The Innovation Collective in Coeur d’Alene will enter summer with 10 times more space as the “economic transformation agency” moves into a 36,000-square foot, century-old building that has stood vacant for 27 years.
Nick Smoot launched The Innovation Collective, his third co-working space, in 2013 to help northern Idaho tech entrepreneurs and market Coeur d’Alene as an emerging tech center.
“The innovation economy should not just be on the coasts. It can exist in small towns,” Smoot said. “How do we connect great minds in smaller towns with bigger industry players?”
The Innovation Collective now occupies 3,800 square feet on Sherman Avenue – Coeur d’Alene’s main street – where it offers open co-working space but no offices. The collective’s new space will have 47 small offices, two 1,300-square-foot suites and 8,000 square feet of collaborative space, Smoot said.
Smoot said more than 60 percent of the office space is already leased.
Smoot expects to move the Innovation Collective into the 1907 original Elks Temple building in the middle of June. The three-story building is located on Lakeside Avenue, the companion one-way couplet street to Sherman Avenue.
Smoot said more than 5,000 people have been actively involved, attending coffee meet-ups, twice-a-month sessions to work through start-up business ideas, or monthly talks with local or national business leaders.
“We are flying in leaders from Fortune 500 companies,” said Smoot, including former and current executives at Virgin America, Microsoft, Apple, Telemundo and Coca-Cola. Smoot said several leaders at Facebook, Google and Microsoft have moved to northern Idaho to retire or to work remotely.
Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer endorses Innovation Collective, recognizing the value of entrepreneurs interacting because “you never know what kind of ideas will spur to bigger things.”
“They’re marketing to these folks all across the U.S.,” Widmyer said. “Come to Coeur d’Alene, rent a little office, talk to all the people who have started tech businesses.”
Smoot said an Innovation Collective article on LinkedIn has reached 3 million people.
Widmyer also acknowledged Smoot’s group for revitalizing a large, old, long-vacant downtown buildings.
Smoot bought the Elks building for $1 million with two Coeur d’Alene partners, Cody Peterson, co-founder of micro LED lighting products manufacturer Rohinni, and Rick Thrasher, an entrepreneur, commercial investor and developer.
Others have explored and abandoned ideas to redevelop the building as a nightclub, movie theater or condos, Smoot said. When Smoot and his partners floated the idea of moving IC into a 110-year-old building, the tech community quickly responded.
“It became a lightning rod: ‘I want to get into the building,’” Smoot said. “We already had a pre-installed community.”
C-Span co-founder Robert Titsch retired to northern Idaho, who is investing in local tech companies, will have an office at IC, Smoot said. A design firm expanding from Dallas, a patent firm from Washington, a local start-up stealth robotics company and other early stage companies, will as well.
Sidebar: Coeur d’Alene’s Innovation Collective reaches out to the world
The Coeur d’Alene Innovation Collective, only around since 2014, is already multiplying around the world.
Founder Nick Smoot has created similar “economic transformation agencies” under the Innovation Collective umbrella in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and in Lodi, Italy. A fourth IC will open soon in Butte, Mont., he said.
“The goal is 200 cities in 20 years,” Smoot said. “We create the model, platform and brand. We believe we are the new chamber of commerce for the tech/innovation economy.”
Smoot refers to a widely cited Oxford University report that 47 percent of jobs are vulnerable to computerization in the coming decades.
The Innovation Collective seeks to bring entrepreneurs together under the mantra of “you don’t know what is possible unless you’re exposed to it.”
Smoot said IC seeks to achieve that in three ways:
* Activate the entrepreneurs in town and have them move to an office at Innovation Collective rather than exclusively working in a home or garage.
* Rebrand the economy. Coeur d’Alene has established a niche in robotics and artificial intelligence and became the first city to give robots the same rights as people.
* Import experts. Bring in “thought leaders” to create mentorships and relationships with local start-up entrepreneurs.
“Innovation Collect is a mix of a country club meets co-working space meets accelerator,” Smoot said.