Icertis CEO Samir Bodas and his team accept the award for Deal of the Year at the 2018 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Show me the money! Venture capital investment in Washington state last year reached the highest level since 2000, , according to a report from PwC and CB Insights. This year’s GeekWire Deal of the Year nominees for top venture capital investment accounted for nearly a fifth of that sum. We’ve opened voting in 11 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. This year’s nominees for VC-related Deal of the Year — Vicis, 98point6, Convoy, JetClosing and Zipwhip — are using technology to solve large scale problems. From protecting the health of football players to organizing the nation’s fragmented trucking industry, they’re looking to make national changes from their Pacific Northwest headquarters. , Icertis, landed a $50 million round to help the startup become the Salesforce of contract management. Icertis has since built out its leadership team, adding and . Read about on 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. Vicis CEO Dave Marver. (Vicis Photo) After a Super Bowl-winning quarterback leads your investment round, where do you go from there? closed a in November, bringing the company’s total funding raised to $84 million since spinning out of the University of Washington in 2014. Aaron Rodgers invested in Vicis through Rx3 Ventures. Vicis makes high-tech helmets for NFL and youth players alike. The secret is its flexible design, which aims to prevent concussions in the high-impact game of football. “We invested in VICIS because its commitment to player safety – specifically at the youth level – is one we wanted to support,” Rodgers said in a statement at the time. Convoy co-founder Grant Goodale accepts the award for Next Tech Titan at the 2018 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Talk about fuel in the tank: ‘s in September propelled the trucking startup to unicorn status with a valuation that topped $1 billion. The round was led by the late-stage venture capital arm of Google parent Alphabet, . It was the fourth-largest funding round ever for a Washington-based company, according to data from PitchBook. Convoy connects thousands of drivers and shippers together on a single platform. “We have a big vision and we’re in an ideal position to go after it and see it through,” Convoy co-founder and CEO Dan Lewis said when the funding round was announced. Convoy won the Next Tech Titan honor at the GeekWire Awards and also won Startup of the Year. 98point6 co-founder and CEO Robbie Cape. (98point6 Photo) Virtual primary care startup looked like a healthy investment to Goldman Sachs, which in the company this past October. The fresh cash brought the company’s total amount raised to $86.3 million in just over three years. 98point6 CEO Robbie Cape has said the startup is “focused on solving the primary care crisis in America.” The company makes the most of a doctor’s most precious resource by using technology such as to reduce the time a physician needs to spend with each patient. The JetClosing team. (JetClosing Photo) is revamping the outdated home closing process by getting rid of the paperwork and bringing the process to the cloud. The startup last summer, landing a $20 million Series A round last summer with investments from T. Rowe Price as well as PSL Ventures, Imagen Capital Partners, Trilogy Equity Partners and Maveron. The startup was founded in 2016 after spinning out of Pioneer Square Labs in Seattle. The Zipwhip team. (Zipwhip Photo) The next time a company sends you an emoji, it could be because of . The Seattle startup is helping companies communicate with their customers over text messages, and it earlier this year in a deal that brought its total funding to $92.5 million. The Series D round was led by Goldman Sachs Private Capital Investing group, with participation from existing investors including OpenView, M12, and Voyager Capital. The company is more than a decade old, but it never wavered from its faith in SMS. “We always believed text messaging would be the future,” Zipwhip CEO John Lauer said at the time of the fundraising. Zipwhip last month a new space in Seattle with room for 500 people. Join us at the 2019 GeekWire Awards on May 2!
Apana CEO Matt Rose. Many building operators assume that losses from water mismanagement are just a cost of doing business. thinks otherwise. Rose is the CEO and co-founder of , a Bellingham, Wash.-based startup located north of Seattle that helps Fortune 500 brands and other customers manage their water use. The startup today announced a $11 million funding round led by existing investor , a Tokyo-based company, as well as others that previously invested including Cowles Company, E8 Fund, and Urban Innovation Fund. Rose, a former Navy pilot who has a software development background in healthcare and defense industries, founded Apana in 2014 with , who has more than two decades of experience building and maintaining wastewater treatment plants. Apana helps companies manage their water usage. (Apana Photo) They’ve helped build a product that combines IoT devices with cloud-based analytics software to measure and analyze building-wide water use. It alerts users to potential problems and helps address areas of optimization. Rose said that customers typically see between a 15 and 30 percent reduction in water use, which is more valuable given in big cities. He said the system pays for itself in 18 to 24 months. Apana has customers such as Costco and MGM Resorts International in more than 600 cities globally, but Rose said the opportunity remains large. He noted that less than 1 percent of commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings in the U.S. have any kind of water management system. “This type of solution has not readily been available, because without some sort of IoT solution connected to analytics and reporting, it’s nearly impossible to do,” he noted. Total funding to date for Apana is $15.5 million. The company, which its seed round more than two years ago, employs 16 employees.
Make.TV CEO Andreas Jacobi. (Make.TV Photos) continues to bolster its live streaming resume. The Seattle-based startup has expanded its partnership with , the world’s largest esports organization that runs competitions across the world and produces more than 1,500 hours of content annually. Later this month, Make.TV will stream action from the ESL One Mumbai, India’s first-ever major Dota 2 tournament with a $300,000 top prize. Founded in 2016, Make.TV helps customers such as MLBAM, NBC Universal, Al Jazeera, Viacom, Fox Sports Brasil, and others stream live video content in the cloud. The 42-person company, which relocated from Germany to Seattle two years ago, is backed by some of the top investment firms in the Pacific Northwest including Microsoft’s M12, Vulcan Capital, and Voyager Capital, which a $8.5 million Series A round in June 2017. Bruce Chizen, the former CEO of Adobe, is on the company’s board. Make.TV’s technology acts like a video router of sorts, allowing companies to take live video from a variety of sources and deliver it to any device on any platform, said, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “Simply put, we empower content creators to share their video with production teams working for TV networks, cable companies, esports and sports networks or any other type of video-based media,” he said. “We also simplify the work of the production teams by automating a number of tasks — sifting through lots of data; identifying content libraries to pick a short segment from; routing content to post-production houses, regional broadcasters and social media channels — enabling them to dedicate more time to what they do best: create content we all want to watch.” The company offers a similar service to Portland-based Elemental, which . Other competitors include , , , and smaller startups. Make.TV is ranked No. 165 on the , our index of top Pacific Northwest startups. With more people watching live video online and the growth of platforms such as Twitch, the live streaming industry is to surpass $13 billion this year.
