Back to Top
Illustration by Jorgen Burt

2018 IDEA Awards

Jump To:
  1. Standout Startup
  2. Most Philanthropic
  3. Legacy Business of the Year
  4. Entrepreneur of the Year
  5. Most Innovative Company
  6. Best Office Space
  7. CEO of the Year
  8. Best Marketing Campaign

Each year, 425 Business reports on countless corporations, small businesses, and individuals that are doing great things in our region and beyond. However, we wanted to find the very best, so we let our readers help us decide. Over the course of several months, you told us about your favorite marketing campaigns and office spaces. You shared your startup stories and recounted august family histories. You touted that your company had the best founder, CEO, or charitable-giving program. Then we debated and scored. Now, we present the winners of our 2018 IDEA (Innovation, Distinction, Excellence, and Achievement) Awards.

by Parker Barry, Zoe Branch, Joanna Kresge, Todd Matthews, and Melissa McCarthy

Standout Startup

Winner

Washington Technology University

WTU

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Stories about software startups are a dime a dozen, especially on the Eastside, but who has ever heard of a startup university? Well, Bellevue-based Washington Technology University is one, and has helped break the startup mold.

Beginning in February 2017, this university started offering Bachelor of Science in Information Security degrees to give upper-division transfer students in Washington the opportunity to enter the local tech industry. There are 700,000 adults in Washington who either have their associate degree or have completed some credits toward a bachelor’s, and there are 20,000 new jobs created by Washington-based tech companies each year. The majority of these jobs require a tech-related bachelor’s degree, and 90 percent of them also are being filled by applicants educated out of state.

Washington Technology University’s president, Steven Olswang, and founder Charles Hou had identified a conundrum while both were working for the University of Washington — there aren’t enough in-state programs in technology fields — and solved it by creating a school that is affordable, accessible, and efficient. The founders additionally recognized that most students also work or have family obligations, so they ensured classes were offered both onsite and online. The program lasts 18 consecutive months in order to get applicants from the classroom to the workplace as efficiently as possible. — ZB

 

Runner-up

Element Data

Element Data

Courtesy Element Data

Bellevue-based and founded in 2016, Element Data wants virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa to be able to help people arrive at better, more nuanced decisions: Should I buy or rent a house? Should I move to Arizona or California? Should I get a master’s degree? Its platform, Decision Cloud, helps people and companies do just that by using machines to analyze options, criteria, and trade-offs.

“We are about improving the decision-making process,” said Cyrus Krohn, co-founder and COO. “Human decision-making is messy. We let emotion get in the way. As we further develop our platform that enables more data analysis to help inform a choice of outcomes, (we can) help an individual or a company be more confident in their decision-making.”

This process was put to the test when the company was looking to relocate from its original downtown Seattle location: its own technology helped weigh factors that led it to decide to move to the Eastside.

The startup also is committed to diversity and inclusion, which is apparent when looking at the employees. Twenty-two percent of Element Data’s senior executive team is made up of people who identify as minorities, and 53 percent of the company’s engineering team is female. — ZB

 

Runner-up

Pivotal Commware

Pivotal Commware

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Kirkland-based Pivotal Commware is the creator of Holographic Beam Forming, a new technology that expands the capacity and efficiency of 4G and 5G networks. Wireless data is being consumed at an increasingly rapid rate, and this technology, considered a breakthrough in electromagnetic physics, meets the challenges put forward by this high demand.

Holographic Beam Forming increases spectrum efficiency by focusing radio signals where they are needed most, like spotlights in a theater. It also provides the lowest cost, size, weight, and power solution available.

One of Pivotal’s products, the Echo 5G, is a low-profile and lightweight beamforming repeater that helps mobile operators provide strong wireless internet signals to homes and businesses over long distances. This technology is innovative because energy-efficient windows in homes and buildings are better at blocking the sun’s rays, which means they also are blocking telecommunication signals. The Echo 5G product acts as a portal to amplify beams of telecommunication signals through glass, which in turn allows for superior service to more subscribers at a lower cost to telecommunication service providers, according to Kent Lundgren, vice president of marketing and sales. — ZB

 

 

Most Philanthropic

Winner

MOD Pizza

MOD Pizza

Photo by Rodrigo DeMedeiros

MOD Pizza founders Scott and Ally Svenson describe the national fast-casual pizza restaurant chain as “a business with the heart of a nonprofit.” This is because the company is committed to giving back to the local communities in which the business’ hundreds of locations operate. A runner-up for Most Philanthropic in 2017, MOD Pizza supports a variety of charities each year, many of which focus on helping youth and families.

