Idaho’s startup hub? Turns out it’s Coeur d’Alene

Sharon Fisher//February 21, 2018

Idaho’s startup hub? Turns out it’s Coeur d’Alene

Sharon Fisher//February 21, 2018

A look at Sherman Ave. in downtown Coeur d'Alene, in July 2017. File photo.
A look at Sherman Ave. in downtown Coeur d’Alene in July 2017.  The northern Idaho city on a lake is Idaho’s startup capital, according to the Brookings Institution. File photo.

What’s the metropolitan startup hub of Idaho? Turns out it’s Coeur d’Alene.

That’s according to the Brookings Institution, which recently examined the Inc. 5000 list of startups nationwide. Brookings looked at the cities with the fastest growth and made geographic conclusions, such as how many startups were in each city and the startup density for each city, by dividing the number of startups by the population.

By that reckoning, with its 17 startups and population of 139,501, Coeur d’Alene has the densest concentration of startups among Idaho metropolitan areas, with 121.9. It’s followed by Idaho Falls with nine startups and a density of 68.6, Boise with 40 startups and a density of 64.3, and Pocatello with one startup and a density of 12.

“Four years ago, we set out to create Coeur d’Alene to be just that place where startups could flourish,” said Chris Cochran, chief operating officer for the Innovation Collective, a Coeur d’Alene incubator that he calls an “economic transformation agency.” The organization has 77 free events a year for entrepreneurs, ranging from monthly “fireside chats” to semimonthly “coffee and concepts” discussions that let local entrepreneurs share stories and ask for help. Out of that group, “we’ve seen nine LLCs formed in the past three years,” he said.

How did Coeur d’Alene do it? By deciding to focus on artificial intelligence and robotics, Cochran said.

photo of chris cochran
Chris Cochran

In addition, Coeur d’Alene passed an ordinance that made it the first city in the world to allow the public free use of robots on any piece of public property with the same rights as human beings, Cochran said. Starship Technologies, an Estonia-based robot delivery company founded by two co-founders of Skype, accordingly tested its products in Coeur d’Alene, he said.

photo of coeur d'alene's innovation collective
Coeur d’Alene’s Innovation Collective. Photo by Nathan Frisk.

Now, Coeur d’Alene has an annual robotics festival with more than 1,000 attendees and 25 experts flown in from companies ranging from “organizations nobody’s ever heard of” to giants such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, Cochran said. The city also has an “Innovation Den,” a 36,000-square-foot facility with 37 offices that were full from opening day, a University of Idaho computer program, a private club, and a coffee shop “with 50 to 60 people in it right now,” he said.

Startups aren’t limited to big cities, according to the Brookings data. In Idaho’s micropolitan areas, defined as those with a population of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000, there’s Hailey with five startups and a density of 181.3, Moscow with four startups and a density of 108.9,  Burley with two startups and a density of 45.9, Twin

Jay Larsen
Jay Larsen

Falls with three startups and a density of 29.6, and Sandpoint with one startup and a density of 24.4.

Of course, there are many other ways to look at the Brookings numbers. “North Idaho and Coeur d’Alene have some really good startups,” said Jay Larsen, president and CEO of the Idaho Tech Council, which is based in Boise.  “Almost half of Idaho startups

A view of Lake Coeur d'Alene from Tubb's Hill in July. Monday, June 19, 2017.
A view of the 50-square-mile Lake Coeur d’Alene from Tubb’s Hill in July. File photo.

are in the Treasure Valley area,” which also has 60 percent of the state’s population, he noted.

There isn’t really any way to count Idaho startups that would make Idaho cities come out in the top nationwide. The top five metropolitan areas for fast-growth density are Boulder, Colorado; Provo, Utah; Washington, D.C.; Huntsville, Alabama; and Austin, according to Brookings.

Idaho as a whole comes out with a total of 84 startups for a density of 53.6. The highest is the District of Columbia with 255 startups and a density of 416.9 and the lowest is Alaska with 6 startups and a density of 8.5.