According to a study from the University of Washington, “Humans get smart by being around other smart people.” The study describes this trait as the way in which Seattle is currently transforming itself into a hub of human capital, as educated individuals with talent and creativity have been moving into the city for decades. This influx of knowledgeable and skilled individuals is an absolute plus for those interested in achieving innovation and change.
This is the third in a series of blog posts in which we are contrasting Seattle’s health startup environment with other leading hubs for health and life science innovation. Each of these posts focuses on a different location evaluation criterion, including the cost of doing business, the availability of investment, and this week it’s about the availability of talent- the human capital of startups.
The purpose of this series is personal, rather than to create yet one more “top 5” lists. We’re both working on our digital health startups and we are open to locating anywhere in the world that helps us be more successful. While we’re fond of Seattle, our mission is not to promote Seattle. It’s about succeeding in our startups, both of which have co-founders in other major health hubs.
Innovation Happens at the Edges
Just as sparks fly between positive and negatively charged bodies, the juxtaposition of disciplines and industries can produce new insights leading to innovative breakthroughs. The Pacific Northwest in the past 20 years has attracted talent to fuel its need for highly skilled, creative people in these sectors:
- Life sciences
- Software development
- eCommerce and Cloud services
Seattle is listed as one of the top 10 life sciences clusters in the United States, according to the 2014 survey by JLL’s Life Sciences group. According to the Washington Biotechnical and Biomedical Association, 567 life science companies and over 34,000 individuals are directly employed in this segment averaging over $83,000 in salaries (compared with an average $53k in WA).
While that is good news for Seattle, it is worth observing that Boston is #1, San Francisco is #2, and San Diego is #3, Raleigh/Durahm 4th, and the New York/NewJersey megalopolis 5th in that same list of life science clusters. Seattle ranks only 10th on that list. The industrial diversity in Seattle is competitive with these cities, but is not unique. Seattle has unique qualities that we’ll get to in subsequent posts, and is competitive, if not leading, in accessibility of world-class human talent.
Washington state has 90,000 software developers, which are some of the highest paid jobs in the state. Tech employees have a median salary between $100,000 and $140,000 per year, according to the a recent study by the Washington Technology Industry Association.
The Seattle tech knowledge-base has been growing via significant hiring by such new economy leaders as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Tableau, Expedia, Juno Therapeutics, and others. The major players in the rapidly growing cloud computing industry are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, with Microsoft, Google, and Amazon’s cloud technologists all located in the metro Seattle area, and with low-cost, clean hydro-electric powered data centers in Eastern Washington. Greg Gottesman, of the Madrona Venture Group was quoted in Geekwire as saying “the Pacific Northwest has had an incredible influx of engineers, some to startups and many to bolster the engineering offices of companies that aren’t headquartered here like Google and Facebook,” said Gottesman. “If you believe as I do that top technical talent is the lifeblood of successful startups, I think the trends are very favorable for our region over the next decade.”
The Aerospace industry is a long-time anchor of Pacific Northwest industry. While Boeing has moved its headquarters to Chicago and many of its manufacturing and engineering functions to other parts of the world, others are stepping in, such as Esterline Technologies, Crane Aerospace, Aerojet, Electropact, and others. While the relevance of these industries to health innovation may at first appear remote, the presence of such advanced high-tech companies creates a population of well-insured and educated patients. Healthcare delivery systems in most metro areas must compete to improve quality and reduce costs for self-insured employers.In Seattle this results in fierce competition among delivery systems to maintain an edge. Greg Marchand, Director of Benefits Policy and Strategy for the Boeing Company at a Health Collaborative forum in December 2014. He described their efforts to better manage their $2 billion in annual employee healthcare expenses. The Boeing Accountable Care Organization has created a more competitive model and Boeing has also invested in their own health analytics group to measure improvements.
Health Meetups Compared
We’re seeing this cross-industry innovation interest in the membership growth of the Seattle Health Innovation Meetup, founded two years ago. The group has experienced net growth of 63% in the last 7 months, currently around 850 members, with event attendance between 80-100.
The membership growth in the Seattle Health Innovators can be a useful proxy for the engagement of the community supporting health innovation. While larger than the Boston Health 2.0 chapter, we are still smaller than similar groups in other cities in absolute numbers. The San Francisco-based Health Technology Forum is 2 years older and has 3,439 members, of whom around 150 attend the meetings. The New York City Health 2.0 chapter, founded 7 years ago, has 4,542 members (events draw 73-150).
High in Education Capital
Seattle is also one of the top ten US cities with the largest population of college graduates, making it a destination for educated individuals who are more likely to produce new ideas in every field (CityLab). The city also has a considerable community of individuals going to school in health-related fields The University of Washington’s Seattle campus had an enrollment of 44,158 in 2014, with 240 new students admitted to its reputable medical program every year, and “the Department of Medicine is comprised of 14 Divisions” for hundreds of students working to receive degrees in the field (University of Washington). We also have Seattle University (7,560 students), Seattle Pacific University (3,891) and a variety of community colleges offering health and technology related training.
City-wide Analysis: Seattle and Health Care
Seattle may not yet be at the level of some the other major cities that have become innovation centers for health and medical care, but it is on its way. Advisors and educated individuals inhabit the city while a large population of young, health-conscious people also flock there. It is beneficial to remember Seattle’s potential and for those who are hoping to create and invent new possibilities in the field to consider making Seattle their creative nucleus. More than anything else, the city’s human capital is especially well suited for this type of work, making it a perfect place for innovators, dreamers, and hard workers to create the next big change in healthcare.
Density matters. Seattle is compressed between Lake Washington on the east and Puget Sound, making it a walkable downtown, similar in that respect to San Francisco and New York City, only smaller. The high technology companies east-of-Lake-Washington in the communities of Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond are within a 30-40 minute bus ride from downtown Seattle of the U District.
Considering Making a Move to a Health Innovation Capital?
Seattle’s health startup community has access to world-class human talent in one of the major hubs of technology and health innovation. If you are looking for a way to share new and big ideas with other like-minded individuals, consider the Emerald City. Our next blog posts in this series will compare the health institutions in the area with other cities, and the culture of innovation.
Angela Hong, CEO Healthy Beeps
Ed Butler, CEO, Videris Health