Programs expand innovation throughout Idaho

photo of idaho technology council eastern idaho meeting
The Idaho Technology Council has been holding events, such as this leadership roundtable in Eastern Idaho, to spur entrepreneurial development. Photo courtesy of Idaho Technology Council.

While more than half of Idaho’s technology jobs are based in the Treasure Valley, a number of efforts are underway to look for entrepreneurs in other parts of the state and provide them with resources they need to be successful.

One Brookings Institution study earlier this year found that Coeur d’Alene actually had the highest density of startups in Idaho, followed by Idaho Falls, Boise and Pocatello. In addition, smaller cities such as Hailey, Moscow and Burley were also startup hubs, the study found.

photo of heidi jarvis-grimes
Heidi Jarvis-Grimes

The Idaho Technology Council started its “Triangle of Innovation” program, intended to grow the technology industry throughout the state, about 18 months ago, said Heidi Jarvis-Grimes, vice president of business development for the Boise-based organization. Since then, the organization has been working with local collaborators to sponsor monthly meetups in Eastern Idaho, and in October held its first leadership roundtable luncheon in Northern Idaho. Typically, 18 to 24 participants attend, Jarvis-Grimes said.

The purpose of the meetings is for entrepreneurs to share access to resources, such as talent and capital, through organizations such as research universities in the area, Jarvis-Grimes said. “You learn best when you go to your friends who are actually doing it in those regions,” she said.

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Carmen Achabal

Similarly, the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) program, through the Department of Commerce, offers grants to Idaho’s three research universities, which partner with local startups. While a number of recipients, including the House of Design in Nampa, come from the Treasure Valley, many are coming from other parts of the state, said Carmen Achabal, IGEM program manager, in Boise. In the past several years, IGEM grants have been awarded to universities partnering with startups from locations such as Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Kellogg, Kimberly, Moscow and Troy, she said.

The Legislature allocates about $1 million each year for the program, now in its seventh year, out of which Commerce uses about $50,000 for administration, leaving about $950,000 each year for grants, Achabal said. In fact, in some years, Commerce has awarded more grant money than that through departmental cost savings, she added.

In addition to statewide efforts at the universities through programs such as TechHelp and the Small Business Development Center, an increasing number of regions in Idaho are collecting entrepreneurial communities and providing them with resources like information and office space.

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Nick Smoot

Coeur d’Alene houses the Incubation Den, which provides coworking, classes through the University of Idaho’s computer science and robotics college, and even services such as a barber, coffee shop, showers and a movie theater, said founder Nick Smoot. The building’s coworking space is 99 percent occupied and typically hosts more than 400 people daily, he said.

The Den is also home to the Innovation Collective Community in Coeur d’Alene, which Smoot is in the process of expanding to other cities, he said.

“We build the physical community of people before we open the real estate,” he said. “Lewiston, Sandpoint, Kellogg and Pocatello are all gatherings of people currently. Real estate in each is either currently acquired and in process or being evaluated.”

Each city still has access to Innovation Collective events, community and process, he said.

The Arco Butte Business Incubation Center, while not specifically focused on technology, recently graduated two businesses that it incubated and is planning its next steps, said Charles Cheyney, extension professor emeritus.

“We will be considering holding an entrepreneurial contest after the first of the year to see if we can stimulate some ‘creative juices’ in the community,” he said.

The Ketchum Innovation Center, founded in 2014 with a goal of developing a year-round economy that isn’t dependent on tourism, recently moved downtown and is providing programs for local entrepreneurs.

Cities such as Elk City, Hayden and Salmon, as well as the Port of Lewiston, also feature business incubators, while one is under development for Payette, though these are not specific to technology companies.