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How the University of Washington connects local innovators

CoMotion Labs provides resources, support to Spokane-area entrepreneurs

Erik Nelson had a great idea: he wanted to create a “non-disgusting” portable toilet.

“In 80 years portable toilets haven’t changed,” he said.

That’s a problem, and Nelson found a solution: a waterless, odorless, sterile and environmentally-friendly portable toilet.

He knew the time was ripe for his product — but how to turn his idea into a viable business?

Enter the University of Washington’s CoMotion Labs @ Spokane.

CoMotion Labs, part of UW’s collaborative innovation hub CoMotion, provides a multi-industry labs system hosting startups inside and outside the UW community in IT, Engineering, Life Sciences, Medical Devices, Clean Tech and AR/VR.

Each Friday, Nelson attends a “lunch and learn” session at the UW Spokane Center, downtown.

He’s learned about financing and market research from experts in the field, while networking with other entrepreneurs, innovators and artists.

“I’ve been able to present my pitch in front of others,” he said. “It’s great to hear the questions that come up because it helps you better prepare.”

Brady Ryan, manager of CoMotion Labs @ Spokane, said helping entrepreneurs like Nelson, is the purpose of the organization.

“We want to see more innovation in the state of Washington,” he said. “We like Spokane because there’s a good pipeline of innovators here and great support in the start-up community.”

The city’s existing co-working spaces and active economic development groups, prompted CoMotion Labs to launch its Spokane site last year.

The organization averages 60 to 90 startups in their incubators at any given time. And startup statuses range from pre-seed to Series A, employing two to 15 people each.

Because they understand business is all about relationships, CoMotion Labs offers to partner with entrepreneurs to remove barriers while increasing connections to help ensure startups’ success.

Virtual membership provides access to knowledgeable professionals in a variety of fields, as well as mentoring and networking opportunities.

Brady said, “We take no equity or ownership, nor do we make claims on intellectual property.”

CoMotion Labs @ Spokane also hosts free events, like the Innovation Pop-Up shop at Gonzaga’s Hemmingson Center.

The room buzzed with excitement as more than 50 freshmen from Innovation High School mingled with 50 entrepreneurs during the event which was supported by funding from the EDA (United States Economic Development Administration) as part of a multi-year grant that UW CoMotion won in 2017.

“It’s all part of our ongoing efforts to support the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in eastern Washington,” said Ryan.

Attendees enjoyed workshops led by experts in design, 3D printing, and business start ups.

Leif Forrest, 15, was inspired. He hopes to one day start a record label with some friends.

“I learned how to target my audience and how to pitch to investors,” he said.

Fellow student, Joseph Berg already provides IT support services, but wants to branch out.

“I learned I should get a more stable business plan,” he said.

The workshops were followed by time to network and explore various hands-on stations, including start-up resources, 3-D printers and virtual reality games.

One of the most popular stations was led by Ryan Warzecha from Cyan Inc. Individuals lined up, waiting to try out the company’s new virtual reality game, “Firmament.”

Nelson also attended and brought his college-age daughter.

“CoMotion Labs has been very helpful in terms of connecting me with resources and like-minded people,” he said.

For more information about CoMotion Labs visit: comotion.uw.edu/what-we-do/comotion-labs/home .
 

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