Executive Director Diane Kamionka (left) and Program Director Lara Merriam-Smith of the Northwest Innovation Resource Center at TheLab@everett, an incubator for entrepreneurs. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Executive Director Diane Kamionka (left) and Program Director Lara Merriam-Smith of the Northwest Innovation Resource Center at TheLab@everett, an incubator for entrepreneurs. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Did you invent a better mousetrap? This nonprofit can help

TheLab@everett, an innovation center for entrepreneurs and startups, will open its doors next month.

Barista Maxwell Mooney’s plan to open an Everett coffee bar looked good, but he needed backers.

Window washer Bruce Sherman needed someone to turn his working model — a system that reduces the time it takes to clean windows on high-rise buildings — into a finished product.

Joel Sellinger, an Everett firefighter, built 20 versions of a home safety device that automatically closes doors in the event of a fire. He and his business partner worked on it until they got it right, but they needed building owners to test it.

Now that you’ve built a better mousetrap, it’s time to write a business plan, organize a customer focus group, negotiate a loan and find a manufacturer.

Overwhelmed? No worries.

The nonprofit Northwest Innovation Resource Center was launched nearly a decade ago to help inventors and entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life, said Diane Kamionka, the center’s interim executive director.

The nonprofit serves entrepreneurs and existing businesses in Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties with a lineup of more than 300 experts and advisors. The center’s advisory services and amenities are free.

Next month, it will offer even more.

For years, its staff has met with entrepreneurs and inventors at local coffee shops and borrowed meeting rooms, Kamionka said.

In November, the center will open its first fully equipped brick-and-mortar location at 1001 N. Broadway in Everett. The 5,500-square-foot one-stop shop will be open to anyone, Kamionka said.

TheLab@everett, an innovation center and business incubator, will offer visitors the opportunity to meet, work and mix with business owners and industry experts.

Plans call for TheLab to be staffed weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Supporting entrepreneurs is a vital part of economic development that keeps the business community vitalized,” Kamionka said. “Business incubators help speed up the business development process.”

TheLab features meeting rooms, work spaces and a maker space equipped with 3-D printers and other design tools. A network of industry-specific advisors is available to flesh out an idea or firm up a business plan, Kamionka said.

“I think its cool they’re opening,” said Mooney, the founder of Narrative Coffee in Everett. “Everyone needs that sort of a creative environment.”

TheLab will also be able tap into the resources and expertise of faculty and students at Everett Community College and Washington State University Everett, TheLab’s nearby neighbors.

“The college is really excited to have TheLab adjacent to EvCC’s Advanced Manufacturing & Training Center,” said John Bonner, EvCC’s vice president of corporate and workforce training. “There will be incredible opportunities to collaborate.”

Case in point: When Sherman needed an assist with his window-washing prototype, the Innovation Center introduced him to the Advanced Manufacturing & Training Center. A team of industrial designers and welders helped him perfect his product at no cost, he said.

Program Director Lara Merriam-Smith of the Northwest Innovation Resource Center gives interns Kaleb Weber (left) and Austin Treherne a tour of TheLab@everettt. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Program Director Lara Merriam-Smith of the Northwest Innovation Resource Center gives interns Kaleb Weber (left) and Austin Treherne a tour of TheLab@everettt. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Washington State University Everett is also a longtime supporter. Students and faculty at WSU Everett have teamed with the center’s clients. Recently, WSU Everett and the center began co-hosting events and speakers on topics ranging from design fundamentals to crypto-currency. With TheLab@everett opening across the street, even more collaboration is planned, WSU Everett spokesman Randy Bolerjack said.

Kamionka, who founded Cintech Solutions, an Ohio technology company, and served as its president and CEO, moved to Washington in 2004 with plans to retire.

At the time, the Seattle area had its fair share of business incubators and accelerators. North of King County, not so much, Kamionka said.

Stories circulated of local entrepreneurs taking their ideas and their startups to Seattle and California, Kamionka said.

Losing their talents means the whole community loses, she said. “We were missing a support for early stage entrepreneurs in northwest Washington.”

The Northwest Innovation Resource Center, the brainchild of Kamionka and other community members, was established in 2009 to fill the gap.

“There are lots of innovative people in Snohomish County because of the number of technology-driven companies in Snohomish County and the region,” said Patrick Pierce, president and CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

TheLab@everett also fills another void, Pierce said. While there are other co-working and maker spaces in the county, the programs and services offered by the center and its lab are unique, Pierce said.

“TheLab is an exciting development and demonstrates what is possible in Snohomish County because of our strong private, public and nonprofit partnerships,” he said.

Lara Merriam-Smith, the center’s program director, likes to say that “one of the greatest challenges of being a startup is that all of the hiccups are different.”

That means no cookie-cutter advice or business plans. “We focus on creating customized business plans,” said Merriam-Smith, an entrepreneur herself.

Mooney, the Everett coffee connoisseur, found the center through Lanie McMullin, the former director of Everett Economic Development and a member of TheLab’s advisory council.

Merriam-Smith sat down with Mooney and helped him build a better spreadsheet.

“I didn’t have the language or the formatting ability to create meaningful financial projections,” Mooney said.

“She did a ton of work with my financials to get them investor-ready,” he said.

Armed with new documents, Mooney found the investor support he needed to open Narrative Coffee in Everett.

Sellinger, the inventive firefighter, had a prototype door-closer in hand but needed feedback from potential customers.

Merriam-Smith rounded up a group of apartment building owners to test the company’s safety device. Their evaluations led to critical refinements to both the prototype and the company’s pitch, Sellinger said.

On a recent afternoon, Heather and Steve Cherewaty, the founders of Abacus, a virtual online makerspace, dropped by TheLab for the first time to meet with Merriam-Smith who is coaching them through the product development stage.

TheLab’s location means they don’t have to talk shop at a cafe or restaurant, Kamionka said.”They’re based in Everett, so coming here is really convenient.”

Existing businesses will also be able to take advantage of TheLab, whose staff and volunteers can assist with everything from product development to expansion plans, Kamionka said.

“Small businesses are our future,” said John Monroe, a retired Boeing executive and member of TheLab’s advisory council.

“Anything we can do to help small business in this area become more effective is absolutely a step in the right direction,” Monroe said.

The center plans to open an innovation lab in Arlington next year and a Skagit County location in 2020.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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