Washington state Sen. Joe Nguyen speaks at a Seattle AI Week event on Monday at the Seattle NFT Museum. (GeekWire Photos / Taylor Soper)

Entrepreneurs building AI-fueled startups may soon have a new resource in Seattle, thanks to an effort from city and state leaders.

Earlier this year, Washington state lawmakers approved $800,000 in funding to the City of Seattle to lease space that would incubate tech startups — in particular those focused on artificial intelligence.

State Sen. Joe Nguyen, who helped spearhead the funding, spoke about the initiative during a panel discussion at a Seattle AI Week event on Monday, moderated by Boaz Ashkenazy, CEO of Simply Augmented and host of the Shift AI Podcast.

Nguyen said one idea is to have the University of Washington run an office where early stage startups could rent space, which could also host AI-related classes and other educational opportunities.

Another potential component is finding a way to provide computing resources — which are expensive — to help AI startups test and build their infrastructure.

Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the city and state on the initiative.

Nguyen said the broader purpose is to help boost Seattle as an AI hub and make it an attractive place for budding entrepreneurs.

“We’re connecting the dots between the public sector, private sector, academia, startups, and investors,” Nguyen told GeekWire.

The funding will be allocated over a two-year period, starting next month.

Sen. Joe Nguyen speaks on a panel with Ryan Harkins, senior director of public policy at Microsoft (center), and Oren Etzioni, former CEO of the Allen Institute for AI and founder of TrueMedia.

A new space could operate in conjunction with the UW’s CoMotion program, which already supports startups and technology commercialization. CoMotion operates co-working offices and incubators across the UW campus, just north of downtown Seattle.

Over the past several years, Seattle’s startup scene has lost a number of communities that catered to entrepreneurs and operated physical spaces, including the surprise departure of Techstars Seattle earlier this year. Some say these spaces are essential to help support entrepreneurs and the city’s startup climate.

Last year Seattle leaders released images created by AI of potential structures and communities that could mold the future of its downtown — including one that showed a makerspace concept.

GeekWire contributor Chuck Wolfe proposed an idea last year for an “Urban Innovation Lab” in Seattle that could spur entrepreneurship and boost downtown revitalization. There are similar “living lab” concepts in operation around the globe.

Nguyen noted that creating incubators or entrepreneurial hubs is not new, but the focus on AI and the partners involved makes this particular effort unique. “I don’t know of other ones approaching it like this — certainly not the way that we’re doing it,” he said.

Nguyen, a Democrat from West Seattle, spent nearly a decade at Microsoft before taking office in 2019. He has sponsored significant legislation addressing climate change and clean energy, facial recognition technology, and computer science education. He also sponsored a bill to create an AI Task Force that passed in March.

Nguyen was honored at the 2024 GeekWire Awards as this year’s Public Policy Champion for Innovation Award.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline

Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.