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Innovate will try again to get state funding

Fri., Aug. 2, 2013, midnight

Officials at Innovate Washington say they’ll try to convince legislators next year to resume funding their agency, created in 2011 as the state’s tech-business catalyst.

The 2011 Legislature created Innovate Washington by merging the Washington Technology Center and Sirti. The agency’s mission is to assist state technology firms with marketing, finance, business plans and access to investors.

But earlier this year Washington lawmakers slashed its $5.6 million biennial budget, leaving the agency examining its options including considering funding solely from private sources.

Scott Morris, CEO of Avista and chair of the Innovate Washington board, said the goal will be to give legislators next year a larger pile of evidence supporting the case that the agency is worth funding.

That effort will occur in the Legislature’s “short” session of 60 days starting in January.

When legislators eliminated Innovate Washington’s funding, one state senator said it was a casualty of a pitched battle between the governor’s office and a conservative majority who are trying to force changes in state spending and business regulations.

Morris said the agency still has about $2 million left from the original operating funds provided in the merger. That permits Innovate Washington, with a total staff of 20 statewide, to continue operating into the first half of next year.

The goal will be to revisit the performance of Innovate Washington and try to establish that its results are not just creating jobs but also “creating an innovation ecosystem” in the state, Morris said.

Since its launch, Innovate Washington has worked with about 38 firms, most of them in energy, information software and health sciences.

Agency CEO Kim Zentz said Innovate Washington’s efforts have created or provided ongoing support for more than 390 jobs among its client companies.

She also said it was disappointing that the Legislature pulled the plug after Innovate Washington had just 12 months to establish its track record. She noted that the new agency didn’t develop its goals and begin working on plans until April 2012.

Like Morris, Zentz said the goal is not to change the agency’s focus now. Instead, Innovate plans to continue working on assisting later-stage tech firms find key business partners, new markets and key investors.

“By next session we will have more results to report. We will continue to discuss the positive return on investment,” Zentz said.

Innovate Washington still operates two Spokane buildings: the former Sirti lab and office building and the Spokane Technology Center, both on the Riverpoint campus east of downtown.

Zentz said those buildings are largely self-sustaining. Even if the agency doesn’t find a new round of funding in the short session, those buildings will continue operating, she said.

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