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Gold: Seattle's Once and Future Element of Innovation | Kaj PedersenBy Kaj Pedersen, Global Head of Operations 

Innovation in Seattle has golden origins, upon which Xinova is proud to continue. Xinova is headquartered in the heart of Pioneer Square, on Occidental Mall, the crucible of Seattle’s thriving startup scene—and in the same brick structures that served as the commercial hub for provisioning Klondike Gold Rush prospectors from 1896-1898. Gold fever ignited an enduring culture of innovation in the Pacific Northwest, setting off a continuum of innovation inflection points–including Nordstrom’s retail renaissance, Boeing’s aerospace revolution, Starbucks’ coffee culture reinvention, the grunge music phenomenon and, perhaps most famously, the multiple tech booms spanning Microsoft in the 1990s to the one of today that Xinova is helping define. A 1997 Economist article reported that Seattle distinctively supports “standard-setters in their businesses” in a city “remarkable for its golden touch.” In terms of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, the Emerald City is, has been, and will continue to be pure AU.

Xinova is headquartered in the heart of Pioneer Square

The elements of innovation are ubiquitous

In more literal terms, the elements of innovation driving today’s entrepreneurial gold rush are far more diverse. This being the UNESCO International Year of the Periodic Table–marking 150 years since Mendeleev’s momentous discovery in 1869–it’s a worthy time to consider how modern entrepreneurs tap the whole table of the elements in order to deliver impact with their businesses. Sharing in that idealism and utilizing those same elements of innovation, Xinova is striving to build the world’s first innovation market network. In the event you visit our office, you will notice the 3D display in our lobby showcasing all the elements of innovation and their practical uses in our world today. There’s a sense of wonder in beholding the elements’ ubiquity across the galaxy of innovation. 

And yet, it is not long before most of us settle our gaze on the element of gold, seduced by the allure of its color and value.  Beyond that primal draw, it is remarkable how crucial gold remains to many modern technologies, including the integrated circuits threaded throughout our personal and professional lives.  These integrated circuits enervate the heart of the silicon revolution that has driven the digital transformation’s massive changes, reverberating from their humble beginnings when Jack Kilby and Texas Instruments created the first integrated circuit in 1958.

Gold: Seattle's Once and Future Element of Innovation | Kaj PedersenThe digital transformation emerging from the integrated circuit’s creation represents the gold rush of modern times.  A combination of talent, technology and capital came together to drive innovation across the hardware and software frontiers that supports our commerce, communications and productivity today.  This advance of technology dramatically changed the way we interact with each other and the methods that we use to get things done around the globe.  In Seattle, this has led to a dramatic boom in our economy. Businesses have leveraged these changes to develop new services and solutions that touch every aspect of our lives in terms of shopping, delivery, banking and travel.  It is not hard to see the impact of innovation and its solutions that were wrought from the creation of the integrated circuit.

Golden echoes

What is fascinating is how the historical nuggets of Seattle’s world-class innovation culture shine especially bright from the Klondike gold rush period, which resulted in transformational growth for the city. Prospectors came through Seattle in droves, journeying to the Klondike region in pursuit of outrageous fortune from the gold fields.  The citizens of Seattle recognized local opportunity in those distant frontiers and organized and scaled their provision of gold-prospecting supplies and services.  The Seattle merchants and suppliers innovated upon the tools, clothing and methods (like the selling of mine claims) to optimize their services in meeting the gold prospectors’ needs.   

Gold: Seattle's Once and Future Element of Innovation | Kaj Pedersen

1st Ave S, Pioneer Square, in 1901. By Asahel Curtis – Asahel Curtis Photo Company Photographs, Public Domain,

These heady times included the building of the warehouses on Occidental Mall that house Xinova today.  The building was originally constructed in 1890, after the great fire in Seattle. The timing was fortuitous as the Klondike gold rush kicked off in 1896.  From the ashes, indeed.

In the short three years that followed, over 100,000 prospectors came through Seattle needing to purchase up to 12 months of supplies that would allow them to cross into Canada and on to the Klondike in search of their fortune.  It is not hard to imagine the talent, technologies and capital that was deployed into these ventures and the tremendous risk that was taken to strike it rich with a gold find.  Successful prospectors returned to Seattle and invested their fortunes into other businesses that changed the way customers were serviced.  Some are still with us today, including that of a scrappy Swedish immigrant prospector who overcame frostbite and many personal hardships to found Nordstrom, which continues to leverage innovations in delivering value to their customers.

And check out this gem of an anecdote from the National Park Service’s Hard Drive to the Klondike: Promoting Seattle During the Gold Rush, linking the “work hard, make better products, and win” philosophy of Microsoft’s Bill Gates to an unrelated gold miner by the same name from a century before.

“… Bill Gates has seen a connection between the gold rush and the development of the software industry. ‘The Internet,” he wrote in 1997, “is another case where people who are selling pans to the prospectors often will do better than the prospectors themselves. Analysts, the people who assemble trade shows, consultants, and others providing internet-related services may have a more sure-fire way of benefiting than the poor prospectors out there wielding picks and axes….’

“Interestingly, 100 years earlier a miner by the name of Swiftwater Bill Gates (no relation…) supposedly leaned from the window of a Seattle hotel, showering gold nuggets from the Klondike on the passersby below. The new “gold rush” of the 1990s has once again brought recognition and prosperity to Seattle.”

Today’s problems yield golden solutions

Today our understanding of innovation has expanded beyond the challenges that faced the Seattle merchants and Klondike gold prospectors at the turn of the century. But there is still a need to solve problems. And Seattle still sets itself apart with its risk-taking, innovative spirit. So, it is fitting that the historic space on Occidental Mall housing Xinova’s US operations enables us to pursue our ambition of delivering on the innovation market network for the benefit of technology, industry and people everywhere.  Like the merchants and suppliers of the gold rush era, the team at Xinova is building new methods and tools for collaboration so innovators everywhere can self-organize to create value from solving customers’ problems.

Gold: Seattle's Once and Future Element of Innovation | Kaj PedersenWe’re being recognized for our efforts. Xinova was featured this month in Built in Seattle’s 50 startups to watch for 2019. In the same month, we’ve debuted at 81 on the GeekWire 200, a ranked index of Pacific Northwest Startups featuring the most popular tech companies trending among online communities. It is an honor to be recognized alongside such a stellar collection of innovative difference-makers, and to contribute to the history and excellence of entrepreneurship in Seattle. 

Today, it is not gold that is driving our economic and technology booms (although golden integrated circuits still fuel it).  It is innovators of all kinds devoted to the borderless exchange of ideas, technology and capital. Innovators are seeking gold within the opportunities and rewards in solving the world’s problems.  Xinova’s market network aims to deliver on this vision by enabling innovators to communicate, learn, establish trusting relationships, creatively collaborate, effortlessly transact, and give and receive value.  This is why we are thrilled to be a part of Seattle’s rich heritage of driving change; and to be doing this in a building that has been witness to many of the City’s transformations for over a century.


Join us in celebrating the International Year of the Periodic Table in 2019!

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