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Sirti hires tech muscle to assist clients

Sirti, the Washington state-funded agency focused on aiding area tech companies grow and prosper, has hired two experienced tech veterans to serve as “executive entrepreneurs.”

The two, Donald Klein and Scott Broder, will hold six-month paid appointments that plug them into the services network Sirti provides for its client companies, which can cover a range of industries and can be based anywhere in Eastern Washington.

Klein and Broder will each spend up to 18 hours per week with some of those companies assisting business plans or identifying market prospects and boosting their bottom line.

Klein, 45, is based in San Francisco, where he is vice president of marketing and development with Modius Inc., a company that develops energy saving systems for data centers.

Broder, 51, lives in Toronto and has held key jobs with a number of businesses, including Opalis Software, where he led the company through a successful turnaround and helped raise $20 million. Opalis was acquired by Microsoft.

Most recently Broder was CEO of CanAM Internet, a web company that operated a number of e-commerce sites in the areas of sports, health and wellness. Broder is moving with his family to Spokane in June. Klein will live in northern California but continue visiting Spokane as his work commitments require, he said.

Though the state has a job hiring freeze, Sirti Executive Director Kim Zentz said the two hires are not full-time jobs but similar to academic appointments. Sirti has two positions vacant at this point due to departures by John Overby and Mike Urso.

Klein and Broder will be paid up to $4,000 a month, which assumes they’ll devote roughly 18 hours each week to companies they work with, Zentz said.

She anticipates their being the first of a regular, rotating stable of executive entrepreneurs Sirti will bring on to work with clients.

“This will give us flexibility we haven’t had,” Zentz said. Having different seasoned business veterans on the payroll allows Sirti to focus on the differing needs of companies.

“Some of those (entrepreneur executives) will be good at some pieces of the puzzle, like growth or sales or finance. Some will be better at different sectors, and on different points in the business cycle,” she added.

Broder said he hopes to work with companies on day-to-day operations and technology strategy.

One skill he said he has sharpened is looking at dozens of possible business ideas and honing the list to the essential ones that make sense.

“With technology strategy, I use the comparison of interstellar travel,” Broder said.

“Technology strategy is very important, because if you’re off by even a half of a degree (in plotting a product strategy) you can totally miss the galaxy you hoped to reach, in terms of a business objective,” Broder said.

Klein said he’s eager to work with the developing cluster of green-energy companies in the Inland Northwest. That group includes ReliOn, Flyback Energy and Demand Energy Networks.

“One thing that’s unique about Spokane, as opposed to the Bay, is that everyone in San Francisco is there for the money. But in Spokane, it’s clear that everyone here working on a new business is here because they like lifestyle and they like being here,” Klein said.

He sees this area doing a good job of selling itself, both for gaining more brainpower to work in young companies, and in getting investors to back ideas.

“The costs of starting a business in Spokane are much less than in many other places,” Klein said.