Monday, September 06, 2004

Idaho Opportunities

I’ve just recently returned from the great state of Idaho and our annual summer vacation in McCall, Idaho. While most opportunities in Idaho are recreational related, I did have a chance to catch up with James Grunke, who works on economic development for the Boise Chamber of Commerce.

While Idaho has been a destination for many people from California and Washington to move to for many years, it’s never impressed me much from a start-up perspective, particularly high-tech start-ups (with the notable exception of companies that started with much of J.R. Simplot’s money, such as Micron). That may be changing, noted by many of James’ comments:

- “We are seeing significant growth in start-ups.”

- “Most of our trends are in spin-off from the existing tech companies, micron, hp, but also significant growth in the bio science field...both pharmaceuticals and bio-ag - interesting combination.”

- “Idaho continued to grow each year of the past five years and there has been significant activity this year.”

There has never been a lot of homegrown V.C. and Angel activity in Idaho, and I wondered what was being done to lure much-needed capital to the area. James’ response:

“For the first time, there are outside VC firms want to have a presence in Idaho. First, as deal flow tightened in the major markets, secondary markets such of Idaho have been getting a closer look, in particular due to the fact that growth continued while the rest of the country stagnated. Certainly though events like the Intermountain Venture Forum and the creation of the Boise Angel Alliance also raised the profile of the area.”

I’ve often thought that Idaho would be a perfect place to live if you could combine it with a fun group of entrepreneurs and some good company ideas. It’s so much cheaper to live and do business in, and overall offers a “simpler life” (though without any known appearances by Paris Hilton). I’ve always loved the somewhat “planning free” lifestyle you get, at least in towns like McCall. You rarely have to reserve restaurant times, golf tee times, and the like, - when you want to go ski, you wait for good weather and go ski, etc. It’s a very free way of living. The 300+ days of sunshine don’t suck either. I digress.

In addition to the mostly libertarian utopia living (at least when you’re not caught in the sprawling areas of Boise where traffic is piling up - Boise's downtown is charming but it's suburbs are very generic and sprawling in a fairly unplanned fashion) and cheap costs, James sites “proactive government, overall cost of doing business, low workers comp and unemployment insurance, cheap utility costs, and favorable tax structure and incentives” as other things for entrepreneurs to take advantage of.

I also gave James room to plug an upcoming V.C. Forum on October 6 and 7. Sounds like a lot of good V.C.’s will be there, and it might be a good opportunity for companies looking for money to get noticed. Said James: “The Intermountain Venture Forum is the preeminent event in the intermountain west. Over thirty VC firms, representing over $10 billion in investment will be sitting in the audience. If anyone wants to meet the investment capital players of the northwest, this is the place where they all will be. See for complete background, speakers, bios and panels.”


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