Innovation Den spawns Coeur d’Alene startup culture

Sharon Fisher//June 19, 2019

Innovation Den spawns Coeur d’Alene startup culture

Sharon Fisher//June 19, 2019

photo of chris cochran
Chris Cochran, chief operating officer of the Innovation Collective, opens the hidden entrance to the Lair, a speakeasy-style bar in Coeur d’Alene’s Innovation Den. Photo by Sharon Fisher

COEUR D’ALENE – The Innovation Den, which combines a century-old building with startups and the services that support them, is unique in Idaho.

Housed in a former Elks Lodge and sporting a $1 million-plus makeover, the brick building includes a coffee shop and its own roaster, a speakeasy-style bar behind a bookcase, presentation space and a barbershop.

It also includes reserved and coworking office space, which has hosted just about every startup in Coeur d’Alene at one time or another, including The Career Index, which just moved in last month after Snacktivist Foods, winner of the 2018 Trailmix food startup competition, moved out. It also houses the University of Idaho computer science department. Across the street is Continuous Composites, which is in another historic renovated building.

One tenant is the Innovation Collective, a sort of incubator crossed with a support group, which helps spawn startups and has led to Coeur d’Alene being ranked as Idaho’s metropolitan startup hub, over places like Boise and Idaho Falls, according to a 2018 Brookings Institution study.

The organization holds dozens of free events for entrepreneurs, ranging from monthly “fireside chats” to semimonthly “coffee and concepts” discussions that let local entrepreneurs share stories and ask for help. In addition, the organization holds an annual Think Big robotics festival, scheduled for September.

photo of innovation den
The Innovation Den is housed in a century-old former Elks Lodge. Photo by Sharon Fisher

“People need a place to hang out, like a clubhouse,” said Nick Smoot, Innovation Collective founder and one of the partners in the Innovation Den, along with Rick and Julie Thrasher and Cody Peterson.

That said, there’s more to the Innovation Collective than the building — it’s really about a shift in people’s thinking, Smoot said. The collective acts as a hub for networking and brainstorming solutions to problems, he added.

“The introduction piece has really come from this authentic place of trying to help first,” said Smoot. “Can we create a system where people go, ‘what do you need, and how can I help you?’ — just for the sake of helping someone else win.”

Fledgling companies that are members of the Innovation Collective range from Quantum Star Technologies, which uses artificial intelligence to improve cybersecurity by teaching the system what malware looks like, to SayRoar Studio, which is raising money to develop an animated movie. Others include The Roxy Art Market, a web-based augmented reality media platform for artists, collectors and marketers looking to create, manage and display pieces for sale, and SpiritLord Productions, which is developing a an 8-bit video game.

Probably furthest along is Dragon Jacket Insulation, which has developed reusable insulation. Launched four years ago, the company has 10 employees and has been shipping product for a couple of years, said Abigail VanPortfleet, marketing director.

“We’re probably sold three miles’ worth so far,” she said.

Dragon Jacket’s problem is the popular image of what insulation is supposed to look like, VanPortfleet said.

“The challenge is that people are so used to what they used before that something new is risky,” VanPortfleet said.

But there are benefits to insulation that can be taken off and reused, without needing to be disposed of or replaced.

“It goes on cleaner, and it looks cleaner for much longer,” VanPortfleet said.

It’s safer to install, requires fewer tools and is safer for children because there are fewer particles to inhale, she said.

Notably, the insulation has an edge on the bottom that organizations can use for early leak detection. In big companies, leaks can “turn an unscheduled shutdown into billions of dollars,” VanPortfleet said.

“It’s a mundane product, but there’s opportunities throughout the country.”