The new blockchain startup incubator will open in Portland’s Pearl District. (Flickr Photo / ) An incubator designed to support startups developing blockchain products for businesses is launching in Portland this summer. The will bring a cohort of startups together to identify business problems that could be addressed by the burgeoning technology. A team of mentors will advise the entrepreneurs as they develop their enterprise blockchain products before presenting them at a demo event in October. Blockchain creates secure, decentralized records of transactions and investors on the technology’s possible applications in finance, retail, healthcare, and any business that requires record keeping. The new Portland incubator is a public-private partnership seeking to identify applications for blockchain that can be scaled by corporate partners. The goal is “to build a blockchain-based ecosystem, and position Oregon’s businesses and institutions to further compete globally,” according to R/GA Ventures, the organization behind the new incubator. R/GA Ventures is the investment arm of , an international advertising and marketing firm under the umbrella. “The intersection of the state’s technology workforce and commercial interests provides an opportunity for Oregon to be one of the first state sponsors of a public-private partnership to embrace blockchain technologies, potentially transforming how we live, work, play, learn, and govern,” R/GA said in a statement. The Oregon Enterprise Blockchain Venture Studio will launch July 29 and run through the October demo event. The incubator is currently accepting applications from startups. Technologists and government officials are already working to make the Pacific Northwest a blockchain hub. In March, the to give blockchain organizations a unified voice around public policy and marketing, as well as to create community and share resources.
Textio’s augmented writing platform analyzes documents to help writers maximize their impact. (Textio Graphic) , a Seattle startup that helps companies write better job listings, today introduced a new feature that uses artificial intelligence to speed up the writing process. allows business users to turn a handful of notes into a fully fleshed out block of text automatically. The new feature is a bit like Google’s Smart Compose, which suggests email responses or phrases as you type. But instead of a few words, Textio Flow thinks up whole paragraphs. It’s starting as a feature of Textio’s flagship tool for writing job postings but is expected to expand to other scenarios such as writing emails in the future. Textio Flow takes the crux of the user’s message and turns it into something more. In a job posting for a graphic designer, for example, the word “originality” might become “Are you an innovator with imagination and ingenuity?” The feature works with Textio’s existing product, which is able to suggest words that are more likely to attract job applicants and improve the diversity of those candidates. The idea is to get more and better responses with less work. Textio CEO Kieran Snyder said that she found it hard to go back to writing normally after using the new feature. “It’s hard to describe how old and broken it feels to write anywhere else,” she said. Textio’s customers tend to be large organizations that do a lot of hiring and want to save time, be consistent and attract the best applicants. “Textio Flow lets us get more intentional about the alignment between our words and our culture. And it’s fast — going from a few rough ideas to the best expression of those ideas takes minutes, not hours.” Terri Coligan, manager of recruiting enablement at Nestlé, said in a statement. Textio co-founders Kieran Snyder and Jensen Harris. (Linda Brooks Photography Photo) “You almost can’t get your head around the billions of words that get written by a company like Nestlé and Expedia every single day,” said Snyder. The suggestions are informed by the startup’s own large datasets, which help to pick words and phrases that statistically lead to better outcomes, as well as a library of the company’s past writing so that the suggestions reflect the brand. Initially, the Flow feature will be limited to Textio’s website. Eventually, it will roll out to Textio’s assistant on Gmail and LinkedIn. While job postings remain the main application for Textio’s product, the company wants to make its writing companion every email user’s best friend. “Email is the other big domain where this is powerful. Any time you write an email you want someone to answer you,” said Snyder.
The Raiin team is made up of current and former students at Western Washington University — including CEO and founder Nancie Weston. Back row, left to right: Clayton Foshaug, graphics (design major); Macall Prengel, actor (kinesiology major); Katie Winkleman, communications (communications major). Front row, left to right: Lucas Van Dyke, videographer (business major); Naia Shedd, graphics (design major); Weston; Michael Nguyen, editor and public relations (public relations major). Not shown: Ian Ferguson, actor (journalism major); Maks Mosses, videographer (public relations major); Dixon Kenley Lamb, website (computer science major). Inspiration can come from unlikely places. For , it sparked in a Goodwill thrift store. Seven years ago, Weston co-founded a company making water purification devices. The Seattle-based business produces water bottles targeted for the outdoors and travelers that filters out heavy metals, disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa, and other contaminants. The bottles use a NASA-created filter and work like a French-press coffee maker where users force water through a filter-containing cartridge. Grayl scrapped its way to success, crowdsourcing support through and In 2015, Grayl announced that from angel investors. Weston was eager to expand the Grayl line to products for home use. After all, it’s easy to find news headlines warning of lead and other contaminants in the water that flows into houses and apartments, schools and other buildings from to The leadership and the board at Grayl, however, were focused on a different use and audience, Weston said. So she left the company in 2017, retaining shares in the business. Then came Weston’s a-ha moment at Goodwill. She was fiddling with a cup with a plastic top and squishy container when she was struck by an idea. She wondered if the squishy cup could be used to create suction to pull the water through a filter. The idea worked, and Weston quickly moved on to applying the technology to a larger pitcher that could meet home-filtration needs. Last year, Weston launched to create the suction-driven, water-filtering pitcher. “I started Raiin to continue my vision of bringing clean water to households and disaster areas around the world,” Weston said. “If families had these water pitchers in these disaster situations, it would stop palette loads of [bottled] water from going overseas. Bottled water drives me crazy, it’s so wasteful.” Despite her previous success, Weston struggled to find investors. She was running out of money and reached out to, which referred her to an entrepreneurship class at Western Washington University (WWU). Weston made her pitch and connected to a team of students eager to help. The undergraduates offered their public relations-focused services for free, but Weston is granting them stock in the startup. Raiin doesn’t have a specific home, ranging from Seattle to Bellingham, Wash., where WWU is located. A prototype of the Raiin pitcher. (Raiin Photo) There are numerous home water filtration options already on the market, including well-known Brita pitchers and more expensive systems installed into home plumbing. Weston hopes to offer an affordable alternative that removes more pollutants than Brita via smaller filters that create less waste. The Raiin team is , on Earth Day 2019. The 30-day, publicly-funded campaign aims to raise at least $20,000 to fund a final prototype. If the fundraising goes well, $300,000 would cover the production of a first batch of pitchers and $500,000 would pay for full production. A $49 pledge will buy contributors a pitcher, if all goes well. The market price for a pitcher will be $74. “I’ve done so much research about water, and it’s just crazy what’s in our water,” Weston said. “You just can’t see it, and we’re drinking all of that.” We caught up with Weston for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: I started a company called Raiin and invented a water pitcher that filters and purifies germs and toxins out of water anywhere in the world, fast. Inspiration hit us when: I was in a Goodwill, of all places, and I found a cup that was squishy on the bottom and hard plastic on the top and thought, “Wait a minute, I could add a filter to this and it would suck the water right through!” I added a filter and it worked! That night I slept on the idea and came up with the design for the pitcher. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap. I went to investors and they all said the same thing: “We don’t invest in hard products, only software, wearable tech or apps.” After six months I was out of money and I had to make the switch to Kickstarter. With no money I went to WWU and pitched my idea to a group of students in the entrepreneur program. Nancie Weston, founder and CEO of Raiin. (Raiin Photo) After class a guy walked up to me and said, “We just started a company and I have all the staff you need to help with Kickstarter. Two videographers, a lighting person, a makeup person, actors and actresses, a website person, two graphic artists, a social media and PR person…for free!” They needed the experience and for their resume. I was an alumna from WWU so we all hit it off. One of the kids was recently shocked when he read a WWU newspaper headline: “Lead found in the pipes of the old buildings on campus.” In two months, we’ve put together everything from branding to a video. We . Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Unlike all the other water filter pitchers out on the market that only filter odor, flavor and a few heavy metals, Raiin’s pitcher filters pharmaceuticals and chemicals and purifies things like bacteria, viruses and protozoa. It is faster than other pitchers — and it’s fun. The smartest move we’ve made so far: Finding these great “kids” at WWU. They are super driven, going to school, working jobs, managing social lives and doing with Kickstarter for me. They are amazing! I am learning from them and they are learning from me. Nancie Weston, Raiin founder and CEO, working on her device. (Raiin Photo) The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: For six months I went in front of investors to raise money. I should have gone straight to Kickstarter. Being a woman raising money is hard. Less than 10 percent of women get funded. I even had an investor actually say they wouldn’t give me money unless I had a male partner! Really? Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Richard Branson. He has charisma, is driven, fun, smart and knows how to pivot fast when things are going right. I would love to have him in my corner. Our favorite team-building activity is: We don’t have time for a team building activity. I wish we did! We met two months ago and it’s been crazy getting ready to launch on Kickstarter. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: People who are passionate about your company, products and vision. People who are driven. They don’t need to be told what to do, they see things that need to get done and they just do it. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: You and your team have to be passionate about what you are doing or you won’t make it through the tough times. There are so many times I wanted to quit, but knowing that the water filter pitchers that are currently on the market are unregulated and just remove odor, flavor and a little bit of lead, I had to keep going to keep people from potentially getting sick from the water we are all drinking.