Seattle startup Crowd Cow accepts the Startup of the Year award at the 2018 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) A quick gander at the , our index of Pacific Northwest startups, shows the density of up-and-coming tech companies based in this region. That’s what makes the five nominees for this year’s Startup of the Year category at the all the more impressive. Amperity, Boundless, The Riveter, Rubica, and Sana Biotechnology beat out a bevy of other early-stage startups as nominees for a category that has honored fast-growing companies such as Crowd Cow, Convoy, Arivale, Rover, and others in the past. 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 are using technology to disrupt everything from gene editing to cybersecurity — read more about them below and vote on all the categories while you’re here. And don’t forget to grab your tickets , as the GeekWire Awards sell out every year. Amperity Amperity co-founders Kabir Shahani (left) and Derek Slager. (Amperity Photo) launched a year-and-a-half ago and already has clients such as GAP, Nordstrom, Alaska Airlines, Wynn Hotels, and others who use its customer data technology platform. The company made headlines in October 2017 when it from Tiger Global Management, a New York-based firm known globally for making long-term investments in companies including Spotify, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flipkart, and other tech giants. The Seattle startup is led by co-founders and . The entrepreneurs previously started Appature and in 2013. What’s your secret sauce? Amberity CEO Kabir Shahani: “It’s still early days for us, but it will come as no surprise that our secret sauce is absolutely our people. We are fortunate to have attracted a world-class team, that beyond having skills, experience, and ambition that is unrivaled, are just wonderful to spend time with. This has been foundational to our ability to attract and maintain world-class customers like Gap, Nordstrom, Wynn Hotels, Alaska Airlines, and several other iconic consumer brands. The support of these organizations and the forward thinking leaders in these companies that took a chance on us early in our journey, have allowed us the opportunity to be an iconic company ourselves one day. We’re fortunate that all of this started with unwavering support from our investors and a strong board of directors that continually push us to be bold and ambitious in the pursuit of our mission to enable the world’s most loved brands to use data to unleash the full potential of their teams, and in turn create meaningful customer experiences.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? Shahani: “Every entrepreneur starts their journey with clarity of vision to make something better. I find that it’s important to be bold in your ambition when trying to solve that problem, and reduce the noise at each step of the way, including your own self-talk. I’ve found that every time I focus on the opportunity at-hand, in its largest, most audacious form, and work to enable those around me to achieve their goals against that vision, all the right things happen.” Boundless The Boundless team has grown to 28 employees in the company’s first two years. (Boundless Photo) In the two years since it launched, has become the top destination for immigrants applying for marriage-based green cards in the United States. The company, a spinout of Seattle startup studio Pioneer Square Labs, helps customers connect with attorneys, file applications online, and receive support throughout the immigration process. It also publishes and resources on its website to help immigrants navigate an increasingly complex system. Boundless, which was also nominated for this category last year, just an additional $7.8 million last month to fuel growth. Its co-founders— , , and — previously worked at Amazon, Microsoft, and the White House. What’s your secret sauce? Boundless CEO Xiao Wang: “Creating an environment and culture where people can thrive. One of the huge advantages of being an early-stage startup is to be able to deliberately craft the type of place you have always wanted to work at. I think that everyone is capable of doing incredible work, but often organizations put into place structures, policies, and processes that deliberately hamper the motivation and effectiveness of its employees. What we take seriously is to continuously evaluate how we operate — establishing the right levels of ownership, autonomy, and trust — that makes Boundless a place people want to build at. Are we perfect? Not even close. But as with everything else at Boundless, we will never stop experimenting and working at making it better.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? Wang: “First, it’s to focus. When you are building something new, there are an infinite number of opportunities that have potential or should be pursued. It is so easy (and usually it’s the entrepreneur’s fault) to fall into the trap of ‘let’s just add one more thing to this project’ or ‘what if we just tried that?’ In nearly all cases, you’re better off pursuing fewer initiatives at a deeper level than to scatter your precious time and resources. Spreading too thin often results to lots of inconclusive results that barely move the needle. Focus on the few things that matter. Second, it’s to hire people who are better than you. Looking across my team, each one of my reports is much, much better at their areas than I am, which is exactly how it should be. Your job is to find and convince these people to leave well-paying, stable jobs to join your crazy idea, and then to clear as many obstacles as possible so that they can do their best work.” The Riveter Inside The Riveter’s West L.A. space. (The Riveter Photo) Founded in 2017, The Riveter differentiates itself from other co-working spaces by providing amenities, programming, and other membership perks geared toward female professionals. The company, which is open to all genders, 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, and has plans to launch in Dallas, Denver, Portland, Ore., Minneapolis – St. Paul, and Atlanta. The plan is to reach 100 locations by 2022. The Riveter, which won the Newcomer of the Year category at the , was co-founded by , a former Wall Street lawyer who helped launch the company after continuously running into “bro-working” spaces. What’s your secret sauce? The Riveter CEO Amy Nelson: “We (and I do mean ‘we’ – this is an enormous collective effort) are building something we believe the world needs and we are emboldened by the fact that we need it, too. We live in a world where we welcome A.I. into our homes and yet current trends show that men and women will continue to be compensated — and, valued — differently for 100 years, until the year 2119. We know we can do better and we’re building a movement and a company around that fact. Our need for a different tomorrow drives us when it’s hard — and it’s often hard. In less than two years, we’ve accomplished a lot but we know there is so much more work to be done.