A Chat with Susan Sigl, Incoming CEO of Washington Technology Industry Association

By now, you may have heard that Susan Sigl has been named as the successor to Ken Myer as head of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA). This is one of the largest trade associations in the U.S., representing 1,000 members and some 125,000 employees in the technology sector.

This morning, I had a chat with Sigl, who officially starts her new job as WTIA’s chief executive on April 5. I wanted to hear about how her venture capital experience, among other points of interest in her diverse background, affects her goals and her mission with WTIA—and what she sees as the organization’s biggest challenge in the near-term.

First, a little more background: Sigl is the co-founder of Seattle-based SeaPoint Ventures (together with VC Tom Huseby), and she has supported early-stage companies such as SnapIn Software, Zumobi, and most recently, Ground Truth, in the mobile and wireless sector. She started her career at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Houston, TX, and worked for 18 years at private companies in the oil and gas and real estate industries in Houston and Seattle, before helping start SeaPoint in 1997. She is a University of Washington alum and is active with various business and entrepreneurship groups around town.

Sigl says she was approached about the job by a WTIA board member in January. She hadn’t been involved with the organization in the past three or four years, but was curious and became more and more intrigued as she thought about it. “What really grabbed me was the mission,” she says. That means helping technology companies in Washington state, providing advocacy, and addressing broader issues like public education. “It’s the perfect intersection of where I am in my career and my personal passions,” Sigl says.

SeaPoint Ventures is in the process of winding down its funds, she says. Its first fund will finish at the end of this year, and its second fund will come to an end in 2011. Sigl will remain an advisor to the venture firm, but she says WTIA will be her “full focus.”

So how does her VC experience translate to WTIA? Sigl was quick to point out that the organization will not be shifting its focus to early-stage companies and entrepreneurs at the expense of more established companies. “Just having this innate experience and understanding of how challenging it is to form, grow, and sustain a company is part of what I’ll bring to the table,” she says. She adds that her fundraising experience as a VC will help too. “I’m hoping those skills transfer to broadening our sponsorships and our membership,” she says.

Sigl sees her main challenge as “continuing the mission to be the larger voice for the technology sector and public advocacy.” That means helping to create and sustain a strong ecosystem for tech companies in the state, and helping Washington companies be more competitive with those in other states, as well as globally. Some of that will boil down to policy and how Washington state chooses to close its budget gap. “The real question,” she says, “is how does the technology industry influence that so that [Olympia] remains complementary to our business environment?” (See Ken Myer’s recent argument against a proposed new tax scheme.)

Whatever progress she makes on that front, Sigl’s chief focus will be serving the massive constituency of tech companies in the state. “Just the opportunity to work with the people in the technology sector on such a large scale is incredibly exciting,” she says.

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