One way the company raises money for these charities is through its annual Spreading MODness Week. Each November, the Bellevue-based restaurant donates $1 to a local organization for every pizza sold. MOD Pizza also gives back in less obvious ways — for example, it provides employment opportunities to people with disabilities, disengaged youth, and the formerly incarcerated.

“We believe that by offering stable jobs and benefits to these populations, we are helping to stabilize our communities,” Ally Svenson said. “We want to engage and inspire as many people as possible, proving that together we can build a wildly successful business by putting people first.” — ZB

 

Runner-up

Mox Boarding House

MOX Boarding House

Photo by Rodrigo DeMedeiros

After a surprisingly successful giving tree was set up in the gaming store’s Seattle location in 2012, Lyla Ross proposed a more formal charity program. This program, called ENGAGE, became a reality in 2013, and every quarter, the company donates games to local charities, provides meeting space for nonprofits, and organizes donation drives.

Every year since, ENGAGE has hosted The Gauntlet, a day of board-game playing and charitable giving at Mox Boarding House’s Bellevue location. Twenty teams, each made up of four people, have six weeks to fundraise before the tournament. The more money a team raises, the more advantages it gets come game day.

“I hoped it would be a fun thing and that our friends would want to be a part of it,” Ross said. “But it has really become a thing that people in our industry are interested in doing.”

The fun, competitive nature of the philanthropic event has proven effective: Since its inception, local companies and gaming organizations have raised over $400,000 for local nonprofits like Hopelink, Youthcare, Treehouse, and Wellspring Family Services. — ZB

 

Runner-up

Overlake Medical Center and Clinics

Overlake

Courtesy Overlake

Overlake has served the Eastside since 1960 and always has been committed to treating every patient, regardless of socioeconomics. “We don’t turn anybody away (because) we believe in equity of care for everyone we can help,” said Dr. Tom Miller, director of medical quality and safety.

In fiscal year 2018, Overlake provided more than $7 million in outright charity care for patients who had no health insurance, were underinsured, or couldn’t meet deductibles.

Giving back isn’t always monetary. Overlake offers translation services in more than 60 languages, and employees across the organization also collect clothing for homeless or needy patients upon discharge. Medical providers frequently get out into schools and community groups to speak about health topics. If one were to monetize Overlake’s charitable impact, the total would come to more than $28 million for fiscal year 2018.

COO Tom DeBord, who leads Overlake’s team for the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk each year, said, “The people that work in healthcare are here because they want to make a difference in people’s health. Giving back to the community as part of their service makes perfect sense.” — ZB

 

 

Legacy Business of the Year

Winner

Rowley Properties

Rowley Properties

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Few family businesses have deeper connections to their communities than does Issaquah-based real estate development company Rowley Properties.

What started in the 1950s with George Rowley and his acquisition of farmland has grown into a company that now employs approximately two dozen people and owns 80 acres of property in Issaquah, on which sit two hotels, 65 buildings, and just under 1 million square feet of commercial space.

Along the way, generations of Rowleys have worked at the company. Rowley’s son, George Jr., worked alongside his father for decades before he was named company CEO in 1989, in the process becoming a popular presence in town: Friends call him “Skip”; longtime locals fondly refer to him as “Mr. Issaquah.”

Skip’s daughter, Kari Magill, joined the company 25 years ago — starting in the Human Resources department, learning every aspect of the business, and succeeding her father as CEO in 2008.

“The odds of a company succeeding after three generations is small,” Magill said. “It’s special.”

What is the secret to Rowley Properties’ longevity?

“We know this community better than other developers,” she added. “That gives us an edge.” — TM

 

Runner-up

Bellevue Rare Coins

Bellevue Rare Coins

Photo by Jeff Hobson

“My dad had an ability to negotiate, make deals, and make money at will,” said Bellevue Rare Coins CEO Eric Hoolahan, whose father, Patrick, started the business out of a small coin shop in West Seattle some 40 years ago. “You could drop him in any town, any city, anywhere, and he was going to find a way to make some money. He had that capability.”

The company remains a family operation. Eric’s brothers, Daniel and Ryan, are COO and CFO, respectively. Eric’s sister, Angela, is the company’s bullion manager and jewelry specialist.

