As entrepreneur program manager for StartUp Spokane, Megan Hulsey helps people turn their business ideas into reality.
“If you think you want to start a business, or you have an idea, but you don’t know what to do next, you can come in our door,” Hulsey said. “That’s what we are here for. Our goal is to provide that instantaneous feedback on what to do next.”
Startup Spokane, a program of Greater Spokane Incorporated, is the front door for entrepreneurship. It provides co-working space, one-on-one entrepreneur assistance as well as educational and networking events.
This year, Hulsey has met with more than 315 clients through StartUp Spokane to evaluate business ideas, assess needs and connect them with resources in the community to help launch companies.
Hulsey is doing a fantastic job of growing the entrepreneurial community through StartUp Spokane, said Tom Simpson, co-founder of Etailz and president of the Spokane Angel Alliance.
“Up until a couple years ago, there was really no base of operations for entrepreneurs to share office space, or have formal training workshops and events,” Simpson said. “With the creation of StartUp Spokane and Megan coming on board, we have a one-stop-shop for early-stage entrepreneurs to go and have resources they need to get their companies launched.”
Hulsey said she enjoys working with a variety of businesses at StartUp Spokane.
“I love what I do. That’s the one thing I am passionate about,” she said. “Every day, I get up, I come to the best job in the world and work with people who have great ideas and are focused on making this a better place – whether they are creating something that’s entertainment, or that’s going to change the world in a big way. It doesn’t matter. They are excited about their idea, and I get to help them see if we can make that a reality.”
Finding the right path
Hulsey was raised in Coos Bay, Oregon, where she learned the value of entrepreneurship at an early age from her father, who owned a road construction company.
Hulsey graduated from Willamette University with a degree in international studies and political theory. She was employed for several years with the People to People Student Ambassador Program, a travel service that offered domestic and international travel opportunities to middle and high school students.
“It was an amazing experience. I got to do a lot of travel and learn a lot,” she said. “But at a certain point, I wanted to do something different because I was traveling a lot, my kids were entering middle school age and I wanted to be home. So I started my own business.”
Hulsey operated a consulting business for about six years, where she worked exclusively for Comcast on a contract basis to refurbish used hardware.
“That’s where I got really intimately familiar with entrepreneurship and what it takes managing your own expenses, budgeting, planning and just having that responsibility of knowing if you didn’t put the work in you weren’t getting paid,” she said.
Hulsey, who also obtained a chemistry degree from Eastern Washington University, happened to come across a job ad posted by Greater Spokane Incorporated for an entrepreneur program manager. She applied for the job and was hired in February 2017.
“When I found this position about two years ago, I could not have imagined there was a job that took all the things that I know and enjoy and put them all into one place,” she said. “I do a lot of mentoring, coaching and teaching, which is what I spent so many years doing with ambassadors, but also creating connections for people and meeting to evaluate their own ideas.”
Hulsey’s drive and energy stood out during the interview process, said Todd Mielke, CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated.
“She is a bright, passionate person with a lot of energy,” he said. “She wants to help people and wants them to be successful. She has a great knowledge of other organizations and the great network that exists in our community. She not only represents GSI, but represents the community very well.”
Mind to Market
Mind to Market LLC, a program by Avista that is operated out of StartUp Spokane’s co-working space, connects startups with experienced coaches to develop the foundation of their business and prepare them for early-stage investments.
Hulsey – although not directly affiliated with Mind to Market – identifies potential applicants for the program.
“We launched (Mind to Market) in April and we’ve heard just under 30 pitches since we started,” she said. “We’ve had six successful investments and we are negotiating a few more right now.”
Medcurity, a local technology startup that helps health care organizations comply with federal privacy laws, secured $50,000 in Mind to Market funding in July and will be presenting at the angel investor level in January, she said.
Hulsey said watching early-stage startups evolve into a successful company makes her feel like a proud parent.
“Every time that I see one of the companies that I’ve worked with present at any kind of level, or see any kind of success, I feel like a mom in the stands cheering them on,” she said. “I feel like every success that one of our companies has is a success for our community. It’s not about me. It’s bigger. Every time we help somebody achieve more, we all get better.”
Growing entrepreneurial ecosystem
StartUp Spokane’s co-working and incubator facility is a platform to attract and retain businesses in Spokane. When Seattle-based Rover.com chose to launch a second office, in Spokane, they hired employees out of StartUp Spokane’s conference room, Hulsey said.
Startups across the state have expressed interest in relocating to Spokane because of the affordability, she said.
“We are kind of a bridge for small companies,” she said, referencing StartUp Spokane. “When they are coming over and trying to gain a toehold, they can use this as a place to get started.”
Spokane-based companies Etailz, Itron and Stay Alfred make a huge economic impact in the area, Hulsey said.
“They are companies that are growing and changing the landscape of doing business in Spokane,” she said.
Simpson said while it’s nice to recruit businesses to Spokane, it’s better to have resources available to entrepreneurs here to create companies.
“Finally, we have the initiative going on. It’s a very effective way of growing an economy,” he said. “I’m really hopeful that we continue to grow what Megan has built (at StartUp Spokane). What she’s doing and what StartUp Spokane is doing is so good for Spokane.”
Hulsey said it’s exciting to see Spokane’s entrepreneurial community grow.
Typically, entrepreneurship spikes up in a down economy because people start their own businesses in a poor job market. However, in Spokane, there’s been job growth with startups year-over-year, Hulsey said.
“We are so fortunate to live in this community where we have such a robust ecosystem around startup and entrepreneurship culture and that isn’t an accident,” she said. “That has been something that a small but committed group of people have been driving on for decades.”
Hulsey said her goals are to streamline StartUp Spokane’s connections to resources, Mind-to-Market and Ignite Northwest, a business accelerator.
She also would like to engage young adults in technology and entrepreneurship through internships or business after-hours events.
“I want students passionate about being their own boss, seeing they can make choices and are in charge of their own trajectory. If they see a problem, they are entirely empowered to fix it,” she said. “That’s what entrepreneurship is about. You are limited to only what you see as a problem and how you go about solving it.”