New Tech Spotlight: PNWER Congregate

The pandemic has challenged the world economy, and the PNW is no exception. The tourism, performing arts, travel, and hospitality (TPATH) sector of our region has been hit hardest. “The losses to the creative industries in the Seattle metro area alone resulted in the loss of over 57,000 jobs and almost $600 million in sales” said Steven Myers, Senior Program Manager at Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, who we will hear more about in our New Tech Spotlight this week.

That’s why PNWER has formed the Congregate Accelerator, a widespread search for companies and startups that can meet the challenge of safely re-opening using innovative technology. They hope to bring life and commerce back into the Pacific Northwest region fueled by the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Scaling Pandemic Resilience through Innovation and Technology (SPRINT) Challenge Grant. 

The first cohort of the Congregate Accelerator will focus on four areas that technology companies can support: Immunity Verification, Contactless and Remote Commerce, Workforce Solutions, and Hybrid Events. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, check out their website.

PNWER is a 30+ year old statutory organization comprising Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Washington, and Yukon. They seek to align shared policy best practices, and enhance collaboration across the border.

When COVID-19 hit, PNWER polled its various working groups to see how they could best help to bring together players to address issues to reopen the economy and improve business resilience. As such, PNWER partnered with the U.S. EDA, Washington Technology Industry Association, Alaska Tourism Industry Association, Moonbeam, and the Future Borders Coalition to create Congregate: A Solutions Accelerator to Reopen the PNW Tourism Economy.

This is critical for the economic health and vitality of the region as the tourism economy has been the most affected by the lockdown and ongoing slowdown on travel, performing arts, tourism, and hospitality (TPATH) sectors. Hear more about this program from Steven Myers, Senior Program Manager at Pacific NorthWest Economic Region.


Why focus on tourism?

The Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) decided to focus the “Congregate: A Solutions Accelerator” on the tourism, performing arts, travel, and hospitality (TPATH) sectors because of the important role that these sectors play in the states of Washington and Alaska and how severely impacted they have been by COVID-19. As the fourth largest industry in Washington State, the tourism sector employed over 175,000 workers and generated more than $20 billion in annual spending in 2019. COVID has halted tourism and decimated affiliated services. The losses to the creative industries in the Seattle metro area alone resulted in the loss of over 57,000 jobs and almost $600 million in sales. Unfortunately, these losses disproportionately impact economically disadvantaged minority communities. Further, tourism is a key economic driver for many rural and urban-adjacent communities, and to reopen these industries, we will need both technologies and policies that provide public health measures that allow people to congregate safely.

What are the challenges faced by the TPATH sectors?

Businesses are slowly and safely reopening, but there continues to be lingering challenges associated with the pandemic. Months of lost revenue, supply chain disruptions, workforce impacts, and increased operating costs have made the economic recovery slow even with the financial support businesses may have received. Additionally, the dynamic nature of the pandemic has made public health guidance difficult to predict and leads to a difficulty in scaling up businesses due in part to the ebbs and flows of COVID infection rates. PNWER met with regional stakeholders across Washington and Alaska who identified and vetted four key challenges for the first cohort of the Congregate Accelerator to address. The first cohort of the Congregate Accelerator will focus on four areas that technology companies can support: 

  • Immunity Verification 
  • Contactless and Remote Commerce
  • Workforce Solutions
  • Hybrid Events

The goal of the accelerator will be to scale technology solutions in these areas by leveraging industry and government advisors and mentors from TPATH sectors. Through the accelerator, there is an opportunity to grow businesses that are working towards safely reopening while limiting the impacts to public health.

Why are you engaging startups? What kind of companies are you looking for?

We are looking for companies–not just startups–with unique and valuable capabilities that may have not focused on the tourism sector in the past, but have the ability to address these challenges. If they are startups, we want to help them grow. If they are established companies or teams in a corporate innovation group, we want to help connect them with buyers that need their solutions. Most of all, we want to leverage the agility and speed of the innovation economy to build back stronger and more resilient. We are looking to the innovation economy for solutions so collaboration between industry, regulators, and innovators is key. 

The region has a great resource of startups that can offer solutions for the challenges faced by the TPATH sectors. Additionally, we have the support of our regional partners’ startup programs including Amazon and Microsoft, the Washington Technology Industry Association, and Alaska Tourism Industry Association. Startup companies will be able to utilize AWS Service Credits, Business Support Credits, and credits for our self paced labs. The Microsoft for Startups Program membership includes Azure Cloud credits, proprietary Licenses and Microsoft Partner network services. Plus, for companies that are fundraising, we will help connect them with VCs like our partner Flying Fish Partners and others. Our target companies have solutions that could be scaled and that could leverage the services offered by our regional supporters. Companies should be open to looking at solutions that help the disadvantaged communities. The program is not about equity in the startups but scaling companies that could compete in the global economy. We will not be taking equity, and there is no charge for companies to participate. 

What’s unique about this accelerator?

This accelerator is unique in that we are bringing the business case through the challenges to companies. Most accelerators help technology companies find a market; this accelerator is looking for specific capabilities that address an industry need. Regional stakeholders identified their challenges and are looking for solutions to these immediate problems that startups and other companies might be able to solve. We want startups and companies with capabilities to address a need and work with TPATH industry experts. This accelerator is about finding solutions.  This accelerator is also supported by the government and industry partners.  Collaboration between public and private sectors will be critical to safely recovering and reopening the economy.

What opportunities in this are available to organizations or professionals in the community that would want to support?

Everyone involved will benefit from their involvement! Across the region, businesses and individuals alike are facing the same challenges as we work to reopen safely and continue to experience the impacts of the economic slowdown. Professionals will have a chance to work with cutting edge companies working towards solutions to the global pandemic. Startups will get the opportunity to work on specific business cases with industry experts and as well as leverage support from AWS and Microsoft for Startups. Mentors will be able to work with cutting edge companies looking to scale solutions for the global marketplace. Right now, we continue to recruit mentors who want to support selected companies. If you are a company that has capabilities that can address immunity verification, workforce challenges, enable hybrid events, or improve healthy operational resilience, we want to talk to you! And finally, while we have many partners in the tourism economy, if you are a travel destination or related business that identifies with these challenges, we want to help connect you with companies that can help you become more resilient to COVID-19 and its aftermath.

To learn more about PNWER and the Congregate accelerator, go to their website, follow them on LinkedIn, Twitter, and on Facebook.

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