Bellevue Rare Coins now operates stores in downtown Bellevue, Issaquah, Lynnwood, and West Seattle, and employs approximately 40 people. If you haven’t visited one of their stores, surely you have heard one of their radio ads or seen their billboards, which are ubiquitous in the Puget Sound region.

Still, the company is true to its roots as a small coin shop with decades of local business history.

“My dad used to say, ‘Make money in your business; lose money in someone else’s,’” Hoolahan explained. “We want to continue to (operate) in the business that we know.” — TM

 

Runner-up

SanMar

SanMar

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Consider for a moment your favorite Eddie Bauer fleece sweater, that puffy North Face jacket that keeps you warm on ski trips, or maybe that brightly colored Nike polo shirt you wear while golfing. All of that clothing is the result of Issaquah-based SanMar, a leading manufacturer and wholesaler of activewear and apparel distributed throughout the world.

What was started by 22-year-old Marty Lott as a nascent T-shirt company out of the basement of his parents’ Seattle home in 1971 has grown to become the largest supplier of imprinted apparel in the United States. Today, SanMar employs more than 4,000 people and operates eight distribution centers throughout the United States.

Still, SanMar hasn’t forgotten its early roots as a small operation running out of the Lott family home. Owner and CEO Marty Lott still runs the company alongside his sons, Jeremy and Jordan.

“I’m proud of our family roots, and the family-focused company SanMar remains today,” said SanMar co-owner and president Jeremy Lott. “I take great pride in working alongside my father, my brother, and all SanMar employees to build a company that our children and our children’s children will be proud of.” — TM

 

 

Entrepreneur of the Year

Winner

Jens Quistgaard, Mirabilis Medical

Jens Quistgaard

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Some of the most impressive entrepreneurs started their businesses in garages or basements: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs — and the same is true for serial entrepreneur Jens Quistgaard.

One of the many ultrasound companies Quistaard founded, Liposonix, began in his Bothell basement before it was acquired by a pharmaceutical company. In fact, Quistgaard co-founded a string of diagnostic ultrasound companies, all located in Bothell. Among his many successful startups, SonoSite — which developed hand-carried ultrasound devices useful to first responders and medical professionals working in developing countries, refugee camps, and natural disaster zones — was one of the most notable.

Today, Quistgaard said Bothell, which he refers to as, “the unsung ultrasound capital of the universe,” is his forever home, but that wasn’t always the case. The serial entrepreneur grew up in Port Angeles and later attended Stanford University for his undergraduate degree before returning home to earn his master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Washington.

Now, Quistgaard serves as the CEO of Mirabilis Medical, the developer of a therapeutic ultrasound system used to detect and treat uterine fibroids. Quistgaard and his team are making advances in this technology, as well as in surgical navigation.

“I’m an engineer,” Quistgaard said. “For me, an essential element is to find an idea that is useful and be passionate about it.” — MM

 

Runner-up

Kevin Goodwin, Echonous

Kevin Goodwin

Courtesy Echonous

Kevin Goodwin lives life by one entrepreneurial motto: “You have to innovate for the world on behalf of the world. You can’t just innovate internally. That gets you nowhere.” For Goodwin, a Chicago native and 30-year healthcare industry veteran, global innovation means developing intelligent medical sonography equipment.

As CEO of Bothell-based SonoSite, he oversaw the company’s production of a portable, hand-held ultrasound device. Today, Goodwin is the co-founder and CEO of Redmond-based EchoNous, a company that specializes in combining miniaturized ultrasound and Artificial Intelligence technologies to solve everyday problems in healthcare.

“A segment of the healthcare industry that holds immense opportunity to apply AI and machine learning is ultrasound,” said Goodwin. “It’s ripe for innovation.”

EchoNous’ Uscan, a portable bladder-scanning device released in late 2016, is used by more than 20 percent of healthcare systems in the United States, according to Goodwin. Project Thor, the company’s latest endeavor, aims to improve care for individuals who suffer from cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. “This is what gets me up in the morning,” Goodwin said of Project Thor. “This is something substantial.” — MM

 

Runner-up

Brian Simmons, Scotsman Guide

Brian Simmons

Photo by Michael Nunes

Brian Simmons has spent roughly 20 years working in the real estate and finance industry helping foster and develop the success of his family’s business-to-business real estate publication, Scotsman Guide, as the CEO. So, it wasn’t until he needed a mortgage lender for a foreclosed property investment in Arizona that he realized how difficult it can be to find the right lender.

