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Dave Sabey: Big ideas and Big Data go hand in hand

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Dave Sabey was a man on a mission when we met recently at the headquarters of the Seattle Science Foundation on the campus of Swedish Hospital.

The 66-year-old entrepreneur spent the better part of two hours talking in rapid-fire fashion about the enormous potential of North Central Washington to capitalize on the coming Big Data revolution, and of the efforts underway to use technology to transform the quality and reduce the cost of education, health care, agriculture and other industries.

Sabey owns two data centers in North Central Washington — Intergate Columbia in East Wenatchee and Intergate Quincy. He’s not just a businessman but a visionary who looks for patterns and trends that indicate what the future will hold. He’s right more often than he’s wrong and he’s as conversant with medicine as he is with cloud computing. Recently, Sabey was named chair of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, which is based on the work of Dr. Leroy Hood, a National Medal of Science winner. He’s also a major player in the Seattle Science Foundation and other endeavors.

Sabey is the product of humble beginnings. He describes himself as a “Burien-White Center guy” whose parents didn’t go to college. He recalls having to ride his bike or walk to get around town, which he credits for giving him the leg strength and endurance to excel as a lineman in football.

The term serendipity enters the conversation off and on when he’s talking about the opportunities that have come his way. He talked about a defining encounter in junior high school with the legendary Lou Tice, who at the time was a high school football coach. Tice told Sabey he was talented enough to play ball for the University of Washington, if he put in the time and effort.

Tice went on to found the Pacific Institute, an organization dedicated to personal growth and performance improvement, and was a life-long mentor to Sabey. The Pacific Institute runs the Tice Ranch in Twisp.

One of Sabey’s strengths is that he’s a generalist who has toyed with wildly different career paths that have led him to a unique position. He spent some time studying science because he thought he might go to veterinary school, which gave him a solid grounding in sciences. At another point, he planned on a career in coaching and teaching, which gave him an affinity for engaging with people and ideas.

He followed Tice’s suggestion and wound up playing football for the University of Washington for a few years, which led him to a part-time job in construction. After college, Sabey started subcontracting on buildings for Boeing, and then started his own company. The science and construction background ultimately played out in getting into the construction of data centers.

Along the way, he learned to follow his instincts and not the pack.

As a businessman, he said his passion is for creating value, not just taking a share of the pie at someone else’s expense. “I like doing things where everyone benefits from — I’m not into gambling or ‘I win, you lose,’ ” he told me.