When your mind turns to Seattle you might think automatically of music, as the city is linked inextricably with the legacy of nineties grunge music. Beyond that, perhaps you think of Starbucks, the global coffee giant having originated in Seattle.
That second image hints at another side to the city, as a place where great businesses can be established, and small origins can lead to outsized success. San Francisco is still the startup capital of the United States (and arguably perhaps even the world) but there are many other regions that are providing some healthy competition.
New York City and Boston have seen increased activity, and Texas has had an influx of interest, but to that list you can add Seattle, harboring from the rain in the Pacific Northwest. It’s an area that is, in business terms, dominated by Amazon and Microsoft. But rather than living in the shadows of those tech giants, it appears that they might instead serve as an inspiration to Seattle startups, along with those from other areas who are looking to locate their ventures in an advantageous location.
If the weather suits you, then Seattle has a lot to offer to ambitious business people, for several reasons.
Sometimes you just have to go where the hype is, or to put it another way, where the money is, and there’s no denying that it’s all been happening in Seattle this year. The first half of 2021 saw record breaking amounts of investment raised by Seattle-based startups, confirming that the entrepreneurial ecosystem is booming right now.
Admittedly, this is not unique to Seattle as other locations, including the Bay Area, also saw huge investment, but it was less expected in Seattle, indicating that trends are changing and the area is establishing itself as a new startup hub. It’s reported that Seattle now has twelve unicorns (privately owned tech startups with a valuation above $1 billion), where, just five years ago, analysts found zero such unicorns in the Seattle area. That’s a significant shift, and when a swing like that occurs, it tends to have a wider influence, bringing in still further interest, ideas, and talent.
It’s well documented that other areas that have seen their economies boom though tech innovation, most notably Silicon Valley and its environs, end up with skyrocketing living costs. This can then lead to social tensions and disputes over how best to resolve the issue. Seattle, for the moment, doesn’t have those problems, or at least not to an excessive degree. The city remains relatively affordable, with a good degree of social cohesion.
However, it should be noted that such problems could, potentially, be on the horizon, and some observers have expressed concern that there may be future issues with the housing supply. That said, Seattle’s advantage is that it has advance warning of how such problems develop, having witnessed them elsewhere, and so the city should be able to prepare itself and address such problems in advance.
This one comes down to leadership and competence within the business and political communities, and among local residents. It remains to be seen how it pans out, but it’s certainly not an insurmountable problem and, at the moment, Seattle is in a comparably good position.
A Growing Population
Remarkably, Seattle’s population increased by 25 percent from 2010 to 2020, and there was an increase in the number of residents who have a college education. Amazon and Microsoft pull in enormous numbers of skilled tech workers, creating a pool of talent from which local startups can draw. This presumes that new ventures have the funding to pay competitive salaries, but as mentioned above, cash has been flowing to startups in the area.
This all creates a healthily competitive space, in which liquidity is available and companies of varying sizes and influence play to their own advantages. It’s in environments like this–when everyone must be on their toes–that great creativity and innovation can be triggered, as competitors drive one another forward.
As well as venture capital funding combined with the bootstrapped, independent attitude that startups tend to embody, another positive factor is that Seattle provides the possibility of support from local establishments. Several large universities in the area can provide grants and networking, and they turn out hundreds of software engineering graduates every year. There are also private investment organizations who work with startups, and the local government itself can provide startup resources through its Office of Economic Development.
What’s more, it’s said that Seattle is, in general, an appealing city that has a considerate environment and a sense of community. Of course, competition can be intense in the startup space, but that’s not to say that the rivalries aren’t friendly, or that there aren’t times when cooperation and partnership are mutually beneficial.
Whatever happens next, the startup scene in Seattle will be infused with the character of the city itself, and it appears that there are exciting times to come.