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? “The first is simple, hire a team of colleagues who you believe are smarter than you and who bring experience to the table that you don’t have. We have an incredible team of 51 people and every person brings something unique to what we’re building — and something we very much need. Second, lean into and highlight the differences that make you strong. I’m pregnant with my fourth daughter in four years. In a world where less than 3 percent of VC dollars go to all-female founding teams (and I believe The Riveter is the only all-female founding team in this category), I’ve been visibly pregnant or breastfeeding while raising every cent of the $21 million we’ve secured to grow The Riveter. Rather than hiding this or downplaying it, I talk a lot with investors, partners and teammates about how motherhood has made me a better leader. We can reframe the things society sees as weaknesses into the absolute strengths that they are.” Rubica (Rubica Photo) began as a research-and-design project focused on advanced cybersecurity within Concentric Advisors, a company the provides physical and digital security to prominent and high-net-worth families. In 2016, Concentric spun out its cyber division to become Rubica. The Seattle startup aims to protect both individuals and their families from cyberattacks. , previously an exec at Concentric, co-founded Rubica with , a cybersecurity expert and former colleague at Concentric. The company has raised more than $13 million from both angel investors and venture capital firms. What’s your secret sauce? Rubica CEO Frances Dewing: “Our people, and our inclusive culture. We’ve created an environment where people can trust each other and take risks and challenge the status quo. Rubica is a place of comradery where people are empowered to bring their multifaceted talents. We have cyber analysts who are also talented artists, software engineers with law degrees, and security professionals with creative writing skills. This collective creativity and diverse intelligence is the engine of our scrappy, innovative, mission-driven team.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? Dewing: “Be genuine. Be honest and transparent with your team. It builds trust – and trust is crucial on the rollercoaster ride of startups! The Rubica team knows that we are in this together, and that I will not abandon them or leave them in the dark. I’m honest about what’s working and what’s not, and we take the wins and losses together. When people know you mean it, and you’re all in, then they are too. Hire people that aren’t like you. Surround yourself with smart people that fill in your weaknesses. Intentionally look for people that are different or better than you in some way. This requires putting ego aside, but that’s what will allow you to build a winning team.” Sana Biotechnology Sana Biotechnology CEO Steve Harr. (Sana Photo) Former Juno Therapeutics executives and are behind , a stealthy startup focused on cell therapy, gene therapy and gene editing. Backed by ARCH Venture Partners, Flagship Pioneering and F-Prime Capital Partners, the company has an experienced leadership team that previously co-founded Juno, another Seattle biotech startup that was . Sana is reportedly working on a Series A funding round with the goal of raising between $800 million and $1 billion, . What’s your secret sauce? Sana CEO Steve Harr: “Sana focuses on the most challenging issues in understanding how to engineer biology to make important medicines. This vision and willingness to tackle big problems has attracted a unique and talented group of people, who are Sana’s secret sauce.” What are one or two pieces of advice for other entrepreneurs? Harr: “Companies are a combination of people, technology/opportunity, and capital. Great people attract great people. Great people attract and develop great technologies. Great people find great capital. Surround yourself with great people!”
(Museum of Flight Image) More than 60 years ago, the world got serious about exploring space. The global fascination with the great beyond led to a massive race between the United States and the Soviet Union to be the first to hit space travel milestones. In 1961, the Soviet Union became the first country to launch a person into space, and that person was Yuri Gagarin. The Museum of Flight is celebrating the 58th anniversary of this momentous occasion with a party called on April 12. The event will feature space-themed music, dancing, virtual reality and other activities celebrating mankind’s first trip to outer space. The Pacific Science Center will be celebrating history as well, but in the opposite direction from space. Taking place April 16, is a presentation from global underwater explorers. These experts will share their adventures with the help of modern photogrammetry of some crashed planes, ships and other underwater artifacts that are resting at the bottom of the ocean around our area. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : A talk about how to maximize your results in making sure your product fits into current market conditions at CoMotion Labs in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 12. : A talk about the history of agile technology, including Scrum, and how to use it to predict expectations at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 12. : A 24-hour hackathon aimed at students with a focus on FinTech at Microsoft in Redmond; Sunday, April 14 through Monday, April 15. : A full-day event for those using Datadog technology at the Loews Hotel in Seattle; Tuesday, April 16. A full-day event bringing together angel investors, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs at The Stanley Civic Center in Wenatchee; Thursday, April 18. : An event focusing on helping women business owners excel in all aspects of their business at the Westin Bellevue; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, April 18. A place to meet with potential Japanese business partners at the Columbia Center in Seattle; 1 to 6 p.m. Thursday, April 18. 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? .
