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Bringing Tech to Middle America

Bringing Tech to Middle America

There’s no escaping technology—it’s infiltrated our daily lives and how we work. And, to a degree, while there is a growing uncertainty and speculation about the future of jobs as technology grows more advanced, people and the community need to continue to educate themselves and how they fit into a changing workforce. To help, the Innovation Collective is there.

Nick Smoot, founder of the Innovation Collective, recognized that technology jobs were the most lucrative and also largely consolidated on either U.S. coast.

“The lower and middle classes don’t have as many opportunities to compete in the technological economy, which is eating every other economy; it’s everywhere,” he said. “How do we, in Middle America, participate in that?”

Smoot, a native of Northern Idaho, is an entrepreneur who has long been fascinated by mobile phones and the business opportunities that they present. He has started three tech companies but now is devoted fully to mentoring and expanding the Innovation Collective and managing Mountain Man Ventures, a venture capitalist firm. Between the two, he spends much of his time lending his expertise to advise startups and through coaching, mentoring and investing with individuals. Smoot’s goal is to help people attain the skills to remain relevant as the workforce transitions to a more technical arena.

The changing workforce and human flourishing

Smoot foresees that in the next 20 years, 42 percent of today’s jobs will be lost to technology. On the flip side, many more jobs will be created as a result of it. The state of transition that our economy is in is full of opportunities for those who are qualified, and Smoot aims to cultivate talent in the Coeur d’Alene area to attract new businesses and to hire locally. The Innovation Collective also serves as a middleman to introduce companies to existing skilled workers.

“Lots of companies need talent, and we introduce them to that,” Smoot said.

Smoot does that through a variety of events hosted by the Innovation Collective—36 events and programs to be exact. He had the idea for the organization back in 2013 and launched it in 2014 as a way to propel individuals to find purpose and meaning as their best selves.

“A misconception of the Innovation Collective is that we’re a networking platform,” he said.

The group hosts events, such as Coffee and Concepts, on the first and third Wednesday mornings of each month to meet and talk about entrepreneurial happenings and inquiries. Fireside Chats, held on the second Wednesday of the month, showcase guest speakers to discuss their area of expertise. While these events are ideal for networking, Smoot’s goal is to expose people’s potential, which he calls “human flourishing.”

“[This is] more of a strategy. Most people are bad at certain areas of life. [This] helps people learn how to improve and achieve [what’s lacking] and get on the right path. We want to help people to achieve a life where they have purpose,” he said.

That’s where the events come into play more. Individuals are introduced to new ideas by attending Coffee and Concepts and the Fireside Chats. For a more structured setting to reach specific goals, they have created a series of classes focusing on Human Flourishing through their Innovation Collective Leadership Network (ICLN). They conduct the classes three months at a time, launching each small class after a weekend summit.

“We cover the great eight, [which are] the core competencies of human flourishing. We look at how you manage relationships, finances and self-talk, [and] we quickly realize how rude we are to ourselves,” he said.

Smoot anticipates that the classes will grow exponentially and reach the thousands over the next five years, eventually inducing a ripple effect on the community.

“If that many people want to improve themselves—that’s the kind of city I’d like to live in,” he said.

Expanding and rebranding

Smoot and his staff have been expanding the Collective’s initiatives outside of Coeur d’Alene to Sandpoint; Lethbridge, Alberta; Butte, Montana; and California. The group is at various stages of involvement in assisting them to hone in on a particular aspect of the tech industry. For instance, Coeur d’Alene has focused much on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), and Lethbridge is more involved with food tech. The overriding goal for the Collective is to assist in “rebranding” the economies of these smaller cities to make themselves viable areas for tech companies to tap into.

“It’s less about rebranding—that’s a necessary evil for economic viability. Cities need to have an identity, and rebranding is a part of that,” Smoot said.

Rebranding is simply the beginning of a community’s quest to improve the quality of life. From there, the next step is to boost the skill level of its residents.

“I want people to be intentional about the lives they live. It makes them more valuable. Rebranding is just one thing you can do to make a better world,” he said.

Making technology accessible

Smoot not only wants to assist people about achieving their best selves, he wants to make state-of-the-art technology accessible to them as well. A few months ago, Smoot visited a laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland where he met Johnny Matheny, an amputee who is one of the first patients in the world to use a mind-controlled robotic prosthetic arm. Matheny is participating in a study at Johns Hopkins, which is going well, but cannot use the prosthetic in his daily life.

When Smoot learned that after testing, Matheny and other patients went home without the ground-breaking prosthetic, he wanted to help Matheny gain access to the prosthetic outside of the lab. To do that, Smoot recently launched an Indie Go Go campaign to raise awareness as well as funds. The campaign is set in stages that earn Matheny certain levels of access according to the amount raised. The ultimate goal is to raise enough money to manufacture the prosthetics for more individuals.

“We’re interested more in the story—that’s what’s most important because it’s not being told,” Smoot said.

For more information about the Collective, visit them at the or at one of their events at the Innovation Den located at 418 E Lakeside Drive in Coeur d’Alene. You can find information about their Indie Go Go campaign at and searching “Operation: Get People Robot Arms.”

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