

When founded in 1994, the agency name was the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute. Several years ago the name morphed into just Sirti, to reflect its regional focus and that it’s not tied to college research.

Executive Director Kim Zentz said Sirti’s mission is still to help Inland Northwest firms. That help involves business plans, finding capital, technology consulting and marketing assistance.

But in the past several months two young tech firms have come calling for business assistance, Zentz said. Both were referred by the Washington Research Foundation, a Seattle nonprofit that assists startups through various services.

Offering services to Seattle tech firms underlines a statewide focus pushed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, Zentz said. In 2007, Gregoire insisted that state agencies promoting economic development see their focus as statewide. The goal, Zentz said, is for agencies to help create good Washington jobs, wherever they occur.

The two new Seattle firms lined up for Sirti support are Mirador Biomedical and Assay Dynamics. Both referrals came through Ron Howell, president and CEO of Washington Research Foundation. Mirador, based in Seattle, develops medical devices. Its first product, coming this fall, is a pressure-tracking device to help doctors and nurses accurately place tubes in patients.

Assay Dynamics, also in the Seattle area, is a startup developing improved medical diagnostic tools.

Mirador, which has already built a prototype and arranged outside funding, is mostly getting marketing and brand-development help, said Linda Hemingway, head of Sirti’s market development team.

Sirti worked with Mirador to find a compelling business tag line or brand identifier. The choice became “A new measure of certainty,” which was among more than 20 ideas Sirti’s team developed. Mirador CEO Karl Schmidt also is tapping Sirti’s access to a Gonzaga University Law School program that gives legal help for patents and copyright matters.

Assay Dynamics is an earlier-stage company that hasn’t yet chosen specific Sirti services, Zentz said.

Sirti does not charge its client companies for its services. In 2004, Sirti stopped requiring client companies to pay royalties or stock once they made a profit. That payback model ended because many startups viewed the requirement as burdensome, Zentz said.

With state coffers nearly bare, however, Sirti is likely to start charging for one type of service, the market-development assistance that helps a company prepare its brand image, marketing materials and launch strategy.

“It will be a modest retainer. It should be about a fourth of what the company would pay, on the open market, for those individual services,” Zentz said.

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