Rad Power Bikes’ RadBurro model. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) , the Seattle e-bike startup, alleges in a new lawsuit that Phoenix-based competitor ripped off its website layout and e-bike designs. Rad calls Bam a “copycat company” and alleges it could not “succeed in the e-bike marketplace on its own merits,” so it had to mimic Rad’s look. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle this week, alleges that Bam launched a “knockoff” website in March that confused customers because it was so similar to Rad’s, making them think the two companies were related in some way. From the court documents: Bam apparently cannot succeed in the e-bike marketplace on its own merits. Bam instead hoodwinks an unwitting populace into the false impression that Bam has already achieved Rad Power Bikes’ prominence and reputational stature in the e-bike industry. Bam thoroughly mimicked Rad Power Bikes’ website content and e-bike designs in order to give the copycat company an unwarranted head start in the e-bike marketplace. Rather than compete fairly, Bam cuts marketing and design corners through siphoning Rad Power Bikes’ excellent reputation and goodwill in the burgeoning world of e-bike commerce. In addition to claims of copyright infringement and false advertising, Rad alleges that claims of patented technology made by Bam and its parent company, JHR Electric Transport, are misleading because the patents could not be found in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office databases. Throughout the filing, Rad shows images of the two companies’ websites side-by-side to emphasize the similarity in layout and product offerings. One image shows the tagline “Built for Everything. Priced for Everyone,” displayed prominently on both sites. Rad Power Bikes included this side by side comparison of the two companies’ home pages in its filing. (Photo Via court documents) When GeekWire visited the sites this week, taglines on both homepages had been changed. Bam also appeared to make tweaks to other areas of its website that previously looked similar to Rad in court documents. Rad alleges it got complaints from customers who thought its products were generic, since nearly identical models could be found on Bam’s website. Rad is asking for the court to put a stop to any elements of Bam that infringe on copyrights “in order to correct and end the misimpressions being foisted upon an unsuspecting public through Bam’s deliberate replication of Rad Power Bikes’ website design and business persona.” We’ve reached out to Bam and will update this post if we hear back. Rad declined to comment. Ty Collins, left, and Mike Radenbaugh, founders of Rad Power Bikes. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) has become one of the best-known e-bike brands in North America over the past four years, with revenues expected to double to $100 million this year, GeekWire previously reported. Last month, the company in Zulily co-founders and . The startup now sells its e-bikes in the U.S., Canada, and 30 European countries to both consumers and commercial in industries such as logistics, law enforcement, deliveries, and more. It has taken advantage of the direct-to-consumer model to shorten its supply chain, bypass traditional bike shops and create a tight feedback loop with customers to constantly improve its limited line of e-bikes that sell for around $1,500. On Bam’s website, parent company JHR calls itself “the leader in developing and manufacturing electric power vehicles in America.” It has been building electric vehicles since 2004, and according to the website is the company behind the “most popular mobility products in the world – EWheels.” Bam says it has been building e-bikes since 2009, and it offers four different models, all priced at $1,599. The company also builds several different types of e-scooters, ranging in price from $349 for a small folding scooter to $2,345 for the more powerful “Chopper Trike.” Here is the full lawsuit from Rad: by on Scribd
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)
(Matt Hagen Photo / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship) A team that wants to make batteries more environmentally friendly won $15,000 at a competition for environmental innovation at the University of Washington. MOtiF Materials invented a way to making batteries degrade less quickly over time. “If you can fix batteries, it has an impact on so many other clean energy technologies,” said , who founded MOtiF. Rasmussen, a doctoral student of mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, said the broader aim of the project is to make next-generation materials and manufacture them in a way that is scalable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly. She was drawn to the project as a way to use her mechanical engineering knowledge to create a process that helps the environment. “It’s something that everyone can get behind,” Rasmussen said. Specifically, she wants to find ways to synthesize a class of materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) at scale without damaging the planet. A recent Scientific American article , saying they “are poised to be the defining material of the 21st century.” Rasmussen is securing intellectual property for the technology and working on a paper manuscript based on her work. She’s received grant funding from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and financial support through a fellowship with the Clean Energy Institute. MOtiF does not have a website yet. The team also includes graduate students of mechanical engineering Stuart Moore and Courtney Otani, as well as undergraduate student Molly Foley. The winners for the were selected by more than 150 entrepreneurs, investors and environmental advocates. $10,000 2nd Place Prize: Atomo Coffee (Matt Hagen Photo / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship) What’s coffee without the beans? For , it’s a better cup o’ joe. The startup, which is rethinking how coffee is made from molecular level using naturally sustainable ingredients. Atomo launched a in February and has raised more than $25,000 so far. and are the co-founders of Atomo. Kleitsch is a tech vet who once worked at Amazon and currently leads entrepreneur workshops at the University of Washington. The second-place prize was sponsored by Herbert B. Jones Foundation. $5,000 3rd Place Prize: Chibage Chip (Matt Hagen Photo / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship) Biochemistry doctoral student Tamuka Chidyausiku invented a device called the Chibage Chip to help farmers detect when plants are thirsty. Chidyausiku is from Zimbabwe and wants farmers in developing nations to benefit from the device. In addition to winning the $5,000 third-place prize, which was sponsored by the Port of Seattle, Chibage Chip also won the $5,000 community impact prize. AeroSpec, which developed a way to monitor air pollution on a large scale, and NanoPrint, which is creating a zero-waste manufacturing process, both won $1,000 for the “Judges Also Really Liked” awards.
