The SeekOut team. (SeekOut Photos) LinkedIn can be a valuable resource for hiring managers sourcing potential candidates. But oftentimes it isn’t enough — and that’s where is stepping in. The Seattle-area startup today announced a $6 million investment round led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Mayfield. The company helps HR departments by using swaths of data to provide an AI-powered “360-degree profile” of potential candidates — particularly those that have sparse or no LinkedIn profiles, but may be qualified based on harder-to-find accolades. SeekOut is led by CEO and co-founder , a former technical assistant to Bill Gates who previously led Microsoft’s Unified Communications Group; and CTO , a former Microsoft partner engineering manager who worked on products including Bing and Office. Anoop Gupta with Aravind Bala, co-founders of SeekOut. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop) Their company is an evolution of , a professional messaging service formerly known as that Gupta and Bala founded. The premise of Nextio was to give recipients of promotional LinkedIn messages money paid by marketers, recruiters and others seeking to reach them. Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 — one year after Gupta and Bala left the company. While Nextio never took off, there was a “career insights” feature that analyzed millions of resumes to give users a birds-eye view of potential career paths and the necessary steps to achieve certain jobs. That garnered interest from recruiters who wanted to understand requirements for various roles at companies; how people moved from different jobs; and so forth. About 18 months ago, Nextio pivoted to SeekOut. “Since then the growth and traction has been phenomenal, and we are truly humbled and energized about serving this critical need for companies,” Gupta said. SeekOut’s thesis is that developers and engineers often don’t promote their experience or work on a LinkedIn profile, but may do so in a place such as GitHub or in research papers and patents. But sourcing potential hires based on public data is only one part of the company’s business. SeekOut also provides built-in diversity filters to help reduce unconscious bias; a machine learning-driven search engine that understands past hiring patterns and needs based on job descriptions; and the ability for recruiters to “hyper-personalize” messages when engaging with candidates. SeekOut has more than 75 enterprise customers from various industries including tech, defense, pharma, consumer-packaged goods, and more. “Our secret sauce is that we are engineering leaders who have tons of experience hiring tech talent for our teams and with challenges our recruiters faced,” Gupta said. “We also know of data available and how to apply machine learning, natural language processing and other technologies to the problem that we and our customers face every day: finding qualified candidates.” SeekOut competes against a flurry of existing hiring-related tools, from giants such as LinkedIn itself and Workday, to smaller startups including fellow Seattle company . Gupta said that most competing HR tech tools are spread over a wide range of tasks, such as chatbots or candidate scheduling. “The companies in the sourcing space where SeekOut focuses are fewer, and less mature,” he said. Gupta and Bala both left Microsoft in November 2015 and came up with the Nextio idea in early 2016. SeekOut has raised $8.2 million to date. The company employs 12 people and expects to double headcount this year. As a result of the funding, Madrona Managing Director S. “Soma” Somasegar will join the board. “As every company goes through the digital transformation, the need for technical talent is growing leaps and bounds,” he said. “The SeekOut team deeply understands these challenges and has the expertise and drive to address them.”
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!
Sidonie Kiner reads a poem alongside her mother, Reverb CEO Mikaela Kiner, at the Champion Awards in Seattle on Thursday at the Pacific Science Center. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Our world says women can’t break through … All women should be born with a sledgehammer to smash through that glass wall … All we want is gender equality … Women’s rights are human rights … The crowd fell silent as Sidonie Kiner read a poem written by her friend that echoed core themes of the , an event held Thursday night in Seattle that celebrated local women founders, investors, entrepreneurs, and others. By the time Sidonie finished the poem, called Pantoum of a Glass Ceiling, the tears were flowing for some of the 300 people in attendance. At her side was Sidonie’s mother, Reverb co-founder and CEO Mikaela Kiner, who helped co-host the second annual event with the Female Founders Alliance (FFA), a Seattle-based startup aiming to help close the gender gap in angel and venture financing. The event’s purpose is to put a spotlight on champions for gender equity across categories such as “The Advocate,” “The Founder,” and “Unsung Heroes.” Kiner, who heads up Seattle-based HR consulting firm Reverb, and Leslie Feinzaig, CEO of FFA, were joined by leaders from organizations such as WTIA, Bank of America, the Seattle Office of Economic Development, and many more on Thursday at the Pacific Science Center. “We bonded over our hopes that the world and workplace would be better and more inclusive for our daughters,” Kiner said of her partnership with Feinzaig. “We want women to have equal opportunities. We want women to have equal pay. Primarily, we