Numbers Don't Lie

Spokane's startup stats echo Gonzaga's historic season

During March Madness, most everyone in Spokane is focused on Gonzaga men's basketball and the endless number of statistics associated with it. Head coach Mark Few established a vision, developed a culture, created alignment, executed the plan and led Gonzaga to the national championship game, finishing the season with a 37-2 record.

As a proponent of entrepreneurship in Spokane, holding the belief our region has an opportunity to become a leading hub for startups, I am often asked to support my views with statistics pertaining to new business formation, capital raises and exits.

Most recently, this has been an easy question to address. Since the beginning of the basketball season, I am aware of nine transactions that have closed, with two more pending. I think it is worthwhile to highlight this activity to illustrate Spokane's success stories, and as an indication of our region's ability to fund startups and grow industry-leading companies.

In chronological order from the start of Gonzaga's schedule, the following is a summary of Spokane's entrepreneurial statistics. (Full disclosure: I have a hand in all of these companies.)

• Etailz was acquired by Trans World Entertainment for $75 million. Etailz, a leading ecommerce company focused primarily on third-party marketplaces, was started in a classroom at Gonzaga. Etailz remains based in Spokane and employs approximately 180 people.

• Demand Energy Networks was acquired by Enel Green Power for an undisclosed amount. Liberty Lake-based Demand Energy Networks is a leader in intelligent energy storage solutions. ENEL Green Power is an owner and operator of renewables facilities, with more than 100 plants in 23 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.

• APANA, a company with offices in Spokane and Bellingham, raised $3.5 million in equity. This financing was led by Kurita Water Industries of Japan with participation from Element 8 of Seattle and the Urban Innovation Fund of San Francisco. APANA has developed proprietary algorithms and hardware devices to monitor industrial and commercial water usage, and provide alerts when there is a problem resulting in wasted water. The company cuts water usage by nearly 25 percent.

• Stay Alfred, based in Spokane, raised $15 million in equity from a Seattle-based private equity group. Stay Alfred has created an entirely new hospitality experience by leasing apartment buildings and converting them into hotels complete with multiple bedrooms, full kitchens and laundry facilities. The company is the leader in this market and currently operates in 12 cities.

• Safeguard raised $300,000 in an equity financing with participation from Avista Development. Safeguard is developing a wristband that can be worn by anyone who may come into close proximity of a high voltage power line. It sends an auditory, visual and physical signal to the wearer, alerting them to potential danger. The wristband is ideal, for example, for utility linemen. The company was formed by three graduates from the University of Idaho and was the winner of the 2015 Inland Northwest Business Plan Competition.

• HyperSciences closed a follow-on financing and to date has raised a total of $2.6 million with participation from the Washington Research Foundation. The Spokane company uses rockets to drill for geothermal energy.

• Gestalt Diagnostics raised $2.6 million in an equity financing. Gestalt is focused on developing digital pathology solutions to enable tissue samples to be captured, transferred, read and archived digitally. The Spokane-based company is a spin-out from Inland Imaging, one of the nation's leading radiology groups.

• 2nd Watch closed a $19 million equity financing with participation from prominent venture capital sources and has now raised $56 million in total. 2nd Watch, a cloud-based technology company, has offices in Spokane, Seattle, New York and Atlanta and employs 160.

• Kick-Start III raised about $4.6 million. Kick-Start III is the third in a family of angel funds targeting investments in emerging companies in the region. The fund expects to invest $100,000 to $400,000 in approximately 15 regional companies. Kick-Start III is closely affiliated with the Spokane Angel Alliance (a member-based angel investing group) and a family of funds was established to "kick-start" the funding process of companies presenting to members of the Spokane Angel Alliance.

In addition to these nine transactions, I am aware of two more companies that have entered into agreements with investors to raise a collective total of $4.5 million. I expect these financings to close within 45 days.

These 11 deals represent a total of $52.1 million that has been, or will be, invested in nine entities in our region, and two successful exits, since the beginning of Gonzaga's season. That's a nice run! Exits (generally a sale of a business or an initial public offering) are how investors receive a return on their investments. Successful exits are important, as they not only validate the potential of a company but also "fuel the pump" to back new startups.

While not a 37-2 record, seven closed financings, two pending capital raises and two exits over the course of a basketball season remains very compelling. With a vision, culture, alignment and execution similar to Gonzaga men's basketball, perhaps Spokane can also gain national prominence as an entrepreneurial team. ♦

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