Leg Up co-founder and CEO Jessica Eggert (Leg Up Photo) was spending too much time and headache trying to research and arrange childcare for her 6-year-old son, Oliver. She wondered if other parents felt the same way. So Eggert created an Airtable spreadsheet listing Seattle-area childcare options and posted it online. This minimal viable product blew up, drawing 1,000 unique views in three days. Daycare facilities and camp operators reached out to ask for their data to be added. Leg Up CEO and co-founder Jessica Eggert and her son, Oliver Eggert. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Eggert) “Parents I’d never met were finding me on Facebook or LinkedIn and thanking me for surfacing the information they needed to find care,” Eggert said. “This problem went far beyond what I was struggling with on a monthly basis.” With the proof that she needed, Eggert pulled down the rough draft and in January, she and her friend officially launched The Seattle-based startup is building a marketplace to help parents find daycare, after school care and classes, and camps for summer and other school breaks. The duo will launch a beta version of the product this spring, exact date TBD, and a more polished version later this year. Eggert is CEO and Bell is chief brand officer for Leg Up. The two previously worked together at , a Seattle-based startup that provides women-focused coworking space and has spread to cities nationwide (Eggert was head of culture and innovation and Bell was head of marketing and communications). Most recently they teamed up at , a management consulting company focused on inclusion. Eggert and Bell are building the platform themselves and have 3,200 providers already in the database, which will initially focus on the greater Seattle area. The site will allow families to tailor their searches by the age of their child, the hours of care needed, the availability of financial aid, if the program serves children with special needs and other parameters. The database will include information such as costs, contact information, addresses and other details. Families will be able to rate programs with a more nuanced scoring system than the conventional 1-to-5 stars model. While Leg Up is a practical scheduling tool, to Eggert and Bell it represents something much bigger. It’s really about empowerment for working women. Leg Up is “opening up access for women and breaking down barriers,” Bell said, “and really removing the barriers that keep someone from reaching their greatest potential.” Childcare is a top-of-mind concern for many moms. A group of “Momazonians” at Amazon recently began raising childcare concerns, asking the company to provide them with as an employee benefit. Leg Up co-founders Jessica Eggert, left, and Jonna Bell. (Leg Up Photo) And numerous mothers simply opt for part-time work, if they’re in the workforce at all. Moms are spending 25 hours a week on average doing paid work, according to the while 14 hours are spent on childcare and 18 on housework. Some 60 percent of mothers say that it’s hard to balance work and family. “We’re really focused on solving problems that can help women,” Eggert said. In their own survey of 300 parents, the Leg Up team found that families were spending more than 30 hours a year managing childcare arrangements and camps. Leg Up will launch as a free service and eventually move to a subscription model for families. The founders decided to seek revenue from parents rather than providers given that many childcare services are working on margins too slim to afford any additional costs. While Poppy, another Seattle-based startup connecting parents to childcare, Eggert said their approach is different. Poppy matched parents with individual babysitters and nannies, as compared to Leg Up’s approach to helping families find childcare businesses. Poppy was a great service, she said, but “the economics just weren’t there.” Leg Up is competing against online parenting magazines with childcare listings and sites including Care.com, a public company $192 million a year and connecting people with care providers for kids, pets, elderly parents and house sitting. Eggert and Bell think they can offer more trustworthy, comprehensive information. We caught up with Eggert 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: Leg Up is a platform that allows parents to find childcare faster, and helps providers grow so they can keep up with growing demand. It’s a way to remove a barrier to the success of working moms. And a way for companies to retain one of their biggest and brightest talent pools. Inspiration hit us when: My son started elementary school this past year and I thought managing childcare would get a lot easier. Instead, it got harder. We’re on several two-year wait lists for after-school programs and, because school schedules don’t work with either mine or my husband’s work schedule, we found ourselves looking for a new type of care every month to fill the off days. I started slowly building a personal database of childcare programs that could help our family now and in the future. Thinking it would be great to share this information with others, I added in additional childcare programs for surrounding neighborhoods, embedded my database in a simple Squarespace website, and shared the website to a few individuals in my network. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who had this problem. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’re bootstrapping currently, although we’ll be raising quickly to make sure we give this company every chance possible to survive and make an impact in millions of parents’ lives. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Jonna and I have been friends longer than we’ve been coworkers, but have also been at two other companies together so we work together really well and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We’ve worked for a startup and launched a consulting company. We’ve had some small wins, but have been kicked in the teeth more often than not. This time around, we not only have experience but a really strong network who continues to open doors for us and believes strongly in this idea. We’re so grateful for the people in our lives on this journey. We couldn’t have made such incredibly fast progress without them. The smartest move we’ve made so far: I would say we’ve done three really smart things so far that have made a big difference. We locked in our vision from the beginning of how we wanted to help working parents. We not only talked to and surveyed hundreds of parents and providers, but we talked to people who have built products for the childcare industry and those who built businesses in other industries with strategies similar to ours — both those who have found great success and exits, and those who failed despite being amazing entrepreneurs. We learned what went right, what went wrong and what they suggested we do. We then took a lot of that advice (though not all) and pivoted quite a few times from our original idea. Because we’ve kept our vision in mind, it was just the strategy and how we executed that changed. Our vision has stayed our guiding star from the beginning. I’ve been building the technology from the beginning with advice from engineering advisors. Although it’s been hard playing CTO and CEO, I now understand the technology we want to build so much better and it’s helped me understand what our engineers and UX designers need to be paying attention to from the beginning. A core belief of mine is to not hire anyone whose shoes I haven’t walked in, even for just a moment. While I can’t always do this in the future, at least I’ll know who I need on my beginning team really well. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Being afraid to ask for money. I’ve asked for a lot of help from investors during this process, but it got to a point where I didn’t need to hear more and more advice (although always welcome). I needed to get money to help this company grow, and to learn while we build. I listen to a lot of podcasts and read stories of entrepreneurs who were able to tap their friends and family networks to get the first round that would help them grow, test and fail (then succeed) fast. However, it’s always been white men or women who worked for the best companies, who went to the best colleges, or who grew up around the best people. I didn’t have anywhere close to that kind of upbringing and my career has mostly been on the East Coast working for amazing companies whose names no one would recognize here in Seattle. A lot of imposter syndrome often makes me feel nervous to ask for more or ask to be in spaces where people who look like me or have my background aren’t always welcomed with open arms. Thankfully I’ve met some fantastic advisors and have a fantastic co-founder that pushes me to stop thinking that way and ask for what I not only want, but need. Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Serena Williams, without a doubt. We have several Olympic athletes in our network who have shared their experiences with us. Their ability to push through mental barriers of not being good enough or their bodies telling them they can’t go any further, is the kind of strength and stamina I want in my corner. Also, being a woman of color brings on different challenges, and the road to get to where I am today has felt really lonely — especially now as I walk into rooms and rarely, or never, see anyone who looks like me. I believe Serena Williams has that strength and stamina that would remind me that I can and will be better, to rise above the noise, and to make an impact in millions of people’s lives. Also, let’s be real. Having access to her and husband (Reddit co-founder) Alexis Ohanian’s network along this journey wouldn’t hurt! Our favorite team-building activity is: Every two weeks, Jonna and I head to our favorite nail salon in north Seattle for a mani-pedi. Our nail lady is a perfectionist so it takes a really long time, but we are able to relax, brainstorm, reconnect as friends and humans, and we walk out ready to dive back into work with a fresh perspective and, often, new ideas. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We aren’t hiring just yet, although we are having conversations with some individuals whose work I’ve admired for a long time to potentially come on in the future once we’ve secured funding. Both Jonna and I have been on teams in the past that haven’t truly cared about bringing in diversity or building inclusive spaces, but it’s a huge priority for us. We want our core team to not only be gender and ethnically diverse, but they also need to have built teams and technology that have focused on being inclusive across multiple spectrums. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Have your vision, be ready to work really hard and then be flexible. You may have lots of plans and spreadsheets and strategies, but like Mike Tyson says, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Be prepared to get punched in the face quite a bit along this journey. It’s a long road, but if you do it right, it’s a journey that’s enjoyable and incredibly rewarding.
