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State technology agencies merged

Sirti now Innovate Washington; new focus on clean energy

Starting this week, Sirti becomes Innovate Washington.

The name change reflects a stronger, clearer focus by state leaders on technology products as an engine for economic development.

Sirti, which opened its doors in 1995 as a state agency serving Eastern Washington, now becomes part of a statewide economic development initiative, said Kim Zentz, who has directed Sirti since 2005.

The big change came out of the past legislative session. Innovate Washington will focus on forming public-private partnerships to speed up tech innovations, Zentz said.

“We’re not taking the two former organizations and just putting them together. We’re creating a different model to pursue technology-based economic development,” she said.

That model relies on a sector-based strategy. Instead of helping a variety of tech companies, Innovate Washington’s first mission is pushing growth in the clean-energy sector, Zentz said.

The clean-energy sector includes biofuels, solar energy, hydrogen fuel cells, wind turbines, battery innovations and other systems to conserve and reduce power consumption.

In addition, the change has no direct impact on Sirti’s roughly 50 client companies, even though only a third of them fall under the clean energy umbrella, Zentz said. The agency provides services that include assisting in product development, gaining access to capital, leasing lab or office space and sharpening a start-up’s marketing plans.

Public-private partnerships will create larger potential investments than the older system could provide, Zentz said.

“We’ll be able to pursue projects at a larger scale so companies in the clean-energy sector can access the market at a scale sufficient to bring their products to a successful, sustainable level,” she said.

During most of its initial decade, the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute operated on a model of teaming regional university researchers with area companies to hatch new products.

There were some modest successes, despite a series of revolving directors and varying strategies.

In recent years the state agency renamed itself Sirti.

Zentz said the newest name change is less important than the shift in strategy.

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