State Accelerator Program Opens Exciting Possibilities for Economic Future

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Washington State is dedicated to building an economic future that is as inclusive, diverse, and resilient as the people who call it home.

We look beyond our borders for business models that will strengthen our legacy industries, help communities create new sectors, fuel innovation and entrepreneurship, and secure meaningful employment opportunities for generations to come.

One of the most promising models is the innovation cluster accelerator. This industry-led strategy has evolved over the past 20 years, spurring more than 7,000 innovation clusters in places like Norway, Denmark, Costa Rica and Canada.

This model departs from most traditional economic development efforts. It brings together key players – companies, entrepreneurs, universities, investors and governments – to solve industry challenges that can limit growth and innovation.

Over time, these member-based organizations become self-sustaining, supported by a combination of public and private funding. They turn into magnets that attract capital, talent, business and market opportunity for the entire industry. They also help leaders align their workforce development and STEM training efforts.

We piloted this approach in 2017 with an initiative called Washington Maritime Blue.

In its first four years, Maritime Blue is already driving investment in decarbonization and other maritime initiatives, launching new businesses and developing a more diverse and inclusive maritime workforce.

To date, 21 startups have participated in their accelerator, raising over $80 million in funding and creating over 300 well-paying jobs. Their Youth Maritime Collaborative focuses on introducing youth from communities of color to maritime career paths.

We’ve seen innovation clusters succeed overseas, and now we’re seeing them succeed here at home. We are ready to embrace this strategy and ensure that the benefits of our economic growth reach all regions and people who have historically been left behind.

Our recently launched innovation cluster accelerator is one of the first in the country. These clusters not only create new businesses, they can stimulate solutions to social problems and climate challenges.

Our first cohort of accelerators includes five innovation hubs located across the state. We will add four more in 2022.

  • Port of Benton VERTical Cluster in Washington – accelerating the transition to clean, renewable, non-emitting energy generation sources by 2024 through advanced nuclear technologies.
  • 5G Open Innovation Lab’s Enterprise Digital Growth Ecosystem (EDGE) – uses edge computing and 5G to digitally transform and modernize sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, energy and utilities, as well as transport and logistics.
  • Consortium for Hydrogen and Renewable Generated E-Fuels, led by Washington State University’s JCDREAM – exploring the use of hydrogen to decarbonize heavy transportation, aviation and shipping and reduce fuel dependency towards non-renewable fuel sources.
  • Clean Tech Alliance Built Environment Cluster – advancing the development and adoption of clean technologies in residential buildings, non-residential buildings and engineered construction.
  • Washington Technology Industry Association’s Advanced Technology Cluster – uses quantum computing and blockchain to develop advanced technologies and maintain Washington’s technology leadership.

Like Maritime Blue, the Department of Commerce supports the development and growth of these clusters through seed funding, strategic guidance, leadership development, linkages with cluster leaders and partners. national and global and international marketing support.

The Innovation Cluster Accelerator builds on mutually beneficial partnerships with Finland and Norway, focusing on maritime, cleantech and 5G. It builds on our state’s history of partnerships with France, the United Kingdom, Asia, India, Japan and Spain in sectors such as aerospace, information and communication and clean technologies.

Innovation Cluster Accelerators have the potential to bring transformative economic opportunities to communities across Washington, and we are committed to doing so in a way that promotes equity and inclusion. We want to help small businesses access capital, find new markets and customers, and develop a skilled workforce.

Washington’s legendary companies have redefined the way we travel, dine, shop, relax and communicate. The Innovation Cluster Accelerator builds on this heritage. Our economic future is well served by this long-term strategy to harness the power of collaboration and strengthen Washington’s leadership in the global economy.

Lisa Brown is director of the Washington State Department of Commerce.

Christian Rangen is a Norwegian expert on innovation clusters.

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