Dr. Sanford Markowitz, founder of Rodeo Therapeutics. (Case Western Reserve University Photo) Seattle-based startup is raising more cash for its work on tissue repair and regeneration. The company has reeled in another $4.3 million, according to , adding to an investment round that also included a $3.7 million cash infusion . Rodeo, which raised a $5.9 million Series A round in 2017, declined to comment on the new funding. The biotech startup is focused on creating treatments for inflammatory bowel disease as well as a drug that helps cancer patients’ cells grow quickly following stem cell transplants. Rodeo was started by gastrointestinal cancer expert Dr. Sanford Markowitz, stem cell and drug development specialist Dr. Stanton Gerson, and regenerative medicine expert Dr. Joseph Ready. Thong Le is the company’s CEO; he’s also president and CEO of Seattle-based Accelerator Life Science Partners, one of Rodeo’s investors. Thong Le, CEO of Rodeo Therapeutics. (Accelerator Corporation Photo) Regenerative medicine holds the promise of creating new tissues to replace damaged ones. Rodeo’s therapies could one day help the living with an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease, as well as the 22,000 who receive a bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant . Rodeo’s investors include AbbVie, Lilly, Arch Venture Partners and Johnson & Johnson, among others. The new regulatory filing listed the following venture investors: Steve Gillis, managing director at Arch Venture Partners Asish Xavier, vice president of venture investments at Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation Joel Marcus, founder of Alexandria Venture Investments Tadataka Yamada, venture partner at Frazier Healthcare Margarita Chavez, managing director at AbbVie Ventures
(Xevo Photo) Global automotive giant today that it will acquire Seattle-area connected car startup for $320 million. Xevo, originally founded in 2000 as UIEvolution, develops connected-car software with more than 25 million vehicles on the road today using its proprietary technology. It sells two products, Xevo Journeyware and Xevo Market, that allow drivers to interact with in-car content and connects them with popular food, fuel, parking, hotel, and retail brands via touchscreen and mobile apps. The company, which a partnership with Domino’s Pizza last month, employs 300 across offices in Bellevue, Wash., and Tokyo. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter. “Automakers have embraced the potential of Xevo’s e-commerce platform, as well as the deeply customizable driver experiences made possible by Xevo’s artificial intelligence technology,” Xevo CEO Dan Gittleman said in a statement. “Today, with Lear’s reach, we can scale Xevo’s innovative technology and business model to a global customer base.” Lear, based in Southfield, Mich., specializes in automotive seating and electrical systems and employs nearly 170,000 people across 39 countries. It $21.1 billion in sales last year, up from $20.5 billion in 2017. The company’s stock reached record-highs in mid-2018 but has dropped 30 percent since then, trading at $141 per share on Tuesday. “The acquisition of Xevo broadens Lear’s connectivity portfolio, bringing together Xevo’s leading e-commerce vehicle platform technology with Lear’s expertise in electronic systems,” said John Absmeier, Lear’s Chief Technology Officer. “Xevo’s user interface establishes a connected marketplace for consumers in their vehicles, unlocking previously unrealized value from vehicle data and opening up new revenue streams.” Xevo was founded in 2000 by , who is known as the architect behind Microsoft products like Windows 95 and Internet Explorer 3. It in 2016 after the company acquired Seattle-based machine learning startup Surround.io Corp.
The PebbleBee BlackCard is a new credit-card-thin tracking device that can help locate a lost wallet or anything else. (Pebblebee Photo) , the Bellevue, Wash.-based startup that makes a smart tracker to help people find missing keys and more, has found an investor. The company, founded by engineers Daniel Daoura and Nick Pearson-Franks, has landed a “substantial investment” from , a division of the massive Japanese wireless carrier KDDI Corp. The amount, which was not disclosed on Tuesday, contributes to what Daoura called an “ongoing $10 million funding round.” Soracom is a global provider of smart IoT connectivity, offering cloud-native wireless service designed specifically for the needs of connected devices. The company previously invested $5 million in Seattle-based balena.io (). Pebblebee has been making moves toward growing its brand and reach since last fall when it landed the Finder tracking device across the U.S. Daoura told GeekWire that the product sold really well and “proved the market” and they have expanded to Canada and other countries. He said they started entertaining the idea of looking into acquiring capital because growing the consumer brand requires hefty investment. “We got quite a bit of interest from the Bay Area as well as international VCs. Not so much local just because the nature of us being hardware and not software focused,” said Daoura, the startup’s CEO. Where’s the kid?! Pebblebee’s new BlackCard shown being tucked into a child’s jacket. (Pebblebee Photo) In the meantime, as Pebblebee aims to attract even more investors, the company isn’t slowing on development, and is releasing a new product this week called BlackCard. “It’s essentially a wallet tracker; it’s very thin — as thin as two credit cards — and it’s rechargeable,” Daoura said. The BlackCard has a range up to 500 feet — “definitely more than any other tracker out there today” — and will hold a single charge up to five months, and it emits a very loud buzzing sound. The price will be $29.99. BlackCard will launch along with a new and improved Pebblebee website on Wednesday. With eight employees, Daoura credits Pebblebee’s small team for bringing a Kickstarter vision to reality. “Their level of commitment and perseverance has been integral to our success,” he said. Soracom Americas CEO Eugene Kawamoto said in a news release that his company is passionate about identifying and supporting companies like Pebblebee. “Pebblebee’s hardware expertise and impressive patent library are already advancing the state of the art in the crucial asset tracking category,” said Kawamoto, who will take a seat on the Pebblebee board of directors. “By providing both smart connectivity and strategic investments, Soracom helps to accelerate IoT development and create a more connected world.”
