The HyperAI team, from left to right: Benji Barash, Yves Albers, Dave Matthew, and Elizabeth Nelson, with TiE Seattle board member Shirish Nadkarni and Madrona Venture Labs CTO Jay Bartot. (Not pictured, from the Hyper AI team: Ritesh Desai and Joaquin Zapeda) (Photo via Madrona) Food safety is a pressing issue. The latest example came last month when an elusive strain of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce sickened 121 people across 25 states and killed one, for how food is screened for safety and quality. Now a newly-formed group of entrepreneurs wants to use machine learning technology to help keep food free of harmful bacteria and containments before it reaches the dinner table. Hyper AI took home the first place prize at a hosted by TiE Seattle and Madrona Venture Labs, the startup studio housed inside Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group. The event featured eight teams who came together last month and spent this past weekend creating startup ideas that incorporated the latest machine learning and deep learning technology. Eight teams participated in the Machine Learning Startup Creation Weekend at Madrona Venture Labs. (Photo via Madrona) The winning team, Hyper AI, aims to help the food industry with hyper-spectral imaging tech that can detect everything from foreign objects to deadly bacteria. It plans to deploy edge devices on customer premises and do the heavy lifting for image analysis with machine learning in the cloud. The group, made up of Amazon vets and experienced technologists, explained that existing solutions are either too manual and expensive, or too specialized. It hopes to use machine learning to improve the food scanning technology over time as it learns how to detect more and more contaminants. “They were able to demonstrate why there is increasing awareness of the issue and demand for new, innovative solutions,” said Mike Fridgen, CEO of Madrona Venture Labs who helped judge the pitches. “They had defined their beachhead opportunity, where they would start, through in-depth conversations with potential food processor customers.” As the first place prize winner, the Hyper AI team will now meet with Madrona Venture Labs with a chance to land a $100,000 investment and participate in , which just . Accepted startups in the accelerator will use Madrona Venture Labs resources — expertise in company creation, design, engineering, etc.; access to Madrona’s advisor and investor network; and more. It will be housed in Madrona’s that opens later this summer underneath its existing downtown Seattle office. Madrona Venture Labs held in the past and ended up investing in the winning companies. The studio is focusing on supporting “vertical” machine learning and artificial intelligence startups, as explained . The second place team from last weekend’s event was FireWise, which aims predict wildfires before they happen. The third place team, HealthShop, wants to help guide healthcare patients to surgery centers. (Editor’s note: I was one of the six judges at the event. Others included Madrona Venture Labs CEO Mike Fridgen; Flying Fish Managing Partner Heather Redman; Madrona Ventures Venture Partner and University of Washington professor Dan Weld; Koru CEO Kristen Hamilton; and Microsoft GM Sona Vaish Venkat )
TAYLOR’S TAKE ON THE WEEK IN SPORTS TECH: A new football league controlled by fans is the latest endeavor to make use of blockchain technology. The begins play next year and will allow fans to be apart of everything from play-calling to hiring general managers. The FCFL will feature eight indoor football teams playing one hour-long games in a production studio on a 50-yard field. Games will air on Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming platform whose video overlay technology will allow fans to call plays in real-time. The league is also using helmet cameras, embedded chips in balls, drones, and other tech. The league this week that it has partnered with , a Seattle-based blockchain consulting group, to implement a first-of-its-kind blockchain token system. Fans will be able to earn Fan Access Network (FAN) tokens built on the Ethereum blockchain; the more tokens collected, the more power they’ll have to make decisions. , co-founder of FCFL, told GeekWire that his team wanted to use blockchain for three reasons: Voting transparency: “We’re letting fans dictate the careers of coaches and players, and the plays on the field,” he said. “We need to be able to provide true transparency in the voting process so there are no questions about the results.” Tokenization: “We’re building a ‘real-life video game’ so it’s a natural fit to have tokens in the game,” he said. “We’re tokenizing voting power in the league so the more FAN tokens a fan owns/earns, the more voting power the fan will have.” Digital collectibles: “We’re going to be tokenizing the players in the league and creating non-fungible digital ‘collectible tokens’ for each player, similar to trading cards,” he said. “We’re working with New Alchemy on some interesting ways to incorporate the collectible player tokens into fantasy sports games for the league.” New Alchemy is also an investor in the league, making a “low seven-figure” investment, Farudi said. Farudi and his colleagues tested an initial version of FCFL last year , an Indoor Football League team, and letting fans control plays with an app. FCFL is the latest evolution, expanding the format to an entire league with partners like Twitch and IMG Original Content. Highlights from the week in sports tech Amazon bought up more live sports rights, this time to stream the U.S. Open in Ireland and the U.K. on Prime Video. The NFL is investigating what it alleges as widespread fraud related to its $1 billion concussion settlement, reports . Amazon-owned Twitch from the NBA’s new 2K esports league. reports that MLB and the NBA are in talks to divest their stakes in DraftKings and FanDuel. Seattle startup Vicis for safe football helmets. Seattle esports betting startup Unikrn made another acquisition, to create the first “crypto gaming platform.” Another Seattle startup, IdealSeat, to integrate its ticketing intelligence platform. University of Pittsburgh awarded two projects for its first : tech that improves swimming technique, and a bio-screening platform that measures a user’s nervous system. Did you sign up for ESPN+? In case you missed it, on ESPN’s new $5 per month streaming service. Mobile Sports Report is out with . Blockchain-based startups are . Thanks for tuning in, everyone! — Taylor Soper
U2’s Bono and The Edge in concert Friday night on the 2018 Experience + Innocence Tourin St. Louis. (Photo by Remy, via , ) Seattle-based on-demand trucking technology startup Convoy already counts several rock stars of the tech world among its investors — including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Turns out some actual rock stars have invested, as well. Convoy that U2’s Bono and The Edge quietly invested in the company last year. Convoy declined to disclose the amount of the investment. The U2 frontman and guitarist were introduced to the company by Hadi Partovi, a Convoy board member, investor and CEO of Code.org. The news coincides with the recent start of U2’s “Bono and The Edge know more about trucking than you might think. They’ve spent most of their adult lives touring the world with U2, and trucks are an essential part of moving the show from city to city,” said Convoy CEO and co-founder Dan Lewis in . “When they heard about Convoy, they loved that we are using technology to empower millions of truckers to grow their businesses while at the same time reducing empty miles and waste.” Convoy co-founders Dan Lewis, CEO, and Grant Goodale, CTO, inside the company’s Seattle headquarters. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The company has been described as the “Uber for trucking,” using technology to connect truck drivers with excess capacity to shippers looking to move freight — including Fortune 500 companies — automating traditionally a slow and time-intensive process. Convoy works with 15,000 trucking companies and 100,000 truck drivers, and has grown to 225 employees. Bono and The Edge are no strangers to technology investing, from to cloud storage giant Dropbox. Partovi and his brother, Ali, who met Bono and The Edge through their previous startup iLike, also , as well. Convoy raised $62 million in a Series B round last year, led by , the investment arm of Silicon Valley-based accelerator Y Combinator. The investment by Bono and The Edge was not part of that round. Total funding in the company now tops $80 million. Convoy was named and is , set for Thursday night in Seattle.