CI Security’s Kraken Signal on the wall of its office. (CI Security Photo) A cybersecurity startup that pairs software with analysts who review and investigate attacks raised $9.6 million to continue battling intrusions against companies of all sizes, as well as healthcare and government organizations. CI Security CEO Garrett Silver. (CI Security Photo) In addition to the cash infusion, the company has changed its name from to . CEO Garrett Silver said the new name doesn’t mean a major shift in the business is on the way. It’s more about simplicity and reflecting the company’s core priorities and Critical Insight platform. “It gives customers critical insight into the threats they’re facing so we can help them manage, detect and respond,” Silver said of the company’s offerings. The new Series B round, led by a previous investor in Alan Frazier’s , brings the company to nearly $16 million in lifetime funding. The company has 68 employees, with its home office in Seattle and security operations centers in Bremerton and Ellensburg, Wash. The company is planning to expand the security centers, and the new funding round will help with that. Security and tech giants like ADT and Cisco Systems are in the “Managed detection and response” market that includes CI Security. One place where CI Security stands out, Silver says, is its offerings for healthcare and government organizations. The company’s office in Bremerton, Wash. (CI Security Photo) “Core to our mission is defending organizations that protect the health of our communities,” Silver said. “We’re seeing growth in our healthcare customer base as well as growth in our public sector customer base. We’re honored to be defending hospitals, clinics, cities, ports, and school districts. We want to help those organizations keep patients alive, keep the lights on, and keep our water clean.” Citing predictions from Silver said companies spent $96 billion on cybersecurity technology in 2018, yet attacks continue to impact organizations of all kinds. One big problem is a major shortage of qualified cybersecurity experts in the field, Silver said. CI Security’s technology is meant to amplify its human talent, not solve every problem on its own. Silver claims CI Security experts can spot attacks and help remove them much faster than the competitors: “in hours or minutes instead of months.” “There are threats everyday like phishing, crypto-mining, and malicious intruders,” Silver said. “When those threat actors get into a system, the industry standard is that it often takes months or years to detect them — the average is about 200 days. That’s not acceptable.”
An example of iUNU’s computer vision technology for monitoring cannabis and other indoor agriculture operations. iUNU’s cameras and AI monitors minute movements in plants to increase greenhouse efficiency. The company is based in Seattle. (iUNU Photo) If you happen to be searching for pot sales analytics today, on the annual celebrated by marijuana aficionados, look no further than the Pacific Northwest. Seattle startup , a marijuana retail business data intelligence provider, knows that sales grew by 111 percent on this day last year. , a Kirkland, Wash.-based cryptocurrency company serving the cannabis business, found that dispensaries in Washington, Colorado, and California saw a 91 percent increase in customers during last year’s festivities and a 22 percent increase in average transaction value. Headset and POSaBIT are just two of countless cannabis-related startups based in cities such as Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver B.C. Not only has this region been “the epicenter of cannabis culture in North America,” but it is also a “hub for innovative tech companies,” said , who recently an executive role at Amazon to become CEO at Seattle-based marijuana discovery platform . As a result, Leslie said Seattle is “well positioned” to be a cannabis tech hub. That’s helped along by the Northwest’s granola-crunchy, free-spirited culture, which is also somehow home to a Type-A, finish-it-yesterday tech culture. “People in this area get it,” said , POSaBIT’s co-founder and CEO. “They understand [cannabis] is a true business opportunity. As I travel around the United States … it blows me away on how the social stigmas and everything around cannabis are so much stricter.” Hamlin said he loves being in Washington, an epicenter of technical talent thanks to homegrown companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, for giants including Google, Facebook, Oracle, Uber, and others, and hundreds of smaller startups. Sure, the Bay Area is seeing a similar cannabis tech renaissance thanks to its own blend of expertise and culture. But Washington legalized recreational pot six years before California. That gave Northwest cannabis tech companies a head start in learning the industry’s needs and developing their products and business models. One of POSaBIT’s cryptocurrency point-of-sale units for cannabis retailers. (POSaBIT photo) The cannabis business is growing up — the legal marijuana industry grew to in the U.S. last year — and the tech companies serving pot enterprises are growing right along with it. And where cannabis-tech companies have typically sought to connect a fragmented, cash-only business emerging (more or less) from the black market, many are now talking about even more sophisticated systems — AI, computer vision, cryptocurrency and big data. Cannabis tech is entering a new era, and the Northwest is a key hub. Call it “Northwest Cannabis Tech 2.0.” “You’re seeing a second wave of noise,“ said , the co-founder and CEO of , a Seattle-based company that uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to increase the efficiency of greenhouse operations, including indoor cannabis farms. ”What you’re seeing is a market that’s become much more mature than the other markets around the country, around the world.” In Seattle alone, there’s Leafly, the online cannabis directory, which was bought by Seattle cannabis investing firm in 2011. Just across downtown in Capitol Hill is , another online cannabis directory, acquired in 2016 by Nesta.co, a Canadian pot private equity firm. In March, , a Redmond, Wash., provider of cannabis point-of-sale and tracking software, Seattle pot sales software company Soro, which came out of beta only last year. Together, the companies have set out to build what Soro founder and current Dauntless chief product officer calls “an entire ecosystem around what it means to be a cannabis business.“ There are plenty of British Columbia tech companies as well, and they’re theoretically on steadier ground because Canada legalized recreational pot at the federal level last year. One of the most prominent is , the medical marijuana manufacturer also owned by Privateer Holdings and helmed by Privateer co-founder , who upwards of $31 million in compensation last year — more than Satya Nadella or Jeff Bezos. And to the south, there is, of course, Portland, which has its own celebrating the city’s Bohemian sensibility and is perhaps an even pot-friendlier town than Seattle. There, you’ll find , a point of sale product for dispensary owners, as well as the pot genetic testing company , among others. Phylos Bioscience sells a kit that identifies cannabis plant seedlings seven days after germination. The company is based in Portland. (Phylos Bioscience Photo) Anyone who got a front-row seat for the dot-com boom of the 1990s will surely recall all the hype — big words and jargon that, as it turned out, weren’t backed by actual revenue. By the end of the decade, tech stocks imploded, wiping out a wave of tech 1.0 companies whose shares had once soared. While there hasn’t been a pot-tech implosion (at least not yet) and there is certainly still plenty of hype, Greenberg said cannabis customers are demanding better tech, which is placing more demand on vendors to move beyond talk and develop fast, powerful software. “You have to really perform in Washington,” said the IUNU CEO, adding that pot tech companies in this new phase increasingly face “pressure to put up or get out.” That pressure, and the expertise of startup founders and workers jumping ship from Microsoft and Amazon to work in the cannabis business, means Northwest tech companies typically build very solid pot software, Greenberg said. POSaBIT CEO Ryan Hamlin. (POSaBIT Photo) “I’d definitely put the companies in the Northwest in a favorable position,” said Greenberg, whose company $7.5 million in February in a round led by Bootstrap Labs and NCT Ventures. Total funding in IUNU is more than $13 million. “You’re going to have a lot of winners and successful companies in the Northwest around that tech,” he added. POSaBIT began trading April 8 on the Canadian Securities Exchange under the ticker symbol PBIT. It opened at $0.28 per share and closed Friday at $0.37 cents per share. U.S. pot companies such as POSaBIT have been flocking to the CSE because it’s far more liberal than other exchanges when it comes to cannabis stocks. POSaBIT makes it possible for customers to walk into a cannabis store and convert their cash to Bitcoin, which they can then use to buy pot. Because of federal prohibition, legal cannabis is still a cash-only industry, which has produced any number of headaches, from difficulty banking cannabis revenues to the security concerns that come with any cash enterprise. Hamlin, POSaBIT’s CEO, said a lot of those problems can be solved with cryptocurrency. POSaBIT was born during a campfire chat with friends about about the technology needs of the emerging marijuana business. “It was the combination of, OK — cash-only problem, massive industry, cryptocurrency. How could they all come together?” said Hamlin, a former Microsoft general manager. “And that’s when the ‘aha!’ moment was. Well, you can use a debit and credit card to purchase cryptocurrency. And you can use cryptocurrency to buy cannabis.” Leafly co-founder Cy Scott and his colleagues celebrate the App of the Year award at the 2014 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire File Photo) POSaBIT launched in 22 Washington cannabis stores in 2017. In 2018, it had expanded into Colorado, California, Oklahoma and Nevada. By the end of the year, POSaBIT had processed nearly $22 million in sales through its payment system. Like Greenberg, Hamlin said his cannabis industry customers are demanding a new level of sophistication from his software. One of the ways he’s trying to meet that need is to leverage bitcoin transactions to gather anonymous customer spending data and provide his clients with market research, a much-coveted service in an industry that has been cash-only since, well, at least the Monterey Pop Festival. “I can tell you precisely who a manufacturer is,” Hamlin said. “I can tell you (the ages and genders of those) buying. Males from 45 to 55 tend to buy edibles and they tend to buy them on Thursday night and they also live in these zip codes … that’s a gold mine.” Headset, the Seattle pot analytics and market data company started by Leafly co-founder , is providing similar metrics. Last month, Nielsen, best known for its TV ratings, and Deloitte forged a with Headset to provide U.S. and Canadian pot manufacturers with one of their first looks into how their customers think about cannabis, how often they use it and which brands they buy, among other data. Headset is an example of a Pacific Northwest pot tech ecosystem that’s already maturing. Scott originally founded Leafly in Irvine, Calif., but the company relocated its headquarters to Seattle after Privateer Holdings — the Seattle-based marijuana investment firm — acquired Leafly. Scott has stuck around town and is building another fast-growing cannabis tech company. Hamlin, POSaBIT’s CEO, noted that “you come to Washington and you don’t think twice.” “It’s part of doing business, so to speak,” he said.
