Samantha St. John, executive director of the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce, knows startup companies have an 85 percent failure rate.
These high numbers made her wonder three years ago what more needed to be done within her community to give young entrepreneurs in the area the best chance to beat those odds. On top of strategy, direction and bringing an idea to fruition, funding is one of the basic necessities needed in keeping a new startup going St. John said.
Investor Sharks Northwest, which gives local startup businesses an opportunity to pitch to a panel of some of the renowned venture capitalists and angel investors in the Pacific Northwest region, seemed like a good idea to St. John to address the failure rate.
“They listen to pitches and they give feedback and hopefully they invest on stage,” St. John said.
St. John said unlike in previous years, a student group will be the first company to pitch to the panel. She explained that the chamber worked with the Lake Washington School District to do a district-wide teen startup challenge and picked the best group to pitch at the event. The teen team will also receive a $2,500 cash prize.
“That’s something that is part of our mission is to foster the next generation of entrepreneurs,” St. John said. “It’s really important to us to have a youth demographic represented in this event.”
St. John believes it’s important not only to have a space with limited barriers where all age groups and demographics get a chance to compete, but it’s also important for a community to see what innovation is happening in the community and the Pacific Northwest.
She went on to say there are a wide range of ideas that are presented to the panel, many are technology-based apps, products or services to fix a problem unique to the city.
Last year, an app was presented with the aim to bring fans of different sports teams together to form giant watch parties. Another idea was a way to open up more parking in Kirkland, called Garagehop.
“Garagehop was identifying condo buildings and other spaces that had empty parking throughout the day to try and help with our parking in the downtown area,” St. John said.
The grand prize winner last year was an interactive game for dogs called PupPod. The game helps keep dogs active and energetic throughout the day, so that they wouldn’t be sleeping all day when their owners were at work.
“The dog has to learn a variety of different puzzles and they get increasingly more difficult,” St. John said.
St. John said it’s these creative and sometimes bizarre ideas that keep her excited to see who and what will take the stage next.