Startup 425 devises work plan, asks for entrepreneur input

Demand assessment survey touches on co-working space and workshops.

Startup 425, a multi-municipality organization focused on providing resources for Eastside entrepreneurs, circulated a demand assessment survey as part of its three- to five-year work plan to better serve aspiring business owners.

According to Startup 425 regional business partnership manager Ellen Miller-Wolfe, the work plan focuses on identifying two things primarily: local entrepreneurs’ preferences for co-working spaces, and ways to enhance Startup 425’s free, ongoing educational workshops.

Though Startup 425 is a coalition among the cities of Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Renton and the Port of Seattle, it is the city of Kirkland’s economic development staff that has been managing operations on behalf of all parties.

“We were charged with a number of things, chief among them was kind of our basic bread and butter effort, which has to do with providing Foundations classes in the libraries in the cities that are part of the alliance, and those workshop classes are really available to newcomers,” Miller-Wolfe said. “[Foundations] is basically a primer on how to start a business, in ideation, developing the concept for the business, then structure and licensing, mentoring and networking and how to get financing, and defining a target market.”

For these Foundations classes, Startup 425 partners with SCORE, a nonprofit pairing retired business executives’ know-how with up-and-comers’ eagerness to learn. In the spring session, 380 people total attended one of the five classes in the five city libraries.

A fall session will take place between September and December, though exact dates are yet to be determined.

A key part of the work plan involves making Startup 425 more sustainable. Currently, the group receives city funding from each of the five cities, the King County Library System and grants and subsidies.

To help devise new models, Startup 425 has formed an advisory council that comprises small business owners and college representatives of Bellevue College and Lake Washington Institute of Technology. The ideas fleshed out in these advisory group meetings form the basis of the demand assessment survey.

“It’s not just ‘What else can we do?’ It’s what else can we do that pays for itself or that we’re able to get grants and subsidies to do,” Miller-Wolfe said.

One idea floated was membership fees, “not unlike an athletic club or a chamber of commerce,” Miller-Wolfe said; entrepreneurs might pay a fee to access different private co-working spaces while receiving certain Startup 425 curricula.

Startup 425 is considering creating its own co-working and hot desking space like WeWork in Seattle or Co-Box in Bellevue, where entrepreneurs and mentors could mingle with regularity.

“We’re trying to assess whether there’s a reason for us to get involved in that part of the ecosystem,” Miller-Wolfe said. “These are just ideas being truthed out, nothing is set in stone.”

Miller-Wolfe also highlighted what she called “easier-to-implement ideas,” which she said can be devised outside of the work plan. These may include career fair-like events where Startup 425 introduces startups in need of specialized employee skill sets with the appropriate candidates. Another example may be a concerted effort to identify more volunteer mentors in the Eastside communities eager to share their business experiences.

“We want to lower the barriers to entry,” Miller-Wolfe said. “Ultimately, we’re interested in providing pathways to prosperity for everyone in the community, prosperity for all.”

Duncon Milloy, a business consultant on contract with the city of Kirkland, helps lead Startup 425 and has been mentoring entrepreneurs one-on-one.

“The most rewarding part of mentoring entrepreneurs is assisting them with the acquisition of business knowledge and skills that help put them on a path to success,” Milloy said.

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