— When he invented the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee had a specific vision for how it would evolve, and things haven’t gone exactly as he planned. At its inception, the web was supposed to be a place to create as much as receive information. But web browsers quickly eliminated the ability to edit pages, essentially cutting out half of Berners-Lee’s vision. While things have been moving in the right direction, Berners-Lee, working with MIT, is looking to continue the trend with a new open-source technology called Solid. The Solid community is hosting a May 2 where developers and anyone interested in the new technology can learn what it’s all about. — For most entrepreneurs, figuring out exactly what you want to do with your business can be the easy part. But bringing that business into reality often takes outside investment. And that’s where it gets tricky. Perfecting your pitch and getting your idea in front of the right people at the right time can be not only a challenge but a frustrating process of trial and error. Odds are, you’re going to need some help along the journey. Volition Events is hosting the inaugural on April 26. Part of the Women in Tech Regatta, the event offers a place where you can practice your 3-minute pitch and get valuable feedback on how to improve it. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : A conference to discuss technology’s future in various life science fields at the Washington State Conference Center in Seattle; Wednesday, April 24 – Thursday, April 25. : An event where five startups pitch their companies to the audience at The Collective in Seattle; 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 25. : A shark-tank style event where local entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to earn capital at New Holly Gathering Hall in Seattle; 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 25. : An event focused on the preservation of physical as well as digital properties in the event of a disaster at the Living Computers: Museum and Lab in Seattle; Friday, April 26 – Saturday, April 27. : A talk about technology as it applies to air travel at the Sheraton Seattle; 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, April 26. : A presentation for startups about how to cope with business challenges at CoMotion Labs at the University of Washington in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 26. A presentation about tactics to have a successful interview for engineering careers at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 26. For more upcoming events, check out the , where you can find meetups, conferences, startup events, and geeky gatherings in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Organizing an event? .
(Convoy Image) After years of development and testing, today launched a new marketplace that helps small trucking companies get access to potential business traditionally available to only large carriers. The Seattle startup, valued at more than $1 billion with investors such as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, develops technology to match truck drivers with shippers looking to move freight. It aims to disrupt a $800 billion U.S. trucking industry. Today the company officially Convoy Go, a “drop and hook” marketplace that lets any carrier haul pre-loaded trailers which represent the majority of Fortune 500 company shipments. About 90 percent of U.S. trucking companies operate six or fewer trucks, according to Convoy, but they typically don’t have enough capital to invest in a trailer pool network across the country to access the pre-loaded trailers. As a result, only large carriers are able to handle those orders. Here’s how Convoy CEO Dan Lewis explained Convoy Go to today: “If a company is shipping a truckload of shampoo, they have two options. The first is, they can hire a truck that rolls in with its own trailer. The trailer is empty, so the truck has to wait for an appointment time. It then pulls up to the dock and gets loaded. It might be 2-to-3 hours before that truck can leave. With Convoy Go, they can pre-load the trailer with the shampoo. So the trucks rolls in, hooks into that trailer and drives away. It’s super efficient. That wasn’t ever available to these small trucking companies ever. Before, you had to have the capital to buy and position all these large trailer pools at different facilities around the country. With Convoy Go, we actually have a universal trailer pool and we’re making it available to any trucking company, even a one-truck owner-operator, so they can get all the same benefits, and more shippers and more trucking companies can participate in this super efficient model. It actually saves a lot of time, waste, and energy.” Convoy said Convoy Go can increase carrier productivity by up to 50 percent. In its blog post, Convoy said that “up to a third of the cost of truck freight in the U.S. is attributable to time spent either waiting for appointments, or waiting at the dock to load and unload. This massive amount of waste has a direct impact on increased transportation costs, decreased drivers’ earnings and reduced overall trucking capacity for shippers.” Convoy launched just three years ago and has already raised $265 million, including a giant this past September led by Google’s VC arm that propelled the startup to unicorn status. The investment is a finalist in the at the . The Seattle startup has competition in the form of traditional brokers such as publicly-traded giant , while freight operators themselves are to keep up with demand. There are also newer direct competitors including ; ; ; ; and others. Uber called out Convoy as a competitor to Uber Freight . Other Convoy investors Expedia Chairman Barry Diller, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Code.org founders Hadi and Ali Partovi, and former Starbucks president Howard Behar.
Winners of the 2018 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) EY on Thursday the Pacific Northwest region finalists for its annual Entrepreneur of the Year program that recognizes top business leaders. The nominees lead companies across various industries such as healthcare, marketing, logistics, and more. This year’s regional winners will be announced at a special June 14 at the King Street Ballroom & Perch and go on to compete in the national competition, which is now in its 33rd year. Several of the nominees and their companies are also among the finalists at the , including folks such as Rajeev Singh, Jessie Woolley-Wilson, Ty Collins, and Mike Radenbaugh, as well as startups such as Flexe, Highspot, and Zipwhip. Last year’s included Auth0 CEO Eugenio Pace; iSpot.tv CEO Sean Muller; Snap! Raise CEO Cole Morgan; and others. Here are the 2019 finalists, which were picked by a panel of independent judges. Rajeev Singh, CEO | Accolade, Inc. (Seattle, Washington) Aaron James, COO & David Steinberg, CEO | Adpearance (Portland, Oregon) Kabir Shahani, CEO & Derek Slager, CTO | Amperity (Seattle, Washington) Chris Moore, CEO | Concord Technologies (Seattle, Washington) Jessie Woolley-Wilson, President and CEO | DreamBox Learning, LLC (Bellevue, Washington) Bobby Balachandran, CEO | Exterro (Beaverton, Oregon) Karl Siebrecht, Co-founder and CEO | FLEXE, Inc. (Seattle, Washington) Derrick Morton, Co-founder and CEO & Douglas Pearson, Co-founder and CTO| FlowPlay Seattle, Washington) Jason Greer, President | General UI LLC (Seattle, Washington) Alissa Leinonen, Founder and CEO | Gourmondo Catering & Cafe Co (Seattle, Washington) Madeline Haydon, CEO | nutpods (Bellevue, Washington) Robert Wahbe, Co-Founder and CEO | Highspot (Seattle, Washington) Michael K Lester, CEO | LifeStance Health (Bellevue, Washington) Henry Albrecht, CEO | Limeade (Bellevue, Washington) Rajeev Agarwal, Founder and CEO | MAQ Software (Redmond, Washington) Kyle Stavig, CEO | Myers Container LLC (Portland, Oregon) Peggy Jarvis Miller, CEO | Pacific Star Communications, Inc. (“PacStar”) (Portland, Oregon) Ty Collins, CMO & Mike Radenbaugh, CEO | Rad Power Bikes (Seattle, Washington) Jacob Weatherly, Co-founder and CEO | SheerID (Portland, Oregon) Jordan Allen, CEO | Stay Alfred (Spokane, Washington) John Lauer, Co-founder and CEO | Zipwhip (Seattle, Washington)