He spent three years studying every possible loan scenario in the United States and identified 6,000 underwriting variables. From there, in November 2017, he launched a lender search called Ask A Lender — which now operates within the umbrella of the Scotsman Guide website — that allows people to search for the type of loan needed, and then matches them with lenders that can expertly execute their loan. It also helps people shop around for the best rate, Simmons said. If deal-hunting consumers are willing to seek out the most affordable products at the grocery store, then why wouldn’t they want to shop around for the best loan rate?

“If you asked me what the growth potential for Scotsman Guide was a few years ago, I would have said there was none,” Simmons said. “(With Ask A Lender) I’ve learned new digital marketing techniques, it’s given me a fresh outlook, and I’m bringing those techniques and strategies back to Scotsman Guide.”— MM

 

 

Most Innovative Company

Winner

Textio

Textio

Linda Brooks for Textio

When was the last time you wrote to someone who didn’t answer? An e-mail, a job posting, or any other digitally produced written message may not incite a response, but it could be processed through Textio to improve communication outcomes.

Textio is an augmented writing software that relies on data to uncover patterns and make suggestions for maximum effectiveness and inclusivity in written correspondence. Right now, its primary function is in job recruitment, but co-founder and CEO Kieran Snyder said an aggressive model is in place to make Textio accessible in all kinds of writing in the next 12 to 18 months.

“We take innovation very seriously,” Snyder said. “We’re inventing something that hasn’t been invented before, a new way of writing.” Textio’s staff is about 50 percent female and 30 percent African American or Latinx, which is uncommon for a tech business. Snyder said the diversity of the team has been essential to the company. — MM

 

Runner-up

Echodyne

Echodyne

Courtesy Echodyne

Backed by tech investment heavyweights Bill Gates, Vulcan Capital, and Madrona Venture Group, Bellevue-based Echodyne is bringing to the mainstream phased array radar technology found in military fighter jets and missile defense systems.

“Our big innovation is the equivalent of phased array radars at commercial price points for the first time, which is critical for this autonomous machine age,” said Echodyne CEO Eben Frankenberg. Echodyne’s patented, high-performance radar sensors mimic human perception and aim to help drones, vehicles, and heavy machinery operate autonomously.

As interest in self-driving vehicles grows, Echodyne, a spinoff of Intellectual Ventures in Eastgate, scored $15 million in funding when it launched in 2014, and another $29 million more last year.

When will we see local highways filled with autonomous vehicles equipped with Echodyne’s radars?

“There’s a whole lot of science and technology before that’s going to happen,” said Leo McCloskey, Echodyne’s vice president of marketing. “But we think our radar is going to be a huge step forward.” — MM

 

Runner-up

Mylio

Mylio

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Before you dismiss Mylio as just one more image app in an already-crowded marketplace, David Vaskevitch, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft, and Mylio’s founder, wants you to hear his pitch.

“Our motto is, ‘Changing the way the world remembers,’” Vaskevitch said. “The central thing that Mylio has solved is how to organize the memories of a lifetime.”

Founded in 2012, Mylio stores photos, videos, scanned documents, and other materials between your devices, all without the cloud or an internet connection. What’s more, the company’s proprietary compression technology doesn’t strain your device’s storage capacity or compromise image quality.

Mylio is up and running with 10,000 users and growing.

“I’m as excited about Mylio itself as I ever was,” said Vaskevitch. — MM

 

 

Best Office Space

Winner

Sucker Punch Productions

Suckerpunch Productions

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Bellevue-based Sucker Punch Productions has developed video games since 1997, when it split from Microsoft and debuted its first game, Rocket: Robot on Wheels for Nintendo 64 two years later. The company was then taken over by Sony in 2011 and has since been pumping out games like Infamous Second Son and Ghost of Tsushima for the PS4.

Designed by JPC Architects, the offices of Sucker Punch mimic the vibrant and arresting video games created within it. Colorful neon lights and props from various video games dot the office. The space combines industrial chic with classic European accents, and electric blue French doors line the offices to let in natural light.

“My immediate judgment was that I would maintain the jovial sense of garage band but elevate the design to something more (akin to) a record label. A place for gamers to be inspired,” said Sonia Jackson, director of operations.

