With one year under its Spokane belt, CougsFirst! is ready to bring its showcase back to town next month with even more vendors, and of course, even more Cougar spirit.
CougsFirst! is a network that uses events, social media and advertising to provide a connection point for Washington State University alumni and friends to Coug-owned, -managed and -affiliated businesses.
Glenn Osterhout, co-founder and chairman of the CougsFirst! board, said the organization began as he and five other Seattle-area business owners discussed creating some sort of network around “that Coug loyalty.”
While separate from the university, CougsFirst! leases the rights to use the WSU trademark and works closely with the school to be a part of the events, Osterhout said.
Other than that, “no one really does it this way,” he said. “It’s an organic, grassroots thing.”
Fellow co-founder and WSU quarterback great the Throwin’ Samoan, Jack Thompson, said while each founder had their own reason for starting CougsFirst!, they have brought together their respective networks to make it what it is today, and that is what keeps him going.
“What has kept me coming back is being able to tap into that and help elevate our fellow Cougs and help elevate our university,” he said. “That turns around to bring support back to our school. … We love our football team, but we love our school more.”
CougsFirst! membership begins at the lowest level of “Gray Sponsor,” which for $100 a year includes a company listing on the CougsFirst! business directory, priority referrals from CougsFirst!, ability to promote offers to WSU alumni and friends and placement on the CougsFirst! geolocation map. CougsFirst! members include just about every industry imaginable.
“You’re going to spend the money anyways,” Osterhout said, so why not with a Coug?
Thompson added a lot of the board’s focus is on spreading that mindset.
“It requires an intentional action on your part. You have to think, ‘What Cougar is in that space?’ ” and seek them out, he said.
The Spokane showcase event features WSU colleges, leaders and representatives from a range of industries, said Darren Case, president of Spokane advertising agency Kelly Brady and vice chairman of the Spokane CougsFirst! board.
The first Spokane showcase last year brought in 40 exhibitors, and the number registered this year has nearly doubled to 75 and an expected turnout of 800 to 1,000 people, Case said. Seeing that rapid growth, he said, shows what a great opportunity this is for the city to attract visitors and businesses.
“To me, (the Spokane event) made perfect sense. … We are in Cougar country here,” he said.
Case added that Spokane Mayor David Condon is on board as well and will declare the day of the showcase, April 18, as CougsFirst! Day in Spokane.
“At the City of Spokane, we have been working to reintroduce our City to our Spokane alums – those who grew up here or went to college here and moved away,” Condon said in a statement to The Spokesman-Review. “Like Washington State University alums, Spokane alums want to support each other and seek quality of life attributes like affordability, shorter commutes, outdoor recreation, and urban amenities. We are partnering with CougsFirst! to provide additional connections for Cougs to the region where they spent their college years.”
Steve Hauschild, BECU market leader for the Spokane region, said the credit union has been a part of CougsFirst! for the past few years in Seattle and felt it was a natural progression moving into Eastern Washington.
“We exist to improve the lives of the community we live in,” he said. “A lot of our focus is on financial literacy and helping bring that to and connect with the small businesses. (CougsFirst!) is a great tool for that.”
It is also a great avenue to foster understanding of the opportunities in Spokane, he said. “It’s an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, Spokane is a dynamic place to do business.’ ”
Stef Howe, director of marketing and membership for Associated Industries in Spokane, said last year was her company’s first year working with CougsFirst! and the partnership was a nice alignment of their core missions.
“Our mission is always supporting employers and small business, and I think that was the same mission with them, to elevate through a passionate community,” she said.
As for the showcase, Howe said, “It was the first trade show I have ever been to where people were so enthusiastic … It was interesting to watch the actual vendors and exhibitors jumping around,” rather than staying behind their booths.
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