(Viome Photo) , a wellness startup from entrepreneur , has raised $25 million in funding from a crop of investors that includes Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Jain said the new cash, which brings the Seattle-area startup’s total funding to $45 million, would be used to fund research into the link between the human microbiome and chronic diseases including diabetes, autoimmune disorders and Parkinson’s, as well as cancers. Naveen Jain. (Viome Photo) “We are now doing a bunch of clinical studies with 15 or so separate diseases,” said Jain. The aim of the studies, which are looking at diseases as wide-ranging as insomnia and pancreatic cancer, is to “understand exactly what’s happening inside the human body so that we can predict, prevent and reverse chronic diseases,” he said. Viome analyzes its customers’ microbiomes through stool samples in order to make food recommendations for health or weight loss. The idea is to foster health through microbes, which make up more than half of the cells in the human body. The funding round included return investor Bold Capital as well as Physician Partners, Hambrecht Healthcare Growth Venture Fund, and Matthew Harris of Global Infrastructure Partners. Viome said the financing was part of a series B round in which the company aims to raise $100 million. “People are investing because we’re solving a massive problem,” Jain said. “[Benioff] is a very happy customer and he said, ‘I want to be part of it.'” The Salesforce CEO has shown an interest in mental health and wellness, adding meditation rooms to the Salesforce offices and investing in Thrive Global, a wellness startup founded by Arianna Huffington. A spokesperson for Benioff declined to comment when contacted by GeekWire. Jain says the company’s competitive edge lies in its RNA sequencing technology, which emerged from defense work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Viome uses machine learning algorithms with the aim of predicting the body’s response to certain foods based on the composition of an individual’s microbiome. Researchers cast doubt These claims have drawn criticism. Jonathan Eisen, a professor at UC Davis, the “Theranos of the microbiome world” on Twitter last year, referencing Elizabeth Holmes’ blood testing startup that became infamous for false claims about its technology. “My issue with Viome was overstating the state of the science,” Eisen told GeekWire. “There’s no scientific support for any of their tools.” The Viome material on Amazon is filled with completely misleading overselling snake oil – e.g. they claim they can tell you "exactly which foods to eat and which to avoid in order to support your wellness" — Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics) In the early 2000s, Jain for claims he made about InfoSpace, a high-flying internet business that fell to earth during the dot-com bust. Jain later went on to co-found public records firm Intelius as well as Moon Express, which aims to . (Viome Screenshot) Jain responded to the criticism by saying that Viome’s underlying technology is superior to the microbiome sequencing technology used by other companies. Eisen once served as an advisor to Viome competitor uBiome. Several startups have set out to give health insights based on an analysis of gut bacteria, including and . And the promise of the microbiome has caught the attention of investors. Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee, famous for coining the term “Unicorn” to describe billion-dollar startups, recently about the brain-gut connection and her own dietary experiments. “Changes in diet can modulate the microbiome and have an effect on health,” said Sean Gibbons, an assistant professor at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. But Gibbons said it’s too early to draw conclusions about the specific effect of individual foods on a person’s health. “For anyone to claim that there’s a general purpose algorithm that can predict health from the microbiome is sort of a sci-fi, weird claim to make this point,” he said. Prominent endorsements for Viome That’s not to say that tinkering with the microbiome doesn’t have potential. Fecal transplants, which insert gut bacteria from healthy people into sick patients, have proven to be , a bacteria that infects nearly 500,000 Americans each year. Viome has received endorsements from health and wellness celebrities like , as well as . The startup recently partnered with Helomics, a precision medicine company, to study the link between the gut microbiome and ovarian cancer. Viome from Campbell Soup earlier this year for an undisclosed sum. The company has nearly 150 employees across six locations, including its headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. and offices in San Diego, Santa Clara, Calif., New York, Bangalore and Los Alamos, N.M. Viome is Jain’s seventh venture and the first to come out of his Bellevue-based innovation factory. BlueDot looks for market opportunities for technology developed at leading research labs, with a focus on the health and energy sectors.
Kids on 45th CEO Elise Worthy. (Kids on 45th Photo) had long been Seattle’s most well-known and oldest children’s consignment store. But in 2017, nearly 30 years after it opened, the tiny Wallingford retail shop was ready to shut down. That’s when stepped in and bought the business. Two years later, the tech entrepreneur has turned an old-school brick-and-mortar concept into an innovative e-commerce service that has shipped 500,000 items of used kids clothing to customers across the country. And now the Seattle startup is raising cash from top-tier investors to help fuel its growth. announced a $3.3 million funding round from YesVC, an early-stage firm co-founded by Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake; Maveron, the Seattle firm that previously backed e-commerce giants such as Zulily and eBay; and other investors including SoGal Ventures, Sesame Street Ventures, Collaborative Fund, Liquid 2 VC, and Brand Foundry Ventures. The company offers a unique solution to a problem that parents with young children often face: buying affordable clothes for their growing kids. The service takes advantage of partnerships with nonprofits and thrift organizations to source a supply of “nearly new” kids clothing that is discounted by 70-to-90 percent off similar products online. Customers select the types and sizes of clothing they need — four pairs of pants, three long-sleeve shirts, two dresses, etc. — and Kids on 45th stylists put together a curated box that is shipped to doorsteps. Items sell for as low as $1.99 each and an average of $3.29. There is no browsing process and the entire shopping experience is designed to take less than two minutes. “All of our competitors and incumbents rely on either a browse or discovery process,” Worthy told GeekWire. “We are specifically anti-browse. If you’re a mom who has a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old and they outgrow their pants, you won’t delightfully browse through clothes. You just want to solve the pants problem.” (Kids on 45th Photo) Worthy previously co-founded Seattle-based , a free nonprofit coding school for women that has graduated 250 students since in 2015. She left the day-to-day work at Ada in 2017 and had the opportunity to purchase Kids on 45th from the original owner. “It seemed like such a treasure trove of data,” said Worthy, who serves as CEO. “I thought it would be so cool to buy the store and figure out how to bring it online to be a web-scaled business.” Worthy not only started analyzing years and years of Kids on 45th purchasing data, but also observed customer experiences inside the store. Moms, especially those who don’t enjoy recreationally shopping, just wanted something to replace the clothes that their kids had outgrown. “It dawned on me that we were investing time in a browse experience that our customers didn’t want,” said Worthy, who has two young sons herself. The company has 15 employees in Seattle and another 15 people at its warehouse in Texas where garments are sorted into 350 categories. It has developed an efficient supply chain and distribution model to help keep handling costs low — it’s how items can be priced at such steep discounts, or as the company notes, “cheaper than Goodwill and Walmart.” Worthy described Kids on 45th as a “StitchFix-like experience without the cost or required subscription,” referencing the popular online clothing box service that also sells kids clothing. “We try to bring the StitchFix experience to 90 percent of Americans where that’s just not possible,” Worthy noted. Jason Stoffer, partner at Maveron who was an early board member at e-commerce giant Zulily, said the “rise in value retail offline has been unable to be replicated online until now, due to the difficulties of making the business model work.” “Elise and the Kids on 45th team have been able to sell clothing at radically low price points by challenging some of the shopping behaviors that have been accepted as a given up until this point,” he said in a statement. “They pass more savings onto their customers by pairing a global sourcing supply chain with taking on the burden of selection from moms, thereby reducing handling costs like photos, mannequins and returns.” Worthy added that “we are really happy with the unit economics of this business.” Kids on 45th also has an eye on sustainability, given the nature of its business, and hopes to help lessen the that are thrown into landfills each year. The company recently launched a new buy-back program that lets customers send in used clothes and receive Kids on 45th credit. Worthy said the startup will prove out its model with kids clothing before exploring other potential verticals. There are no plans to open more brick-and-mortar locations but Worthy said she’s open to the idea.