In addition to ambience, Sucker Punch provides weekly figure-drawing sessions and a free membership to 929 Gym, providing the perfect creative and physical outlets to keep creative juices flowing. — PB

 

Runner-up

GoDaddy

GoDaddy

Photo by Rachel Coward

GoDaddy is an internet domain registrar and web-hosting company headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. It has more than 13 million users around the world and 61 million domain names, but the company’s office domain in Kirkland is the best of them all.

GoDaddy’s office is not only beautifully designed with mid century-modern furniture thanks to Bellevue-based JPC Architects, but it also is overflowing with perks. From the classic tech company ping-pong table to beer always available on tap, GoDaddy lets its employees play as hard as they work. And let’s not forget GoDaddy’s candy and snack supply which would impress Willy Wonka himself.

The amenities are great at the GoDaddy office, but so are the views. “The GoDaddy Kirkland office, located on the shores of Lake Washington, offers our employees the opportunity to work in a beautiful environment, delivering innovative solutions and experiences for our customers around the world,” James Carroll, chief platform and globalization officer at GoDaddy, said. In fact, many of the company’s employees make use of nearby boat mooring in order to avoid a land-based commute. — PB

 

Runner-up

Edifecs

Edifecs

Photo by Rachel Coward

Inside the JPC Architects-designed Bellevue offices of this healthcare software company, the leadership team utilizes the building’s unique attributes to provide extensive amenities to not only boost the morale but also the health and wellness of its employees.

Some of the perks that Edifecs provides for its employees are an in-house personal trainer, over 30 hours of fitness classes, and even fresh-squeezed orange juice. Edifecs also offers nutritional counseling for its employees so they can be happy and healthy.

In addition to improving the health of its employees and its clients, Edifecs also is committed to improving the planet. One of the company’s most beloved features is its plant wall that contains more than 600 plants — that’s almost one plant per employee — which improves air quality and actually reduces energy by acting as insulation in the winter, and cooling through a process called evapotranspiration in the summer.

Moreover, the floor in the company gym is entirely made out of old Nike shoes, and Edifecs’ composting program yielded 154 cubic yards of compost in the first year. In that same vein, employees can save carbon emissions by walking or biking the trail surrounding the office or even commute by kayak to work. — PB

 

 

CEO of the Year

Winner

J. Michael Marsh, Overlake Medical Center and Clinics

J Michael Marsh

Photo by Jeff Hobson

One doesn’t spend three decades in a career field unless he is passionate about the work that he is doing. This is particularly true for J. Michael Marsh of Overlake Medical Center and Clinics.

“There is a commonality and authenticity in the healthcare field; that is really what attracted me to it more than three decades ago,” Marsh said. “This industry attracts bright, well-intentioned individuals with a passion for caring for others.”

Before coming to Overlake, Marsh obtained a master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Washington as one of the first graduates of its executive curriculum MHA degree. Afterwards, Marsh spent the following 26 years at Providence Health and Services.

Since coming to Overlake in 2014, Marsh has stood at the helm of the hospital’s transformation, including the opening of the hospital’s new $20 million cancer center last year. Additionally, Marsh and Overlake are poised to complete a $270 million, three-phase campus expansion dubbed FutureCare, which, when completed, will include a new 240,000-square-foot, five-story inpatient tower.

When Marsh, who is now president and CEO, is not working to make healthcare more accessible to Eastside families, the Bellevue resident is active on several boards, including the Washington State Hospital Association, First Choice Health Network, and the Eastside Health Alliance. — PB

 

Runner-up

Jessie Woolley-Wilson, DreamBox Learning

Jessie Wooley-Wilson

Photo by Rachel Coward

The role of technology in education has become more and more prominent. DreamBox CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson believes that all students should have access to these new educational tools.

Through her work with DreamBox, Woolley-Wilson interacts with more than 3 million students from kindergarten through eighth grade, their parents, school administrators, and more than 120,000 teachers to provide a fun and engaging learning experience.

“At DreamBox, we believe in benevolent friction — the concept of being hard on ideas, but soft on people. We believe that big ideas come from open and challenging dialogue,” Woolley-Wilson said.

Woolley-Wilson has an MBA from Harvard Business School and originally started out on Wall Street. But her passion for education put her on a different path.