The co-founders of Possible Finance, from left to right: Prasad Mahendra, vice president of engineering; Tyler Conant, chief technology officer; and Tony Huang, CEO. has access to another chunk of cash to supercharge growth of its mobile-only loan program. The Seattle startup just landed a $30 million credit facility from Park Cities Asset Management, an alternative credit manager based in Dallas, Texas. This follows a $4.3 million investment round the company in February from various angels and venture capital firms. Possible Finance CEO said he was drawn to Park Cities because of its “unique understanding of the Texas consumer lending market and it’s regulatory challenges.” The startup today launched in Texas, its fifth U.S. state. Possible Finance offers loans of up to $500 and is similar to payday lenders, but with some differences. Borrowers have more time to pay back the money in installments and the repayments are reported to the credit agencies, helping people rebuild their credit. Traditional payday loans are structured differently, so those payments don’t count for credit scores, which can trap consumers in a costly cycle of borrowing. Using the Possible Finance app, people can apply for loans without a credit check and receive funds the next day. Possible Finance links to a customer’s bank account and uses machine learning to analyst financial transaction data to make credit risk decisions rather than relying on FICO credit scores. (Possible Finance screenshot) Since in April 2018, the company has originated 24,000 loans, up from 13,000 two months ago, and has more than 100,000 users on its waitlist. It has been growing revenue by 50 percent month-over-month and recently crossed a $1 million annual revenue run rate milestone. Huang said in February that he sees a “clear path” to profitability. In addition to Texas, Possible Finance also serves customers in Washington, California, Utah, and Idaho. It will launch in Ohio later this month. The company has ten employees. “We’re really proud of the fact that 40 percent of new customers every month come from organic, non-paid channels,” Huang said in an email. “By making a small dollar loan into a credit building opportunity, we’re helping everyday Americans improve their credit scores and achieve long-term financial wellness.” Huang and his co-founders — , vice president of engineering, and , chief technology officer — previously worked together at , the leading manufacturer of non-lethal Taser stun guns and policing software and supplies including in-car and policy body cameras. That experience instilled in them a passion for developing technology that serves a social good. As part of his role as product manager at Axon, Huang did ride-alongs with police across the country, giving him some insight into disadvantaged neighborhoods and reinforcing his commitment to helping underserved communities. Huang was nominated last year for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category at the .
Integris CEO Kristina Bergman. (Integris Photo). Back in 2016, a Seattle startup called Integris with a modest $3 million in funding and a vision to help companies manage customer data with integrity. Fast-forward to 2019, when privacy issues are making daily headlines as politicians seek to rein in Big Tech, and business is booming for Integris. In a little over two quarters, Integris more than tripled its team to 30 full-time employees. The startup opened a second office in Vancouver, B.C. and is working with a number of Fortune 500 companies to help them implement data protection and privacy standards. Integris’ growth is driven by new laws in the U.S. and Europe that seek to crack down on tech companies that handle consumer data. The European Union is spearheading the effort with its broad General Data Protection Regulation. In the U.S., federal regulation has been sluggish as states step in to implement their own laws. Last summer, to give consumers more control over their data and dozens of other states are considering similar laws. Related: “When we started three years ago, most people couldn’t spell GDPR … but fast forward a few years and privacy is in the headlines,” said Integris co-founder Kristina Bergman. “It’s front page news in all the major publications and so the biggest thing that we’ve seen is a huge awakening among people everywhere about the impacts of privacy, the importance of privacy, and we’ve seen a lot of market maturity happen over the last few years.” Ironic as it might sound, big tech companies are . Apple and Microsoft have been actively promoting themselves as the secure, privacy-sensitive foils to their younger tech industry peers. It’s catching on. In March, Facebook by doubling down on encrypted, ephemeral messaging. But there is a growing concern in the business community about a future in which companies that handle consumer data are forced to comply with different laws in every state. “The concern is that if the federal government doesn’t step up and unify it in the way that Europe unified privacy legislation under GDPR, we’re going to end up with a privacy legislation framework in the U.S. that’s incredibly fractured, very hard to comply with, and not really feasible and implementable,” said Bergman. That fear is leading a number of tech leaders to support a federal privacy law that would pre-empt state regulations. Related: Integris surveyed 258 business executives at companies with 500 employees or more and at least $25 million in annual revenue as part of released Monday. Of those surveyed, 80 percent believe there should be a federal privacy law, though they may not be ready for it. About half of the respondents said they take inventory of the personal data they store just once a year or in response to an audit. However, 88 percent said their companies are increasing their data privacy management budgets in 2019. “What’s been a boon to the business is not the murkiness but the opportunity that privacy presents,” Bergman said. “In our discussions with companies, they’re looking at privacy increasingly as a differentiator for their business … they look at that as an opportunity to differentiate against their competition by being able to prove that they’re operating with integrity, they’re treating customer data with the utmost care, and they can prove it.” Integris’ goal is to help companies set up best practices in data privacy. The company uses machine learning and other technology to map a company’s sensitive data, apply regulatory obligations, and automate actions like encryption and deletion. On top of its initial $3 million round, last summer to amp up its regulatory compliance services.
