It’s no secret that entrepreneurs are the rock stars of our current times and the pathway to economic recovery and prosperity down the road.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for most of my adult life. I started two companies, two nonprofits and still can’t shake that entrepreneurial bug as I direct small business programs for the state. I truly believe that nearly everyone has the ability to follow their dreams of owning and operating a successful small business.

Even in these challenging times, new business starts are up in Washington, and the entrepreneurial spirit that has defined this state since its earliest days is alive and well.

A good example is Canlis at the foot of Aurora Bridge. When the pandemic struck, Mark and Brian Canlis pivoted their luxurious dining experience at the foot of the Aurora Bridge in Seattle. They wanted to keep their team busy and intact as much as possible, and their bread and butter, decadent dinners, wasn’t going to cut it in a socially distanced world.

So the brothers opened a drive-thru burger joint at one point, then a drive-in theater in their parking lot during the summer. Their latest pivot – and their 10th idea – is Canlis Community College, a full-blown community college experience right down to a school store filled with college apparel. Within two weeks, they had 12,000 students enrolled at $25 each. While the numbers themselves are impressive – $300,000 in new revenue with a large portion donated to Farestart –  it’s the can-do spirit of this third-generation family business that’s truly inspiring.

Their continual pivots are the very embodiment of what it means to be an entrepreneur. Being in business requires you to continually reinvent to stay relevant. Times change, customer preferences change, and entire markets change. It’s the nature of the beast, whether you’ve been in business 60 minutes or 60 years. Entrepreneurship is a skill you need to master and continue to embrace throughout your years of business ownership.

It’s Global Entrepreneurship Month!

Every year, we celebrate entrepreneurship in Washington by hosting Global Entrepreneurship Month (GEM). Until this year, GEM meant several hundred in-person events residents would attend in their communities. But given safe start guidelines and a global pandemic, we needed to practice what we preach and rethink what we were going to do this year.

The answer is an exceptional lineup of interactive online webinars featuring experts in marketing, financing, business operations, exporting and more. Almost 50 live events, and numerous on-demand taped sessions.

Throughout the month, you’ll have the chance to master the skills all entrepreneurs need from well-known experts in their respective fields. All the sessions are offered at no cost to Washington residents. At the Department of Commerce, we believe you should be putting your money toward starting and building your business in these exceptional times, not on training and education.

Welcome to our new Entrepreneur Academy

But why stop there? Back in March, we knew entrepreneurship would be more important than ever as we navigated the pandemic and looked to economic recovery. So we started work on two new skill-building academies. First out of the gate is the new Entrepreneur Academy, which brings together 11 different experts to provide would-be entrepreneurs with the education and insights needed to start a business.

Each session includes a video lesson from one of our subject matter experts, an online and downloadable workbook, self-guided assignments and a quiz. You can attend the academy at any hour of the day or any day of the week. It is always open and at no cost to residents. As we go forward, we hope to add additional lessons to the course list as our “student body” identifies additional learning opportunities.

Current subjects include how to turn an idea into business, a look at the idea of social purpose corporations, how to use a business canvas to rapidly prototype your business ideas, choosing the right business structure, marketing on a shoestring, building an efficient supply chain and how to avoid common mistakes.

You might have noticed that we mentioned two academies. Recently, we began work on what we call Restart Academy, which will teach seasoned business pros the skills needed to restart their business or start an entirely new enterprise in the months and years ahead. Tentative subjects include safeguarding public health and building trust, hiring the best employees, using technology to create operational efficiencies and opportunities, and how to stay mentally fit while starting over. You can expect more on the Restart Academy in the spring.

Room to grow.

Of course, these are just our newest programs and tools designed specifically for entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. You can find more of resources at, including our popular SizeUp tool that allows you to run various financial scenarios, research competitors and assess markets; our Small Business Playbook, which is a nuts and bolts guide to starting and running a business; and linked resources for women, veteran and minority-owned businesses.

As your business grows, MyStartup365 grows with you, giving you access to our highly acclaimed ScaleUp program, which is geared toward “mom and pop” businesses that have a year or two under their belt. Washington Peerspectives is a facilitated business leader roundtable that allows CEOs to discuss issues of interest and share best practices, And Thrive! is for growing second-stage businesses that are on the verge of exporting, seeking investment or open to merger or acquisition with just a little extra help.

So what are you waiting for?

If you’ve always wanted to start a business, now is a great time. As the economy begins to turn the corner, new opportunities will arise as never before. Nothing is more satisfying than being your own boss. I would know. I did it for 20 years before joining the state so that I could help others realize their dreams of starting, owning and operating a small business. It’s one the most satisfying things I’ve done in my professional career.

North of Seattle, hunkered in for the beginning of winter, visions of startups dancing in my head,

  • Robb