“If you follow your passion, even when the work is hard and the prospects for success are uncertain, you will grow and learn and get stronger,” Woolley-Wilson said. — PB

 

Runner-up

Geeman Yip, BitTitan

Geeman Yip

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Technology startups are notoriously turbulent, but BitTitan CEO Geeman Yip stuck with his dream until it was realized. Founded in 2007, the cloud startup has grown to over 200 employees and has helped more than 30,000 organizations utilize IT services to 6.5 million employees in more than 150 countries.

Yip set out to provide free cloud storage, connect applications over the cloud, and create a great place to work. Back in 2007, the market was just barely beginning to explore cloud storage, but he kept taking his product to investors until he gained the resources he needed to build his company.

After leaving Microsoft because he felt he had lost the fun in his position, he wanted to foster a work environment that encouraged happy moments. Now, as CEO, he makes a daily effort to bring smiles to the workplace. — PB

 

 

Best Marketing Campaign

Winner

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines

Courtesy Alaska Airlines

There’s likely a myriad of reasons so many local travelers choose Alaska Airlines as their carrier of choice.

It could be that it serves more than 115 locales with close to 1,200 daily flights. It could be hometown brand loyalty; despite its name, the company is headquartered right here and has been serving Sea-Tac International Airport since 1951. Or it could just be that travelers love its Starbucks Coffee, in-seat USB chargers, and locally sourced fruit and cheese platters.

However, it seems our readers are driven by the company’s efforts to better the community and ultimately use that spirit to drive its marketing, particularly through its social media channels.

Notable campaigns include Flight 35, during which Alaska Airlines partnered with Nike and NBA star Kevin Durant to escort California-based youth basketball teams to a Las Vegas tournament and outfit them for the game. Then there’s Alaska’s sponsorship and overwhelming support for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in July, when employees showed up in droves to cheer on participants at almost every event. And, earlier in the year, a community-focused mural was painted in Tacoma thanks to a partnership between Alaska Airlines, The M Agency, and co-working space The Union Club.

And, of course, who could forget Alaska’s CFO (Chief Football Officer) Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, whose personal motto, “Dream big, fly high,” is right in line with Alaska’s brand. Together, Alaska and Wilson have worked to fight childhood cancer and mentor youth in the community. — JK

 

Runner-up

Sound Transit

Sound Transit

Photo by David Wilson via Creative Commons

There’s little doubt that Sound Transit’s East Link light rail project will make the Eastside more accessible than ever upon completion in 2023. After all, the 14-mile, 10-station extension will connect Eastsiders to the rest of the region and even transport them to Sea-Tac International Airport in less than an hour.

However, where expansion occurs, growing pains inevitably follow. In the case of East Link, these growing pains manifest in the businesses directly surrounding construction. In order to help with this conundrum and foster local business relations, the marketing experts at Sound Transit, led by Marketing Promotions Lead Kathryn Van Sanden, produced an internal campaign dubbed “Loyal to the Local.”

The campaign was designed to encourage locals to patronize the shops, restaurants, and services directly impacted by the construction, particularly in the Bel-Red neighborhood in Bellevue. Businesses like Bespoke Tailor, Caspian Restaurant, and Ultimate Salons Studio were featured prominently to show that businesses are still open and active despite construction.

Consumers who want to stay “Loyal to the Local” need only consult Sound Transit’s website for a list of the more than 100 businesses impacted by the construction. — JK

 

Runner-up

Columbia Bank

Columbia Bank

Courtesy Columbia Bank

When locals think about Columbia Bank, there’s often one visual that trumps all others: the blue couch.

That stylish, plush, indigo loveseat has become almost synonymous with the brand and is featured in much of its online, television, and print advertising. The couch is so iconic, Columbia Bank produced radio ads that provoke the listener to conjure the couch’s image in their minds.

The folks at Columbia Bank freely admit the inception of the blue couch is due in large part to the creative minds at Seattle-based marketing agency Green Rubino. In fact, the relationship between the two businesses began more than 20 years ago, before the bank had even opened its doors.

“It’s (Columbia Bank’s) customers who best tell the true story of this down-to-earth, community bank. So we came up with an iconic blue couch for them to get comfy on and tell their stories in some unexpected locations,” reads a page on Green Rubino’s website detailing the partnership and the beginning of the famed couch.

The resulting unscripted blue-couch commercials — with subjects as varied as pediatric dentists, visual effects designers, and farmers — puts the focus on the relationships the bank builds with its customers in the community. — JK