want women to have a voice. We want for women to be seen for our values and recognized for our contributions.” (Female Founders Alliance Photo) Female Founders Alliance was born from Feinzaig and her members’ experiences seeking to raise investment capital. Less than 3 percent of venture capital dollars , a number that hasn’t moved much in recent years despite more attention on the gaps. Women-founded companies accounted for just 16 percent of first venture capital financings between 2005-2017, according to a . This year, researchers found 63 percent of startups have no women on their board of directors and 47 percent have no women in leadership. Men outnumber women three to one in the tech industry, according to stats shared last month at the . Across all industries, women earn around 79 cents for each dollar a man makes, according to , based on an “uncontrolled” gender pay gap calculation. The gap has narrowed by 1 percent over the past year. Leslie Feinzaig, founder of the Female Founders Alliance, speaks at Thursday’s event. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Feinzaig, who is 37 weeks pregnant with her second child, gave an impassioned speech to close out the event that recounted how her own life experiences growing up in Costa Rica and immigrating to the U.S. have helped shape her views on equality and unity today. “Allyship, championship — they are not binaries,” Feinzaig said. “The world, as much as you might not believe it, is not made up of allies and assholes. All of us are in the imperfect, messy middle.” The FFA founder said she wants her daughter to live in a world not divided but rather “where we can all be each other’s allies.” “To those with the dreams, those who are unseen, those that have been hearing the us vs. them language for so long, that have been told we don’t have the power, that we are less than — I just want to say that you do have power,” Feinzaig told the crowd. “You have power and you can use it. There’s power in being beaten down. There’s power in not having anything. There’s power in not being seen, because when you’re beaten down, you learn how to get back up and when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. And when you’re on unseen, then nobody sees you coming.” Here are the other winners from the Champion Awards, with category descriptions from FFA and Reverb. The Role Model: The role demonstrates what is possible for ambitious women. She is someone with a long trajectory, demonstrated integrity and leadership in her field, who inspires other women to strive for greatness. Winner: Jill Angelo, CEO and co-founder, genneve Jill Angelo, CEO and co-founder of Seattle startup genneve. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The Sponsor: The sponsor leverages their network and resources to help the women that they mentor advance and succeed in their career. Winner: Shellie Willis, founder, Redefining You Foundation Shellie Willis, founder, Redefining You Foundation. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The Investor: The investor has literally put “their money where their mouth is” when it comes to investing in women- and non-binary-led businesses and helping founders succeed. Winner: Yoko Okano, angel investor and founding member, Grubstakes Yoko Okano, angel investor and founding member, Grubstakes. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The Advocate: The advocate is an individual or organization who uses their public platform to promote and advance women’s causes. Winner: Julie Pham, PhD, vice president, community engagement and marketing, WTIA Julie Pham (left), PhD, vice president, community engagement and marketing, WTIA. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The Company: This organization has created a work culture that supports and advances women, forging meaningful outcomes for its employees that run counter to what’s typical in its industry as a whole. Winner: Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream Molly Moon’s founder Molly Moon Neitzel. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Unsung Heroes: Often working behind the scenes, these are the champions who uplift women entrepreneurs every day. They provide opportunities, support, and mentoring. They excel in delivering others into the spotlight. The seven recipients announced at the Champion Awards are: – Jennifer Arlem Molina, Lead Consultant, j.a.Molina Creative – Michaela Ayers, Founder, Nourish – Mar Brettmann, PhD, Founding Executive Director, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) – Chelsea Cooper, Co-chair, Starbucks Women’s Impact Network – Laura Espriu, Founder & Principal Consultant at Laura Espriu Coaching & Consulting – Judy Loehr, Enterprise SaaS Advisor, Bayla Ventures – Amy Pak, Founder, Executive Director, Families of Color Seattle From left to right: Amy Pak, Founder, Executive Director, Families of Color Seattle; Judy Loehr, Enterprise SaaS Advisor, Bayla Ventures; Laura Espriu, Founder & Principal Consultant at Laura Espriu Coaching & Consulting; Michaela Ayers, Founder, Nourish; Jennifer Arlem Molina, Lead Consultant, j.a.Molina Creative; Chelsea Cooper, Co-chair, Starbucks Women’s Impact Network; and Mar Brettmann, PhD, Founding Executive Director, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST). (Female Founders Alliance Photo) The Founder: The founder has persevered in the face of adversity to launch and grow a business. This is a peer award that was voted on by the members of the Female Founders Alliance. Winner: Karen Okonkwo, co-founder, TONL (award accepted by colleague)