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01/31/2005 - SIRTI Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

Ribbon cutting for the new SIRTI (Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute) building was ten years ago in 1994. SIRTI itself started in the late 1980’s with a mission to foster the development and growth of technology companies, especially in Eastern Washington. In those early years, land was acquired from Glacier Park Properties and the SIRTI building was the first building erected on the Riverpoint Campus.

With a brand new building, SIRTI applied for and received a $15 million U. S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) grant to help fund fledgling technology companies. One stipulation of the DARPA grant was that it was to be completely used up over a five year period. During that five year period, many companies, mostly in Eastern Washington, were given a boost through SIRTI grants using DARPA funds. At the end of the five years, the grant money was used, and due to various economic factors, has never been replaced.

Grant money helped companies with research and development, technology transfer, and commercialization. Many of these companies – ReliOn and GenPrime are examples – have gone on to acquire about $90 million in venture capital and additional grants. Principals of several “SIRTI companies” have said, “we couldn't have done it without SIRTI.” Spokane area technology is solid and has attracted $100 million in venture capital in 2004 alone. “We must keep that knowledge with us as we think of Spokane and its technology future,” says Patrick Jones, SIRTI manager of government affairs and communications. “However,” Jones continues, “technology business success doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it takes years between inception and being profitable – let alone being ‘big time.’ The community that wants a technology based economy must be patient.” As Bay area futurist Jaron Lanier pointed out in his visit to Spokane, it is necessary to try many, many ideas and concepts in order to have even one that will ultimately work in a big way. It is SIRTI’s mission to help nurture those with ideas and concepts.

To help accomplish this mission, the new SIRTI Technology Center (STC) will begin construction as soon as weather permits. The STC is the result of SIRTI winning a $3 million EDA grant in February 2004, and also receiving $3 million in local matching funds. The new building will be complete and ready for occupancy nine months after initial ground breaking, according to Scott Simmons, SIRTI director of finance and operations. The STC will include wet labs to meet the needs of biotechnology and biomedical research, and will greatly increase the amount of incubator space available for lease by technology companies. “The incubator space available in the SIRTI building is now only 11,000 square feet,” says Jones. “With the new building, the available space will increase to 40,000 square feet.”

Although the DARPA grant money was used up long ago, the SIRTI Foundation is developing a new loan program that should be ready by the third quarter of 2005. This loan program will provide money for high risk companies needing short term loans. The companies eligible for these loans will be those ‘not quite bankable’ but have a purchase order that they need a cash infusion to fill. The loans will be for periods of 90 to 120 days, and will necessarily be high interest loans. The funding was enabled through a $1.47 million Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant through the U. S. Department of Commerce received by the SIRTI Foundation in August. The Northwest Business Development Association (NWBDA) will provide underwriting expertise and skills, and SIRTI will screen the clients.

To learn more about SIRTI, visit http://www.sirti.org/.

Billie Moreland
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