Last week, The Idaho Technology Council (ITC) held a press conference announcing the public launch of this very important organization. Judging by some of the comments I’ve seen on local media sites and some rash reaction from folks in the blogosphere, there’s clearly some misunderstanding about what the ITC is and what its mission is. I suspect that the fact that the ITC invited Governor Otter to be a part of its announcement fueled some of this mis-perception that the ITC is somehow tied to the Governor’s administration. Given that the ITC represents the single most important undertaking I’ve seen in my ten years in Idaho as it relates to the tech industry, I think it’s worthwhile to share my founding member’s perspective.
A little background: Last summer, Jay Larsen (ITC’s Executive Director) came to my office and told me about his plans to start the ITC. After watching various tech organizations come and go over the last decade without any of them gaining much traction (some private, some public, some public-private), needless to say I was quite skeptical. However, Jay went on to explain to me that he was intent on fashioning the ITC after the highly successful Utah Technology Council (UTC) and that he had the support of a few key local tech companies and executives.
He had my attention. As a regional venture capital firm, my partners and I at Highway 12 Ventures have been members of the UTC since we started the firm in 2001. We’ve had a front-row seat to (and participated in) a decade of tremendous growth in the tech industry in Utah and the UTC has been one of the most important components of that growth. Under the watchful eye of my good friend (and UTC CEO) Rich Nelson, the UTC has become the central resource for the entrepreneurs of a thriving tech ecosystem in Utah, which has become a model for the rest of the country.
Jay’s next comment to me was like that great moment in the movie “Jerry McGuire.” He told me “I’ve been working closely with Rich Nelson for the last few months and he’s agreed to mentor me and help me create a similar organization in Idaho.” I spoke to Rich and he confirmed that he had indeed been working with Jay and that Jay was working very hard on understanding how Rich built the UTC and he was impressed with Jay’s work. I sent Jay a check for $4,000. Highway 12 Ventures was the first paid industry sponsor of the ITC. He had me at hello…
So what is the ITC and perhaps more importantly, what is it not? First, and most importantly, the ITC is not a government organization, nor does it have any formal ties at all with state government or the Governor’s administration. However, it’s equally important to share that we’ve kept the Governor and his staff updated on our progress and they’ve been terrifically responsive and supportive. For example, when we traveled to northern and eastern Idaho to conduct focus groups to ensure that we were listening to the needs of the tech community throughout the entire state, Commerce Director Don Dietrich and his staff were incredibly helpful in identifying the right people to participate in those very important meetings and they helped facilitate them.
So what is the ITC? It’s is a non-profit organization that is 100% financed by private industry and its vision is 101% member driven. The ITC has one mission – to foster the development of technology companies in Idaho, primarily in the areas of information technology, agri-science, and energy. Over the next decade, we will do that by becoming the most reliable and accessible resource for these types of companies in the state.
For me, the ITC will be about community. It will be a gathering place for tech entrepreneurs throughout the state of Idaho to meet, share resources and best practices, and better themselves through participation in a community that all members contribute to. The ITC will be the organization that facilitates this collaboration. The community will benefit the whole state and a wide range of tech companies. There will be peer-to-peer breakfasts in Idaho Falls where the ITC will bring in an expert in agile software development to help local software developers sharpen their skills, intern-recruiting sessions in Moscow where ITC member companies will spend a day or two providing engineering students a wide range of internship opportunities for the summer, and national experts brought to the state to help us create a sustainable and vibrant tech ecosystem.
To set expectations however, the ITC is not going to make a huge impact overnight. We’re not going to point to new jobs created in 2010 as a metric for our success. Everything we do will be done with the long-term vision of fostering a fertile environment for tech companies to thrive in Idaho. Will we eventually advocate and even lobby on behalf of tech industry? Of course we will. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon. The executive committee is singularly focused on spending the next few years building an organization that all of its members are excited to be a part of and derive great value from. Only when we have the critical mass to stand and talk with one voice, will we turn our attention to the State House.
Speaking of the executive committee (and equally committed board of trustees), I want everyone who reads this to understand what an incredible group of people have come together to donate literally hundreds of hours of their time and written sizable checks in pursuit of this virtuous goal. I am very honored to be working with some of the most respected entrepreneurs and leaders in Idaho and I’ve been floored by everyone’s eagerness to roll up their sleeves and leverage their personal experiences and networks to make the ITC a reality. I’d like to single out Rich Raimondi who has graciously committed a tremendous amount of his personal time and effort to chair this organization. Rich recently retired from a highly distinguished career at HP and I admire his sense of civic duty to give back to the state’s tech community (something I think is lacking among many other senior tech retirees in the Treasure Valley, but that’s fodder for another blog post in the future).
Finally, I’d like to address those folks who have lashed out in a critical fashion at the ITC in the comment sections of the local media and in the blogosphere. Take a good look in the mirror tonight and ask yourself what you’re doing to contribute to a better Idaho. Get involved. Work with a non-profit organization, they need your help more than ever right now. Contribute! The ITC is comprised of a group of hard-working and very high-character people who are contributing huge amounts of their time, money and effort for your benefit. The ITC represents an opportunity for anyone who has been or wants to be involved in Idaho’s emerging technology sector to contribute. I hope you’ll join the effort!
In closing, a sincere thank you to all the wonderful sponsors, trustees, members & friends of the ITC for your support. I assure you that we’re going to work awfully hard to create an organization that will strive to foster and maintain a healthy ecosystem for tech companies to emerge and thrive in Idaho!