CougsFirst! has a captivating history rooted in the vision and camaraderie of our founders – Jack Thompson, Glenn Osterhout, Robbie Tobeck, Mike Bernard, Paul Dent, and Kyle Basler.
They came together with a shared belief in the unique bond that unites Cougs and were inspired by their collective experiences as WSU alumni.
Shortly after, this group set out to create a business network that would empower and support fellow Cougs. Thus, starting the journey of CougsFirst!, all driven by the idea of “Thinking CougsFirst!”
Some might say that it all started with a Ford Flex. That is, when Jack Thompson wanted to purchase a vehicle from a Coug-owned dealership and wished there was a list of Coug-owned businesses to reference.
This sparked an idea of supporting Cougs wherever possible and making it easier for all WSU alumni and friends to find Coug-owned and -managed businesses. Shortly after this experience, Jack Thompson and Glenn Osterhout gathered a small group of alumni for lunch where they shared their stories and reflected on the special connection they felt as Cougs.
It was during these initial discussions that they realized the tremendous potential in bringing together Cougar business owners under one unified network. They envisioned an organization dedicated to supporting fellow Cougs, fostering collaboration, and promoting the notion of “Thinking CougsFirst!” for products and services.
After that, another pivotal meeting took place in Bellevue, Washington, where about 35 Coug business owners gathered to discuss this concept further. At this gathering, they laid the foundation for what would become CougsFirst! and we’ve continued to see tremendous growth since.
Trade Show Roots
The first CougsFirst! Show was held in 2013 at the Bellevue Hyatt Regency, as a way for Coug business owners to showcase their products and services. This concept has remained true since, with a Seattle Show being held each year. The most recent 2023 Seattle Show was the 9th Annual and was actually held in the very same venue!
An inaugural Spokane show was held in 2018 and has since become an annual event. This year, the 4th annual Spokane Show will be held on November 1st at the Spokane Convention Center.
Taking this concept of gathering Cougs for business networking and collaboration further, CougsFirst! now hosts monthly networking events across the state of Washington in various Coug-owned and -managed businesses.
Evolution & Growth
As many of you already know, CougsFirst! has grown immensely over the past decade, expanding our reach and impact within the Cougar community and beyond. Through special events, social media engagement, and advertising, we have continued to strengthen our network and provide valuable opportunities for Coug business owners to connect and thrive.
Prior to 2022, CougsFirst! was run by a volunteer-based Board of Directors. A couple of stellar Cougs, Mary-Jo Bradley and Lynnsey Evans, who own their own businesses (Avid Events and Sixth Design) also supported the board on a contract-basis to run all events and marketing. CougsFirst! would not be where it is today without the effort, dedication, and contributions of our board members, contractors, and volunteers.
In the spring of 2022, Tony Poston was hired as Executive Director and has implemented many new components to the organization since, which has ultimately led to exponential growth over the past year. We now have 3 full-time staff members, a student intern, and student ambassadors in addition to our board members.
To this day, we remain committed to our founders’ original ideas – fostering collaboration, creating community, and supporting fellow Cougs.
CougsFirst! has become a driving force in encouraging WSU alumni and friends to think of each other first when it comes to business interactions. By embracing this philosophy, we aim to empower one another and continue to contribute to the growth and success of Coug businesses.