What’s the secret to Bothell’s economy of innovation?
BOTHELL, Wash — Think innovation and you probably think of Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. Or maybe you think of Redmond, the home of Microsoft. Kirkland and Fremont both have innovative reputations around here as well.
In recent years the community on the northeastern end of Lake Washington has emerged as a leading contender for the most innovative community in the state.
How did that happen?
Real estate is cheaper in Bothell than it is in Redmond. The congestion isn’t as bad as South Lake Union. The number of companies starting up in Bothell rivals Fremont and Kirkland.
The success comes thanks to a public school system that has changed the way its educates kids, a sleepy branch college that has leaned into innovation and exploded in size doing it and a business community that supports and fosters risk-taking.
Those three pillars hold up a community building itself in a new way and pushing toward a future to lead the region.
North Shore Schools Innovates with Innovators
We all want to know what the future holds. But when it comes to the future of the region seeing what that future will look like may be as easy as looking at Bothell’s public schools.
Schools are supposed to prepare kids for the future and in Bothell students are living the future before they even enter their teen years.
The new North Creek High School gives students hands on opportunities to innovate and experiment. Students use water jet cutters to build parts for electric race cars. Other students program 3-d printers to produce parts for the next generation of robots.
“Being able to go from the design phase all the way through production and testing is really a unique opportunity for our students,” says teacher Chat Steinbaugh.
Steinbaugh uses these unique tools to give his students access to technology from the beginning to the end of the processes. Students in neighboring school districts, like Bellevue, even request help from North Creek students.
“I have parents come in and say this is so different than the machine shop or wood shop or metal shop that I went through,” says Steinbaugh.
It’s not just the tools that students use, it’s what they are learning and doing as well.
Biology students studying pharmaceuticals and then designed their own drug. They took that drug and pitched it to drug makers.
In middle school there’s a special club just for girls who love to write computer code.
Bothell schools don’t prepare kids for a future, they allow those kids to first create and then live their own future now.
UW Branch Campus Finds Its Own Voice, Growth By Embracing Innovation
In the last few years Bothell has begun exploding with technology, science and math related industries.
But Bothell is innovating in an even larger way within those industries and it could have a huge impact on the future of our entire region
Women aren’t paid as much as men. People of color often don’t have access to the same career opportunities. It’s a huge problem culturally & economically. And yet there is a seismic shift underway and that shift started -in part – right here in University of Washington Bothell.
“We believe its hands on, its engaged, its experiential,” says Dr. Susan Jeffords the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at UWB.
Jeffords says UWB is the fastest growing campus in the state and one of the fastest growing in the country. She says she travels a lot and speaks to potential students as well as other university leaders and very few know where Bothell is on a map.
Then she describes the location.
“I say within 10 miles of us is Microsoft and Boeing and bio medical device companies and rapidly growing startups and all kinds of tech companies ..and then the first thing people say to me is I wish my campus was there,” says Jeffords.
Students like Jasmine Duong are a perfect example of the kids of students finding empowerment at UWB. Duong is a woman and an Asian-American. She is studying cyber security and law with the goal of busting hackers professionally in the future.
“I felt like a superhero when I thought about it,” says Duong.
Duong isn’t along on this campus. She is surrounded by other women and students of color all preparing for a future in technology and the innovation economy.
Look at the Digital Future lab on campus. It’s a full service coding and digital product lab open to students and the community. Traditionally this kind of lab would be full of white male students. In fact, the big 5 technology companies in the US have a workforce that is less than 1/3 female.
But the lab’s Aina Braxston says they aim to change that.
“Not only are students learning to create and develop software - but they are also deepening their understanding of equity, inclusion and diversity,” says Braxston.
Dr. Jeffords says it’s working at all levels. The student body is not only growing in numbers, but it’s the most diverse it has ever been and growing more so each year.
Student Leah Shin arrived on campus and was thrilled to see more women and more students of color learning from equity minded instructors and administrators.
“Students in general are awesome, diversity is a key part of this university,” says Shin.
It’s not just the diversity in the classroom either. The campus itself is physically diverse in an incredibly innovative way. It is literally right in the middle is a 50-acre protected wetland that serves as a living laboratory for students here every single day.
Innovative Companies Breed Innovative Companies
Companies live or die based on how fast they can change course and that has a huge impact on our local economy and on your daily life.
Bothell has become the near perfect spot for nimble and innovative companies to thrive.
Just ask the team at HaloSource. They moved more than a decade ago from Redmond to Bothell initially because of the cheaper lab space. But the company has stayed and thrived because the city fosters innovative business.
CEO James Thompson leads his team of scientists and researchers in developing technologies that clean the water supplies for millions of people living in India and China.
“A big part of who we are is doing well, by doing good,” says Thompson.
They have primarily focused on biological dangers, but recently began tackling the question of dangerous inorganic compounds in water like lead.
“This technology allows us to go at the problem of lead and heavy metals in drinking water,” says Thompson.
Thompson says the lead crisis in Flint Michigan prompted his team to develop a new technology that they shrunk to a size that fits inside personal water bottles and home water pitchers.
“To be able to pivot and take it from something we'd never considered to something consumers are going to have in less than a year. I’ve never had that in any other job,” says Christopher Ashley Director of Commercialization at HaloSource.
The new line of consumer products has a new name as well. It’s called Astrea and it raised tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of days when the company shared it online on a crowdfunding website.
Ashley says that proved to the company that American consumers want products to that clean drinking water by reducing the amount of lead to unrivaled standards.
But he and Thompson both say this kind of thinking and the ability to quickly pivot was only possible because of the environment in which the company operates.
“It’s a fantastic little community,” says Ashley.
The company credits a city government that embraces innovation in zoning and economics.
Thompson points to commercial lab space both abundant and affordable.
Then there is the pipeline of talent from the innovative public schools through University of Washington Bothell.
Thompson even predicts a talent drain from traditional innovation centers someday.
“As people come to Bothell from south lake union I think its actually a good thing,” says Thompson. “More facilities will be built. More capital will come here. It'll make real estate more competitive ... I see a bright future for Bothell.”