(DogSpot Photo) The nation’s fanciest dog houses are coming to the most dog-friendly city in the U.S. , the maker of shared dog houses that you can rent by the minute, is launching in Seattle as part of a national expansion. The startup has partnered with grocery chain QFC for an initial roll-out of eight houses that are set to launch by early June. Just how fancy are the houses? They come with air conditioning and ultraviolet lights to disinfect the interior between uses. Pet parents can even check in on their pups during their stay through a “puppy cam” on the DogSpot app. Dog owners can book a house up to 15 minutes in advance or on arrival. The company’s cloud-based platform operates on Microsoft Azure. “[DogSpot] is good for local business, and it’s good for dog owners to have one of their problems solved. And it’s great for dogs because they get more walks and more quality time with the people they love,” said Rebecca Eyre, director of communications at DogSpot. DogSpot launched in New York City in 2016, but abruptly removed all 50 of their dog houses last year following conflicts with the city. Eyre said that new legislation, which will enable the company to return to its hometown, should pass in the next few months. The startup has raised $5.8 million to date. DogSpot is avoiding zoning problems by leasing the houses to local businesses, which will keep them on private property. For pet owners, the rental rate is $0.30 per minute, but QFC will offer the houses for free to shoppers. DogSpot is actively looking for additional partners who want to put the dog houses outside of their buildings. The company has 60 houses across 14 states, with many located at rest stops along freeways in New York and Connecticut. “Grocery stores and rest areas are huge pain points for dog owners who need to stop but have their pets and have no safe alternative,” said Eyre. For the time being, DogSpot doesn’t have any obvious competition. “We’re kind of the only dog in the fight, so to speak, for this specific piece of technology,” said Eyre, who grew up in Redmond, Wash., near Seattle. Seattle was recently ranked the by Rover and Redfin, which looked at factors including the number of dog walkers, the walk score of apartment buildings and share of property listings that included the word “dog.” When asked if DogSpot would ever partner with Rover, the Seattle-based tech platform for dog sitters and walkers, Eyre said the startup would be happy to. “We have some existing relationships with some key folks there, looking for the right opportunity,” she said. In addition to Seattle, DogSpot is also making a push into Washington, D.C. The startup initially launched as Dog Parker, but rebranded last year as it geared up for the national expansion. “I was wanting to change the name for so long because we never use the language of parking your dog,” Eyre said. “The national expansion with our last chance to do a rebrand.” DogSpot doesn’t have any Seattle-based employees but eventually plans to hire a local community manager.
(Outreach Photo) Seattle has a new unicorn. Outreach CEO Manny Medina. (Outreach Photo) Sales automation startup has reeled in a huge $114 million investment round that pushes its valuation to $1.1 billion, joining an elite club of other fast-growing companies also valued above $1 billion. “That’s right: Outreach is officially a ‘unicorn’ and the only one in the rapidly growing sales engagement space,” Outreach CEO wrote in a . Outreach has been on a roll for the past few years with its software that uses machine learning to help customers such as Cloudera, Adobe, Microsoft, Docusign, and others automate and streamline communication with sales prospects. The technology offers one system to track all touch points, from phone calls to emails to LinkedIn messages, and integrates with existing tools including Salesforce and Gmail. Outreach more than doubled its revenue in 2018 and met all goals and metrics, Medina told GeekWire earlier this year. The company now has more than 3,300 customer accounts and 50,000-plus users. It employs 315 people and plans to reach 450 by the end of 2019. Medina said the company will continue to invest in its hometown, with a goal of becoming “the next enterprise beacon of Seattle.” Lone Pine Capital, a Greenwich, Conn.-based hedge fund manager, led the Series E round. Meritech Capital Partners and Lemonade Capital joined the round, as did existing investors DFJ Growth, Four Rivers Group, Mayfield, Microsoft Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Spark Capital and Trinity Ventures. Lone Pine Capital previously invested in Convoy, another Seattle startup that . Other companies with valuations north of $1 billion in the Seattle region include Rover and OfferUp. (Outreach Photo) The $114 million round for Outreach follows a $65 million round that came in this past May. Total funding to date is $239 million. “This financing will enable us to infuse every aspect of the customer journey with the power of machine learning so organizations can identify the actions that move the needle in order to make better, faster decisions,” Medina wrote in the blog post. “We will also expand in the coming months by doubling our machine learning team, increasing our international footprint, and investing in our partner ecosystem, Galaxy, as well as our recently announced integration with Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 for Sales.” Medina told GeekWire in February that “this upcoming year we will make more investments in scaling the business efficiently and prepare for an IPO a few years out.” Medina, a former director at Microsoft, originally launched a recruiting software startup called GroupTalent in 2011 with his co-founders Andrew Kinzer, Gordon Hempton, and Wes Hather. But the entrepreneurs in 2014 to focus on building tools for salespeople. “Outreach is one of my favorite stories,” Founders Co-op’ Managing Partner Chris DeVore, an early Outreach investor, . “The business they set out to build wasn’t working, but because they stuck together as a founding team and kept adapting and learning, they figured out how to find a productive thing. But that wasn’t because of where they started or the early metrics. It was because as humans, they were so committed and resilient and so gritty that they figured it out.” Outreach is ranked No. 23 on the , our index of top Pacific Northwest startups. Outreach is also a finalist for Next Tech Titan, a category at the upcoming that highlights future dominant forces in the Pacific Northwest tech scene. Last year, Outreach to upgrade its headquarters and made its It was the only Seattle company to crack the top 25 in list for 2018. and previously predicted that Outreach would reach unicorn status. There are 341 unicorn companies worldwide, according to , with nearly 30 startups reaching that milestone in 2019. reported that 57 companies became unicorns in 2017.
Sean Hsieh. (Flowroute Photo) Less than a year after selling his telecommunications startup, Flowroute founder has embarked on a new venture that aims to open up the world of commercial real estate investing. (Concreit Photo) Seattle startup is a soon-to-be-launched startup that will give investors the ability to invest in private buildings for as little as one dollar. “When I talk to my friends about owning a building, they just stop and go, ‘I don’t even know what to think about that, because I can’t connect with that thought,'” Hsieh said. “We’re trying to bring deals that only millionaires have access to and give them to an everyday investor for very small dollar minimum.” Concreit has raised nearly $1 million in funding from , a new Seattle-based firm co-led by longtime angel investor Andy Liu. Other Unlock portfolio companies include Crowd Cow, Make.TV and Possible Finance. Hsieh started Concreit with Flowroute co-founder and , who was formerly CTO at blockchain startups LifeID and StormX. The company hopes to launch later this year. The idea for Concreit was inspired by Hsieh’s own finances. “After selling Flowroute, I started to figure out how to diversify my portfolio,” said Hsieh. “And private commercial real estate became really interesting to me.” Hsieh to West Corporation last year for an undisclosed sum. Hsieh plans to use blockchain technology for certain aspects of Concreit, which could enable the startup to tokenize its position in certain investments. Concreit will be a mobile-first application with game-like elements in order to appeal to millennial investors. Concreit will initially give access to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), an asset class in which real estate is bundled into easily tradable securities. , a popular online real estate investing platform, uses the REIT structure for many of its assets. Federal regulations limit the access that ordinary investors have to commercial real estate, especially smaller scale projects. Concreit is exploring how different regulatory structures might be used to open up commercial real estate investing to more people. Hsieh said he believes that allowing non-accredited investors to participate “is really how we’re going to change this landscape.” A man of many talents, Hsieh was a hip-hop dancer in the first generation of — a group that was featured on MTV’s “Best Dance Crew” — and he also danced with professional teams Funkanometry LA and Mavyn.
The Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalists, clockwise from left to right: Rad Power Bikes co-founders Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh; Loftium co-founder Yifan Zhang; Slope co-founder Brian Bosché; Buttermilk founder Mitra Raman; and Possible Finance co-founder Tony Huang. (Photos via the companies and GeekWire) The six nominees for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category at this year’s prove that you can accomplish a lot by the time you’re 30 if you catch the startup bug. As part of our annual GeekWire Awards event, we recognize rising stars under the age of 30 who are building startups in the Pacific Northwest. We’re soliciting votes for seven promising young entrepreneurs to choose a winner, with input from more than 30 judges in the tech community. On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19. The 2019 nominees are Slope co-founder ; Rad Power Bikes co-founders and ; Loftium co-founder ; Buttermilk founder ; and Possible Finance co-founder . Last year, the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award , co-founder of the peer-to-peer petsitting startup Rover. This year, we wanted to learn more about our nominees so we went straight to the source. GeekWire contacted their close family members to get the inside scoop on what makes them tick as entrepreneurs. Learn more about each nominee below, cast your vote, , and we’ll see you at the GeekWire Awards! Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh, Rad Power Bikes Ty Collins, left, and Mike Radenbaugh, founders of Rad Power Bikes. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh are childhood friends turned startup co-founders. Together they launched , a direct-to-consumer electric bicycle company that from e-commerce heavy-hitters Darrell Cavens and Mark Vadon. Mike started building e-bikes when he was in high school, taking over his parents’ woodshop. “I think If we let him, he would have stayed home from high school every day putting e-bikes together and filling orders,” said his father, John Radenbaugh. “Big boxes of parts started showing up every day until our garage was overrun and it looked like a mad scientist’s lab for the remainder of his high school years,” added his mother, Patty Radenbaugh. In college, Ty teamed up with Mike, focusing on marketing and events for their fledgling e-bike business. His father, Bruce Collins, said that his son has always had the kind of unshakable optimism that entrepreneurs need to get through startup life. “When he was a small boy, he developed the idea that all possibilities are 50/50 in likelihood of happening, something would either happen or it wouldn’t,” Bruce said. “So, even in the face of long odds, Ty is able to make things happen because he feels it’s just as likely to happen as not.” Mitra Raman, Buttermilk Mitra Rasan, founder of Seattle-based Buttermilk Co. (The Buttermilk Co. Photo) After three years at Amazon, Mitra Raman caught the entrepreneur bug. Inspiration struck when her mother bagged up all of the ingredients needed to cook rasam, one of her favorite dishes growing up. All she had to do was add hot water. “An idea was born,” last year. She quit her gig at Amazon and struck out on her own, launching ., a meal delivery kit startup that charges $6 for meals such as the vegetable wheat porridge dish Khichdi and the lentil dish daal. Mitra’s husband, Amar Rao, said her entrepreneurial plunge was in-character. “She is always working hard and never settles or gets complacent,” he said. “Whenever she finds herself getting comfortable, she starts looking for the next and biggest challenge and, for the most part, succeeds in all her undertakings,” he added. Tony Huang, Possible Finance Possible Finance CEO Tony Huang. (Photo by Sam Cook) After his first startup exactly one year ago, Tony Huang has helped micro-lending startup originate 24,000 small loans and grown revenue by 50 percent month-over-month. Possible Finance offers a service similar to payday loans but the company allows borrowers to pay back the funds in smaller installments over time. The company a $30 million credit facility earlier this month. Tony has always had a streak of entrepreneurial creativity, according to his father, JK Huang. As a child, Tony came up with a unique solution to a pesky problem for kids of his generation. He didn’t have any Pokémon cards to show his friends because they were the “least priority in our spending budget,” JK said. “He put on a big smile claiming he had the most popular Pokémon cards,” JK said. “He then took out his collection. They were the most popular ones, but they were printouts on a regular piece of paper from our home printer trimmed to the standard size!” Brian Bosché, Slope Brian Bosche and Dan Bloom of Slope win GeekWire Startup Day 2016. (GeekWire Photo) Brian Bosché co-founded Slope five years ago as a creative agency in Detroit. He and his co-founder Dan Bloom quickly became frustrated by inefficiencies in creative marketing collaboration. That gave them the idea for Slope, a software service that helps companies manage the creative project production process. Brian moved Slope to Seattle to join the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in 2016 after a frantic application process, according to his wife, Marissa Smith. “Moments before the deadline, they submitted their application to take part in the program,” she said. “They were accepted and everything starting happening fast — Brian had to move to Seattle from Detroit with two weeks notice. It takes someone who’s willing to risk it all to pack up their life on a notice and move across the country, with the hope and dream of making their vision a reality.” It paid off. Three years later, Seattle-based to grow the public company’s work collaboration software suite. Yifan Zhang, Loftium Loftium CEO Yifan Zhang. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) In 2017, Yifan Zhang to shake up home-buying by leveraging Airbnb. promised to help house hunters with their down payments if they agreed to Airbnb a portion of their home and share the profits with the startup. The novel approach to real estate isn’t the only thing to catch people off guard. “I surprise a lot of people,” Zhang last year. “Most people expect me to be a 40-year-old male — my name is androgynous. Expectations and reality. There is always that gap, and you’re compensating for that and it’s tiring after a while.” Startup life can be fatiguing, even when entrepreneurs aren’t battling stereotypes. But Zhang is keeping her head down and growing her company. In 2018, Loftium and the startup is hiring for a variety of engineering and operational roles. Zhang and her relatives could not be reached to comment. Join us at the 2019 GeekWire Awards on May 2!
Founders’ Co-op Managing Partners Chris DeVore and Aviel Ginzburg. (Founders’ Co-op Photo) More investment dollars are flowing into the Pacific Northwest startup ecosystem thanks to a new fund from . The Seattle-based early-stage venture capital firm just closed a $25 million fund, its fourth and largest ever since launching in 2008. Founders’ Co-op will follow the same playbook it has used in years past: being the first institutional check and anchor tenant in the seed round for companies it bankrolls. The firm focuses on writing checks in the $250,000-to-$750,000 range for budding startups across the Pacific Northwest. It has backed more than 90 startups, including companies such as Remitly, Outreach, Auth0, Crowd Cow, Apptentive, and others. Those companies have collectively gone on to raise more than $1.5 billion in follow-on capital. “We aren’t thematic investors but are focused on technical founding teams solving hard problems into which they have unique insights, which tends to lead us to enterprise software, from developer tools up through workflow automation and systems of intelligence,” DeVore told GeekWire last week. GeekWire previously reported on this fund , when Founders’ Co-op raised the initial dollars. The last clocked in at $20 million four years ago, which followed a $7.7 million fund in 2012 and a $2.7 million original fund. DeVore and Andy Sack started the firm in 2008, along with partner Rudy Gadre, a former Facebook and Amazon.com executive. Sack stepped away from day-to-day duties several years ago, leaving the Seattle firm in the hands of DeVore, who recruited Seattle entrepreneur , co-founder of Simply Measured, to the team as a venture partner. Ginzburg was promoted to general partner last year. Sack and Gadre are still involved as venture partners. Many in the Seattle tech economy have the lack of homegrown capital available in the Pacific Northwest over the years. DeVore is one of the biggest advocates looking to change that imbalance. “Somehow, all of a sudden, it’s ten years later,” DeVore wrote in a blog post. “We’re still doing the same thing we’ve always done, but the world has changed around us.” In his blog post, DeVore noted the growth of Seattle as a tech hub, with Amazon, Microsoft, and a flurry of remote engineering outposts helping increase the talent pool exponentially: “We’ve spent the last ten years honing our craft and building a community of founders, investors and mentors dedicated to our shared mission of making the Pacific Northwest the best place in the world to start a software company. Over the same period, our regional startup ecosystem has grown and changed in ways we never imagined, offering a more diverse and talented pool of potential founders than we’ve ever seen. As with our first fund back in 2008, it looks like we’re heading into another cycle of uncertainty in the global economy. We expect markets to slow, or even contract, over the next few years. We expect the last several years’ run of easy money for startups to end along with it. Putting that all together, we know for sure that the founders we back in this next cycle will be some of the best we’ve ever seen.” in Founders’ Co-op mostly come from the Pacific Northwest and are a mix of founders and tech executives, plus family offices and foundations. The State of Oregon, via its Oregon Growth Board, invested again in the fourth fund. DeVore also runs Techstars Seattle, which its 10th class in February. Ginzburg, meanwhile, leads the Alexa Accelerator, another Techstars program that Amazon helps operate in Seattle. Founders’ Co-op, Techstars Seattle, and the Alexa Accelerator are all run out of the University of Washington’s Startup Hall.
Knack co-founders Mariah Lincoln and Catherine Bye. (Knack Photo) Competition is heating up among co-working spaces geared toward women. The Riveter pioneered the model, in Seattle in 2017 and the business quickly took off. The Riveter a $15 million investment round last year that is helping it expand across the nation. Last month it opened its sixth location in Austin, Texas. Now newcomers are entering the space, seeking to put a new twist on inclusive co-working. In Seattle, two such operations have cropped up this year. Marketing entrepreneurs Catherine Bye and Mariah Lincoln are opening in Seattle this spring. They met when they were both working for a Seattle marketing agency and decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge together. They launched Knack, a marketing agency that generated $3.4 million in revenue in its first year. The Knack Collective co-working space is a new branch of that business. “We understand that there is a significant gap for underrepresented communities when it comes to access — whether that’s access to funding, mentorship, supportive professional communities, and operational resources,” said Bye, Knack’s CEO. “We determined that filling this gap would be best served by reimagining co-working to include business-critical resources and advisors in legal, finance, recruiting, IT, and marketing, to name a few.” Knack’s co-founders insist they are offering something that The Riveter isn’t. Knack memberships are geared toward women, members of the LGBTQ community, and their allies. Pricing runs from $35 for a day pass to more than $1,850 for a private office or suite. “Much of our hope for the future of work is shared by many, but we differentiate in that we are heavily focused on providing access to business-critical resources and support that goes beyond a safe space,” Bye said. “You can’t just create a space — you have to help people along.” Tag Spaces is another new female-focused co-working space. It is attempting to serve entrepreneurs with smaller budgets and irregular hours. Eileen Carpenter managed 10 apartment buildings in Seattle’s University District before launching Tag Spaces. She opened the facility in January with her business partner, Craig Smith. Tag offers floating desks and flex spaces 24 hours a day to accommodate different schedules. Over time, Tag plans to add community events and workshops. “Although, monthly events may be female-focused, Tag wants to appeal to all locals that are simply passionate about what they do, whether it be entrepreneurship, education, a product or service,” Carpenter said. Jennifer Carpenter founded Tag Spaces to bring co-working to a broader range of customers. (Tag Photo) Tag’s day passes cost $25 and dedicate desk rentals go for $600. Like Knack’s co-founders, Carpenter believes Tag has something different to offer in the increasingly competitive co-working world. “Nestled inside a community like University District, Tag intends to be a spark to reignite the area’s small business,” she said. “Larger co-working ventures, like Riveter are placed in areas of established business, buzzing with activity. Tag intends to start this trend where ever the next location happens to be.” Female-friendly co-working spaces across the country, from Minneapolis to Brooklyn. This offshoot of the growing co-working movement seeks to provide resources, community, and safety at a time when women are confronting mistreatment in the workplace like never before.
