Digital innovation designation builds tech team

One month after receiving IPZ classification, officials ready to unveil unified effort

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Individuals play the game, the old sports saying goes, but teams win championships. As it turns out, that adage is also very much applicable to building a technology-based economic zone, which is why economic development officials in Southwest Washington are thrilled with the recent designation of Vancouver-Camas as a state Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ).

Prior to the designation, city, county and regional officials were already working to improve ties between government entities, existing tech business and higher education. So when the state Department of Commerce handed down its economic zone classification in early October (known officially as the Vancouver/Camas Applied Digital Technology Accelerator), it was both a recognition of all of that hard work and a shot in the arm for local technology advocates and businesses.

“There is a lot of energy and synergy already,” said Sandra Towne, manager of planning and policy in the city of Vancouver’s Community & Economic Development Department. “It’s a prestigious thing to have and it showcases us working as partners.”

Although the state designation currently comes with no support money, “It sets us up for other funding,” said Towne. She cited a grant prepared by Washington State University Vancouver’s Creative Media and Digital Culture Program (CMDC). The grant, endorsed by the IPZ management team, would “help develop a formal entrepreneurial focus on applied digital technology” between the school and the IPZ, through new and expanded course offerings.

Workforce development, in fact, is one of the key goals of the four-year state designation.

“Working together…we can build educational programs that will supply future talent and fuel future inventions, innovations and businesses benefiting the region’s economy and livability,” said Towne.

The IPZ team also plans to work closely with Clark College, and is looking at events, workshops, mentoring programs and dedicated incubator space as possibilities to connect students, faculty and technology business innovators.

That’s music to George DeCarlo’s ears. DeCarlo is the founder and CEO of Woobox, a Vancouver company that creates social marketing applications.

“Growing a business like ours requires hiring talented people, and my hope is the IPZ helps grow that pool of candidates,” he said. “Downtown Vancouver is already a great place to build a business and fostering business growth through the IPZ increases visibility and should make it even better.”

Speaking of visibility, another top goal of the IPZ is to promote downtown Vancouver and the 192nd/Highway 14 corridor from East Vancouver to Camas as the place to start, grow or relocate digital technology businesses. The area is already home to several software companies, printer and tablet manufacturers, audio and optoelectronics firms, to name a few. Vancouver’s emerging creative services businesses will also play a crucial role towards that goal, including trying to come up with something a bit catchier than “Vancouver/Camas Applied Digital Technology Accelerator.”

A new “umbrella brand” for the tech zone is set to be revealed during a November 20 “Digital Innovation Showcase,” organized by the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) and held at Gravitate Design’s downtown Vancouver studio (1012 Washington Street). Marc Neidlinger, of Blue Blazes, the firm in charge of the branding, couldn’t reveal much ahead of the event, but said, “The concept is based on an organic flow of ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s a place where creativity and collaboration will flourish.”

The invitation-only showcase is a celebration of the innovation zone designation and part of the state’s participation in the national Global Entrepreneurship Week. As the name implies, the event will also include displays and demonstrations from local tech companies, students and faculty from WSU Vancouver, with a who’s who of government and technology industry representatives in attendance.

It is also is part of CREDC’s ongoing series of events such as Geek Drinks, aimed at software companies, and Pub Talks directed to area entrepreneurs. The agency also held an engineering showcase at WSU featuring approximately 50 local companies and students who presented capstone projects.

According to Bonnie Moore, vice president of business growth and innovation for the council, IPZ advocates are also planning a Myth Busters-style event focused on startup capital. That effort, she said, is all part of the drive to bring more knowledge-based business to the Vancouver area with a focus on emerging digital technologies.

Additionally, the IPZ will help entities like the CREDC to “organize partners around a common goal,” said Moore. And the value of such collaboration, she explained, should not be overlooked.

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