#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Daniel Faricy, Executive Director of Trailhead Boise
This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.
Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the country according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and Boise’s startup community is expanding at a comparable rate. This week, we spoke with Daniel Faricy who cites buy-in from local stakeholders across sectors as a key input for the Treasure Valley’s ecosystem. However, he believes policies that favor the mobility of talent and capital are essential to carrying this progress forward.
What’s your role in the Boise-area startup ecosystem? How did you get involved working in startups in Boise?
I came to Boise in 1995 with Hewlett Packard as a software consultant. In 2000, my partners and I formed a startup called Wire Stone that had several locations including Boise. I left Wire Stone in 2007 and used my experiences to consult entrepreneurs on their business models.
A little over a year ago, I was teaching some workshops here at Trailhead. The Executive Director at the time, a friend of mine, was stepping down to pursue another venture and asked me if I was interested in being his successor. I figured it was an excellent opportunity to give back while remaining engaged in the startup community.
Can you tell us more about the role that Trailhead plays in Boise?
It started about two and a half years ago as just a building downtown, making it kind of a startup in of itself. Since then it has become the place “where business starts in Boise”. The goal is to have a broad reach and serve everyone working on startups here, from the seasoned founder to someone between jobs who needs to stay in an entrepreneurial environment. We’re also aligned heavily with Boise State and the University of Idaho and provide access to their students. It’s as simple as getting them to think about being involved in the entrepreneurial community before they graduate.
Trailhead also provides an opportunity for corporations based here to reach into and be engaged with our startup ecosystem. Without a place like Trailhead, startup communities in cities of this size can be hard to understand. What we’re trying to do is make onboarding easier for individuals who want to be involved and to accelerate the success of those who are already in our community.
What’s the most exciting thing that has happened for Boise in the past year?
There’s a bit of a coming of age in Boise’s startup scene. We have tried to learn from and leverage the successes of places like Silicon Valley and Austin. Organizations such as the Idaho Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Idaho National Laboratories, OneStone, a high school that teaches ideation and project management, and the Venture College at Boise State all used to be individual molecules in the ecosystem, so to speak. Now, they are becoming attached at the core and Trailhead has been a major part of this process. The sum of our parts makes us a greater whole, it becomes easier for the state and other larger organizations to get engaged when we’re all connected.
What makes Boise an ideal place to start a company?
Boise has a great outdoor culture and is a college town with Boise State and the University of Idaho nearby. Idaho State, just to our east, is also heavily into cybersecurity and robotics. Our mayor, city council, and even state government are incredibly involved and effective at what they do. It’s the 8th largest state in the country in terms of land mass but has a small population, making it a friendly, community-oriented place.
What is the biggest challenge you face in Boise?
On the capital access side, I’m a big believer that there’s plenty of money out there but not an abundance of companies that have developed enough of a revenue stream to provide forward momentum. I was at a panel recently with a VC from the Northwest Venture Capital Group who said that companies shouldn’t reach out unless they can realistically offer a 10/1 return on investment. Challenges predominantly relate to companies struggling to attain that first dollar of revenue.
I don’t believe there’s a lack of talent or ideas here compared to other areas like Silicon Valley or Boulder. However, the volume of “exits” in those places have yielded a windfall of capital which was distributed in such a way that allowed successful team members to go out and start the next generation of companies. If you look at Boise over the last 20 years, many of our startups have been spinouts from HP and Micron. What we don’t have yet is a unicorn exit that has trickled back into the ecosystem and spawned more startups.
What industries have historically thrived in Boise? How has this shaped the ecosystem there?
This is something that most people don’t know about Boise. When you’re downtown, east of the city is Micron and west of the city is HP. Boise has Albertsons, one of the largest grocers in the United States, and the Simplot Corporation, which is one of the largest private companies in the country. The technology and agriculture bases are the strongest here. We don’t have a traditional manufacturing based here but we have the infrastructure, technology, and talent here in the “Treasure Valley”, as its referred to.
Do these two industrial areas, technology and agriculture, ever meet via AgTech startups coming out of Boise?
There are a lot of food companies that are started at Trailhead and in the region. It’s kind of a catch-22, because Albertsons is here, everyone dreams of dealing with them. However, they have to face the reality that they need a massive amount of funding to support product for Albertson’s large customer base. Albertsons is very supportive of Trailhead and is always looking to find the next wave of trends in food and can find it in some of these Treasure Valley-based companies.
Are there specific public policies or government initiatives that have enabled startup growth in Boise?
We have the Idaho Technology Council and the Workforce Development Council. The big challenge for everyone is “where do I get software development talent”. The state and city governments recognize this and understand where the economy is moving towards. Back in 2000 when I was working with Wire Stone, none of these entities existed. Now, there are multiple sources who are of what’s happening in Idaho tech and how to move it forward. We’re leveraging what was done in places like San Jose and applying those best practices here. You can’t move as fast as you want to but it takes time, energy, and commitment and I’m really seeing that here.
How involved are your government representatives in the Boise startup space?
They’re absolutely involved. We’re promoting an event on May 10 called Idaho Innovation in Action. All of the government agencies have forms, policies, and procedures for how to interact with them. So the concept is to showcase companies that have worked the government and state-funded entities (INL, SBDC, etc). What we’re creating is essentially a science fair that brings state legislators and startups together to have a conversation about how they can collaborate better.
We’re also very keen on software development training for people. During a recent meeting with WDC, we were trying to map out how we deliver training and expertise for both people with and without computer science degrees. Furthermore, what are we doing to improve the learning ability of people who already work at big companies in the area. This could be moving staff from a call center into network administration roles. We’re trying to funnel resources into moving businesses forward in this sense.
The mayor, Dave Bieter is a big supporter of Trailhead. Something as big as Trailhead doesn’t happen without buy-in from the city. There’s also a group called Capital City Development Corporation, or CCDC as they’re known, that has been essential in supporting our work and the growth of our ecosystem, more broadly. This municipal involvement is a big piece of who we are and why we exist.
From a policy perspective, do you have any “wish list” items for your startup ecosystem?
There was a recent piece of legislation which protected companies that had “key employees” wishing to leave. It essentially locked people up for two years after leaving a company as a “key employee”. Places like Silicon Valley were, in part, successful because they prevented these lockups and allowed people to be as mobile as possible. As we know, more jobs are going to be created by small companies than large ones and we need people and resources to be moving in that direction. Fortunately, this bill was repealed quite recently.
Are there some startups to watch coming out of the Boise-area?
Art of Visuals - Media company that runs a social media photography community comprised of 1.2 million users in 120. Seeks to empower and inspire online creators.
Black Sage Technologies - Provides hardware & software solutions that detect, identify and defeat unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
Lovevery - Play time with purpose. Designs and manufactures early stage development toys for infants.
Killer Whey - Nutritional dessert company that specializes in protein-based ice cream.