Vouched CEO John Baird. (Vouched Photo) , a Seattle startup using AI to verify people’s identities online, has joined the accelerator. The 3-month accelerator program in a bid by VC firm Madrona Venture Group to lure talent from tech giants. It is focused on established teams and offers startups coaching and connections to investors. Vouched uses AI to review documents in order to help companies verify the identity of its customers, clients and contractors. Those documents could be anything from passports and driver’s licenses to proofs of address and insurance. The idea is to turn a manual process requiring lots of time and staff into an automated one. “We’re working behind the scenes to verify people on sites you might use every day. You might have already used Vouched and don’t even know it,” Vouched CEO said in an email. Vouched has raised $700,000 to date. In addition to a $100,000 investment Madrona Venture Labs, Vouched’s other investors include Zulily co-founder , New Engen CEO , investor , Bulletproof 360 VP , Revolve CFO , and , CEO of EMEA at Footlocker. Baird said Vouched aims to do for ID verification what services like Stripe have done for online payments, with a focus on ease of use, affordability, accuracy and scale. Vouched is incorporated under the name Woolly Labs. Baird founded the company with , who serves as chief product and technology officer. is the startup’s head of AI research. “Increasingly, companies never meet their customers, clients, or even employees,” Baird said. “How do you know, for example, that a gig economy worker has the legally required credentials to work in their industry?” Baird declined to share the names of customers, but said that Vouched works with “companies in sectors such as the gig and sharing economy, telemedicine, transportation, and enterprise software.” This is the second company to join Madrona’s accelerator. The first was , a software startup that helps speed up clinical trials, which graduated in January and was a . The Madrona Venture Labs accelerator is currently . The program is run by managing directors and out of , the “founder center” that opened beneath Madrona Venture Group last year.
The Startup CEO of the Year finalists, from left to right, clockwise: Leen Kawas, Athria Pharma; Scott Moore, Ad Lightning; Ambika Singh, Armoire; Milkana Brace, Jargon; and Forest Key, Pixvana. (Photos courtesy Athria; Ad Lightning; Timothy Anaya; Jargon; and Pixvana) Managing a fast-growing startup is not easy. But the GeekWire Awards finalists for Startup CEO of the Year have figured out a way to not only lead early stage companies but also inspire others to join them on their mission. We’ve opened voting in 11 categories, and community votes will be factored in with feedback from more than 30 judges. On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19. This year’s nominees for Startup CEO of the Year — Jargon CEO Milkana Brace; Athria Pharma CEO Leen Kawas; Pixvana CEO Forest Key; Ad Lightning CEO Scott Moore; and Armoire CEO Ambika Singh — run companies that operate in various industries, from virtual reality to fashion to biotech. To qualify for this category, eligible CEOs must have 200 employees or fewer. You can see the nominees for the other CEO of the Year category, for big tech companies, here. Learn more below about what makes the finalists for Startup CEO of the Year special, and vote on all the categories while you’re here. And don’t forget to , as the GeekWire Awards sell out every year. Jargon CEO Milkana Brace Jargon CEO and co-founder Milkana Brace. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) In her short time as CEO of , has demonstrated a crucial skill for any entrepreneur: the ability to adapt. Brace, a former senior director at Expedia and Groupon, originally helped start Jargon in late 2017 as an on-demand interpretation service. But after joining the Alexa Accelerator in Seattle last year and getting feedback from mentors, the company switched gears and started building a localization product for voice apps. Jargon made another slight pivot in recent months and is now focusing on developing a voice content management service. The company’s latest iteration helped attract last month from investors including Amazon’s Alexa Fund. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Brace: “Milkana Brace is both brilliant and humble, and this combination, combined with her unwavering commitment to delivering value to her customer, enabled her to lead and execute a massive pivot during the Techstars program that has positioned Jargon for success today. As a multilingual founder, her vision and leadership is helping drive culturally-competent global communication through multi-sense technology.” Athria Pharma CEO Leen Kawas Clinical pharmacist and founder of Athria Pharma Leen Kawas speaks at the 2018 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Based on her years of work both inside the lab and in the boardroom, is wholly committed to developing therapies that can help slow and stop the course of neurological diseases. The foundation of, previously known as M3 Biotechnology, began while Kawas was earning her Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology at Washington State University nearly a decade ago. The Seattle company, which its name change today, uses technology that Kawas developed at WSU and has raised more than $20 million. Athira is developing its lead therapeutic candidate, NDX-1017, a drug that could halt or reverse the nerve damage that causes Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses including Parkinson’s and ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It uses regenerative technology, rebuilding connections between neurons and increasing the mass of the brain and brain health. NDX-1017 is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials, with Phase 2 set to begin later this year. Kawas serves on multiple science and Alzheimer’s-related boards and holds a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Jordan. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Kawas: “Leen Kawas is a dedicated CEO who takes finding a therapy for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s very seriously. She is a champion for patient advocacy, promoting biotech in our region, and creating a work culture full of collaboration and innovation.” Pixvana CEO Forest Key Pixvana CEO Forest Key. (Pixvana Photo) is a quintessential early-stage company builder. The CEO of Seattle-based virtual reality startup likes to “build things that don’t yet have antecedents.” “I’m particularly good at 1.0 stuff: creating the vision, getting other people on board, pivoting aggressively and often… and always driving to outcomes,” Key writes on his . The entrepreneur already had one big startup success. After stints at Lucasfilm, Adobe, and Microsoft, in 2009 he launched buuteeq, a software startup for the hotel industry. The company raised $17 million in capital and grew to 150 employees and 10,000 customers before it was by travel giant Priceline in 2014. Now Key is back on the startup horse as the leader of Pixvana, which launched in 2015 and has raised $20 million from investors including Vulcan Capital, Raine Ventures, Microsoft Ventures, Cisco Investments, Hearst Ventures, and Madrona Venture Group. The company sells end-to-end cloud-based VR storytelling software and now also . Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Key: “Forest Key embraces a steady and smart ‘get-things-done” leadership style, compassionately guiding his loyal team through startup challenges.” Ad Lightning CEO Scott Moore Ad Lightning CEO Scott Moore. (Photo via Ad Lightning) Whether it’s building an online humor website or scaling an advertising exchange platform, is a proven leader. Moore is founder and CEO of , a Seattle startup that helps online publishers and advertising exchanges . Ad Lightning spun out of Seattle-based startup studio Pioneer Square Labs in 2017 and has raised nearly $5 million from investors such as Sinclair Digital Ventures, an investment division of Sinclair Broadcast Group; Seattle Angel Fund, Flying Fish Partners; Curious Capital; and The Alliance of Angels. Total funding in the company is $4.8 million. The startup was also part of the inaugural class of Verizon Ventures’ “Media Tech Venture Studio.” Prior to Ad Lightning and Cheezburger, Moore was general manager of Microsoft’s MSN consumer portal and head of media at Yahoo. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Moore: “Scott Moore is someone you just want to be around. His good nature, coupled with fierce tenacity, pair tremendously to make him an outstanding CEO. He leads with integrity and fairness, no matter the situation — and he’s seen quite the spectrum over the years.” Armoire CEO Ambika Singh Ambika Singh, CEO and co-founder of Seattle-based Armoire. (Timothy Anaya Photo) Functionally, is a women’s clothing rental service. But a conversation with may convince you that her startup is really about girl power (or more precisely, busy professional woman power, but that’s less catchy). Singh is CEO and co-founder of Armoire, a Seattle startup that uses data-driven curation . Starting at $149 per month, the 3-year-old company ships designer clothes to customers who can swap out the items at any time or purchase them at a discounted rate. Singh helped launch the company while at MIT’s Delta V accelerator program and has since grown Armoire to more than 30 employees while raising $4.2 million from investors such as Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens; Foot Locker exec Vijay Talwar; and a number of female backers who decided to invest after first becoming customers. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Singh: “Ambika Singh’s entrepreneurial journey is a source of constant inspiration … Most inspiring is that she lives her values, creating the sizeless, endless, closet-of-the-future for women, while hiring a team of primarily women (engineers, designers, stylists and machine learning experts), and exuding the very confidence she inspires in her clientele.” Join us at the 2019 GeekWire Awards on May 2!
