Skip to main content
Business Profile

Innovation Collective

To meet Nick Smoot at Innovation Collective’s coworking space in downtown Coeur d’Alene is to understand his team’s vision for what it means to work.

You’re not sitting. You’re not bored. You’re not clicking through spreadsheets or documents or presentation slides. You’re moving and thinking and dreaming at Smoot’s pace and scale — or at least you’re trying to keep up.

It’s not easy, because there’s a lot going on. Smoot’s strong conviction is that every community already has what it needs — in its people, its history, its resources — to transform itself into a startup hub. In Coeur d’Alene, Innovation Collective has been hard at work to catalyze a future in robotics and artificial intelligence, building on the Lake City’s strengths in those areas to create a new economic pillar in tech for a city currently built around tourism, real estate, and healthcare.

Smoot’s perspective comes from his early-career experiences living and launching tech companies around the US. After learning the ins and outs of startup culture in New York, San Francisco, LA, and Philadelphia, he has returned home to do some moving and shaking here in the Inland Northwest.

“My wife and I are both from here, and years ago, when we visited, we noticed that there is sort of a missing person in this economy,” he says. “It’s the 25-to-40-year-old entrepreneur who is really excited to be building something of value and significance. If you don’t have a critical mass of that person, it’s not that it’s a bad economy; it’s just that you’re missing out on a lot of impact and energy, now and into the future.”

So, since 2013, Innovation Collective has been trying to bring that person out of the woodwork. Its crown jewel is the annual Think Big Festival, held each August. This year featured titans of tech, a concert, comedy, pub crawls, futurism, the godfather of private space travel, and a robotics carnival, just to give a sampling. But year-round, IC is hard at work rebranding the economy with robotics/AI in mind. Smoot and his team works on things like local legislation to give robots equal-to-human rights on public property. They import experts here for all kinds of smaller public and private events (the idea is to encourage these visitors to move permanently). And they activate entrepreneurs through learning-based events, book clubs, multiple buildings and workspaces, private clubhouses (for late-night creativity and fun social gatherings), and connections with world-renowned experts, universities, corporations, other successful startups, and investment capital.

Smoot tells the story of Kenneth Tyler from Continuous Composites, a young local entrepreneur who stumbled upon one of IC’s “Coffee and Concepts” meetings. He was nearly ready to completely abandon his tech startup idea when the IC community gave him just a spark of hope, along with some space and introductions to help him get past the initial roadblocks. Now, two years later, after a bit of incubation from IC and a lot of hard work, Tyler and his team have the world’s fastest 3D printer. And of course, that’s getting them (and Coeur d’Alene) attention in a very competitive, futuristic industry.

The frenetic visit with Smoot is rounded out by a walk-through of a giant old building that Innovation Collective has recently purchased. It is infectious to try to see the space from his perspective, to envision the future industries that will inhabit the cavernous space, the conversations and mergers and product ideas that will unfold between these walls. And based on what Innovation Collective has done in its first couple years, you won’t want to bet against them.