June 22, 2012
The day begins at Seattle’s new Surf Incubator as entrepreneurs trickle into work. They belong to around 30 startups, mostly without VC funding, who rent desks in the 8th floor, 15,400-square-foot office.
As they hunker down in the morning, they might get some help on finance or marketing issues from Surf’s partners. After lunch in the kitchen, they break for an educational event: a reading group on The Startup Owners Manual. Then, they pop into one of 11 meeting rooms for a quick conference.
At night, entrepreneurs can grab a bite to eat, then head back for a Seattle on Rails or Startup Coaching Group event.
Surf Incubator tries to keep the community feel that’s true to its roots: it started in 2009 as a meetup group. The organizers met Neil Bergquist, who had a background in real estate, and they joined forces to create this space.
Now a director at Surf, Bergquist shares some thoughts below on what the new space means to the Seattle community:
Tech Cocktail: How is Surf Incubator significant for Seattle?
Neil Bergquist: We’re really the bridge between Startup Weekend and TechStars, we’re the bridge between TechStars and the venture capitalists. We’re a complementer to the education programs put on by WTIA, NWEN, Founder Institute…. We really just want to help the entrepreneurs scale and climb up the ladder. And all those different organizations provide a lot of amazing value at different steps in that ladder, and we help fill in the gaps….
Tech Cocktail: What are some challenges for the Seattle tech scene?
Bergquist: I think one of the ongoing challenges has always been capital, and having access to that, getting exposure, and finding investors who really understand your company. There’s a lot of money that was made in this region from Microsoft and others and that money is trickling down, but there’s a lot of wealthy individuals who aren’t active in the angel investment community, and I think it would be great to see more wealthy individuals, accredited investors, get more engaged….
There’s obviously a race for talent right now. I would love to see [it become] easier to import talent [from] overseas…. It’s difficult to have talent that’s very smart and educated and accredited, in a sense. In order to get them here, the H1B visas are very hard to come by, and expensive. We saw Microsoft open up an office in Vancouver, BC, simply because they couldn’t bring the talent into Redmond fast enough.
I think there’s an inverse relationship between the supply and demand of tech jobs. Everybody at Surf Incubator is hiring; we’re looking for developers. And so is Amazon, so is Microsoft. And when those companies do well, it actually keeps people out of the startup ecosystem because it becomes increasingly more difficult to convince somebody to leave their 6-figure, full-benefits job at Amazon to come work for a lucrative, promise startup that’s bootstrapping.
Tech Cocktail: Have there been any surprises since launch?
Bergquist: While it’s one thing to believe in a vision, it’s another thing to see it come true, and that’s kind of surprising. Although I hate to say it’s surprising because I’d like to say I knew all along, it’s awesome to see this community come together and to see how much support there is here for entrepreneurs. They’re celebrated, and at Surf we celebrate the entrepreneur. They’re the ones taking the risk, and we’re their biggest fans. And to see the response from the community who want to also support those entrepreneurs, it’s extremely humbling and gratifying and exciting.
Surf Incubator doesn’t take equity, just a desk fee, and there’s room for around 10 more startups. Apply here.
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