Showdigs interfaces for property managers, users and brokers. (Showdigs Photo) Another new Seattle startup has raised cash to fix problems in the complicated world of real estate. raised a $3 million seed round to make life easier for property managers who are inundated with requests for showings of rental homes and apartments. The company operates an Uber-like marketplace model, connecting property managers in need of people to show houses and apartments with real estate brokers looking to make some extra cash. “They get bombarded with hundreds of inquiries every time they have a vacancy,” Showdigs CEO said in an interview with GeekWire. “The problem is they have to start following up with everyone and scheduling meetings and times for people to see the unit, and this is where they get swamped and need help.” Showdigs CEO Kobi Bensimon. (Showdigs Photo) Showdigs plugs into property managers’ systems, and when they get a request for a showing from a site like Zillow or Apartments.com, the company sends back a link to set up an appointment. Visits can be scheduled with as little as 30 minutes notice, and Showdigs then pings brokers on the platform in the neighborhood to do a showing, the same way Uber finds nearby drivers for ride requests. Brokers make $25 per showing, paid by property managers, with Showdigs taking a cut. The company is still tinkering with how it brings in revenue, testing options like taking a percentage off each showing, offering subscriptions for property managers, flat fees per vacant unit and more. Showdigs just launched its service in November, starting small in the West Seattle neighborhood. A month later, the company expanded to all of Seattle and Portland. In 2019, Showdigs plans to expand to more major markets. Showdigs is one of a number of Seattle startups tackling problems in the real estate industry. Some are dealing with the sales process (FlyHomes), while others aim to solve construction (Blokable) and title and escrow (JetClosing). FlyHomes is testing a similar service — “a role where rideshare drivers who were also real estate agents could show homes on demand,” as this notes — but for those looking to buy properties, not rent. Today, Showdigs has about 150 brokers on the platform and is working with 10 large property managers. The company just showed its 1000th unit. The nine-person company is split between Seattle and Tel Aviv, Israel. Bensimon and a lot of the business team are in Seattle, while the product team, led by Waze veteran Ohad Ron, is in Israel. The seed round was led by Bellevue, Wash.-based venture capital firm . Bensimon said the cash infusion will be used to beef up the company’s software and platform, so that when the time comes to expand, scaling up the business will go smoothly. Bensimon is a veteran of the real estate tech business. He co-founded and led a startup called ActiveBuilding that helped large apartment complexes communicate with tenants. He in 2013. The experience at ActiveBuilding gave Bensimon a window into the issues property managers deal with and inspired the idea that became Showdigs. Brokers rarely show apartments anymore thanks to technological innovations from sites like Zillow. But they possess unmatched local knowledge, the training to show units and flexible schedules to take some load off overbooked property managers. Brokers are primarily reliant on sales commissions, so Showdigs gives them an opportunity to earn extra money in between sales or keep cash coming in during a dry spell. “It’s a way for them to complement their income,” Bensimon said of the platform for brokers. “They get a commission every time they make a sale, and sometimes they could go for months without having an income.”
Hardware can be a , but the Pacific Northwest is replete with ambitious gadget makers looking for creative solutions to problems of all sorts. Private email servers, heart monitors, smart home gadgets and a drone well-versed in operating in tight spaces — this year’s crop of finalists for Hardware/Gadget of the Year at the 2019 GeekWire Awards has it all. Led by serial entrepreneurs and alums of some of the world’s biggest companies, the finalists — Bardy Diagnostics, Helm, Lubn, Vtrus and Wyze Labs — are aiming to upend their markets. We’ve opened voting in 11 GeekWire Awards categories, and community votes will be factored in with feedback from our more than 30 judges (see ). On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19. Last year, the high tech manufactured housing startup Blokable took. Other past winners include , , and . Read about the finalists and vote on all the categories while you’re here. And don’t forget to , as the GeekWire Awards sell out every year. The Carnation Ambulatory Monitor, or CAM for short, is designed to be worn comfortably for approximately a week, with the goal of improving patient compliance. (Bardy Diagnostics Photo) Bardy Diagnostics wants to change the way medical professionals monitor heart conditions. The Seattle company makes a non-invasive cardiac monitor patch that helps detect arrhythmia. The Carnation Ambulatory Monitor, or CAM for short, is designed to be worn comfortably for approximately a week, with the goal of improving patient compliance. Last summer, Bardy of undisclosed size to grow its sales team and monitoring services, advance research and development programs and accelerate development of artificial intelligence diagnostic capabilities. The company recently through an alliance with JNC Medical, a medical technologies distributor based in Ottawa, Ontario. News of the expansion came just a few weeks after Bardy said it reached a for the CAM patch in January. Bardy is led by Gust Bardy, a long-time cardiac electrophysiologist who also serves as a clinical professor of medicine, cardiology, at the University of Washington and is the director of the Seattle Institute for Cardiac Research. Bardy sold his previous company, Cameron Health, to Boston Scientific in 2012. The Helm. (Helm Photo) This Seattle-area startup wants to redefine email at a time when privacy and security issues related to hosted by big tech companies in the cloud . Helm, formerly known as Privacy Labs, last year that lets consumers send and receive email from their own domain, in addition to saving contacts and calendar events. The company’s personal physical email server puts it squarely in the crosshairs of tech giants such as Google. The device is about the size of a router and looks like an upside-down book placed on a table. It connects to a home network and pairs with a mobile app that lets users create their own domain name, passwords, and recovery keys. Helm supports standard protocols and works with regular email clients such as Outlook or the Mail app, with encryption protecting connection between the device and the apps. According to the , the device is sold out right now, but Helm promises to make more. Buyers can reserve their spot in line for $99. The idea comes from and , two entrepreneurs who previously sold a security startup. The co-founders, based in Bellevue, Wash., raised from top venture capital firms in 2017. The LTE smart key box by Seattle startup Lubn won a 2019 CES Innovation Award in the smart home category. (Photo: Lubn) Lubn is part of a movement toward a smarter lock-and-key solutions. The Bellevue-based startup is developing hardware and software products designed for property managers, retail store owners and others to remotely manage who comes and goes at their properties. Its main product is a smart key box with visual authentication that connects to the cloud via 4G LTE. The LubnBox was a at the giant electronics show in Las Vegas this past January and last year the company show. Lubn also offers an app and dashboard to let users remotely control who can enter their properties and at what times. As a father who was juggling a career at Microsoft while also managing multiple rental properties scattered internationally, Lubn co-founder and CEO Yuan-Chou “YC” Chung got the idea for the product from his own experience. He wanted a simple solution for controlling and coordinating access to the properties to give him more time for family. He teamed up with fellow co-founders Autumn Li, who is the company’s CTO, and Charles Chang, adviser, to create Lubn. Smart locks are a hot technology, with Amazon’s in-home package delivery program garnering global attention. Bellevue, Wash. startup Drones are everywhere these days, but it’s still unclear what their best use will be. A Seattle startup is seizing on the technology to conduct precision inspections of industrial facilities. Vtrus, based near the Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood, has developed an indoor autonomous drone known as the ABI Zero that can navigate its way around the tricky surroundings of a warehouse environment without the need for a remote operator or GPS waypoints. The company, which has skirted Federal Aviation Administration restrictions on outdoor drone flights because it works exclusively indoors, is to continue refining its offerings. ABI Zero can conduct an aerial survey for as long as 10 minutes, and then return to its base station for charging. The base also serves as a WiFi-enabled link for receiving streaming data from the drone and relaying it to Vtrus’ cloud service. Vtrus takes advantage of a computer vision technique called SLAM (Simultaneous Location and Mapping), which enables drones to build a high-fidelity map of their surroundings. Thirty times a second, the SLAM software keeps track of 300,000 depth points captured by an array of cameras and sensors. , CEO, previously co-founded Surreal Vision, a computer vision startup that , Facebook’s VR subsidiary. He went on to work at Oculus VR for more than a year as a research scientist in Redmond, Wash., then helped lay the groundwork for Vtrus, which he launched in 2017 with chief technology officer and chief design officer . Fresh off earlier this year, Kirkland, Wash.-based Wyze Labs is making waves in the smart home security market with its low-cost camera. Wyze was founded by Amazon veterans Yun Zhang, Dave Crosby, Elana Fishman and Dongsheng Song in 2017. Later that year, the startup launched its camera with 1080p HD video and 14 days of free cloud storage. At $19.99, the price severely undercut the group’s former employer, as Amazon for $119.99 around the same time. Fishman of GeekWire’s Elevator Pitch this past summer and said at the time that the company had sold over a quarter-million units in less than six months. The company launched another piece of hardware, the $29.99 , in May 2018. Join us at the 2019 GeekWire Awards on May 2!