Cole Brodman. , a Seattle-area networking startup led by former T-Mobile executive , was acquired last month by , a new company led by former Qualcomm CEO and chairman Paul Jacobs. The news was revealed Monday by in a story that details how Jacobs dropped plans to take Qualcomm private and is now focusing on San Diego-based XCOM. M87 launched out of Austin, Texas in 2014 and . That’s when Brodman, who spent 17 years at T-Mobile — including stints as CMO and CTO — took over as CEO. M87 develops technology to help wireless carriers improve network performance by creating dynamic device-to-device mesh networks. It’s similar to what Jacobs, whose father founded Qualcomm, and a group of former Qualcomm execs are building at XCOM: “giving everyone’s phones the ability to route traffic like a cell tower,” as WSJ reported. Paul Jacobs. (XCOM Photo) “We believed in the XCOM thesis of edge networks and compute, and Paul’s vision on how device-to-device technologies will enhance wireless networks,” Brodman told GeekWire in an email Monday evening. “That’s been our thesis all along, so it’s a great match. Plus, the XCOM team has some fantastic engineering talent and track record in wireless technology to help amplify our go-to-market and product roadmap.” M87 was folded into XCOM but will continue developing its technology, Brodman said. The company’s 20 or so employees are staying onboard, including Brodman. “XCOM likes the access to telecom and software talent in the Seattle area and is keeping an office here,” Brodman added. XCOM had about 30 employees before acquiring M87. It raised additional investment to buy the Seattle-area company, per the WSJ. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. M87 had raised around $12 million. It reeled in a $5 million fundraising round in 2016 led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Qualcomm Ventures, the company’s VC arm, and Trilogy Equity Partners, the Seattle-area firm where Brodman holds a position as partner. “It can be a really interesting business,” Brodman said in 2016. “There aren’t a lot of solutions today to help wireless carriers solve coverage capacity problems and most require them to build new cell sites. I’m excited about software-based solutions to approach this problem.” Brodman and spent the next four years as a board member for a handful of startups. Len Jordan, managing director at Madrona, told GeekWire he’s excited to see M87 “realize its vision for extending the power of networks all the way to the edge.” “The acquisition by XCOM is a great outcome for everyone involved,” he said. “The combined team has the experience and skill to reshape an industry.”
Tech leaders Gillian Muessig, Kelly Wright, Lisa Hammitt, and Jennifer Savage discuss barriers and opportunities for women in venture-backed startups. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) in leadership is often cited as a driving factor behind the broader tech industry’s gender balance issues. The theory? If more women sat on corporate boards and wrote the checks, then more women would feel comfortable entering male-dominated fields and more female entrepreneurs would get funded. But even though there is a growing body of research to show that increasing women in leadership roles makes good business sense, the market is not correcting itself, at least not very quickly. That begs the question, should regulators step in? It’s a question that was raised Thursday during an event in Seattle that brought together women venture capitalists and executives to discuss opportunities and barriers in the venture capital world. Create33, under the umbrella of Madrona Venture Group, hosted the event. Create33 Director Rebecca Lovell moderated a discussion with Lisa Hammit, vice president of data and artificial intelligence at Visa; Gillian Muessig, general partner at Outlines Venture Group; Jennifer Savage, Partner at Illuminate Ventures, and Kelly Wright, board director at Amperity, Even, and Fastly. Tech leaders Rebecca Lovell, Gillian Muessig, Kelly Wright, Lisa Hammitt, and Jennifer Savage discuss barriers and opportunities for women in venture-backed startups. Reports from and the indicate that companies with at least one woman founder yield better results for venture capital firms, though when measuring by metrics like valuations. Researchers at the discovered female-founded companies generate more revenue than startups that only have men on their founding teams. In February, the (CAE) published a study asserting that women-founded companies perform at least as well as startups founded by men. But despite this track record, women-founded companies accounted for just 16 percent of first venture capital financings between 2005-2017, according to the CAE study. This year, researchers found 63 percent of startups have no women on their board of directors and 47 percent have no women in leadership. Regulators are starting to zero in on the slow progress toward gender parity across the tech industry — from startups to big public corporations. The question of whether government should regulate diversity in tech is more than theoretical in California. In September, California enacted a landmark law that requires public companies domiciled in the state to have at least one woman director by 2019 and larger corporations will need to have three women on the board by 2021. “Given all the special privileges that corporations have enjoyed for so long, it’s high time corporate boards include people who constitute more than half of the ‘persons’ in America,” former California Gov. Jerry Brown wrote in his to the California State Senate. New Jersey and Massachusetts . Legislators in Washington state, the West Coast’s other big tech hub, aren’t formally pursuing a board diversity law though that could change if the idea picks up steam. States are in a handful of European countries that require corporate boards to have women directors. A from 2016 found “evidence that firms with a larger fraction of female directors on their board have greater dividend payouts.” But the tech leaders on the Create33 panel and other female board members GeekWire interviewed have mixed feelings about regulators mandating diversity quotas. Muessig, who co-founded Moz and a venture fund that backs women-led startups, wondered if it was “thin thinking” to force this type of regulation companies. “Government does this so often,” she said. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to something that didn’t really solve the problem. I’m not against the idea … but I haven’t dug in deeply enough to say, is that really going to be the root of the problem or not?” Flying Fish Partners co-founder Heather Redman is concerned that the narrow focus on corporate boards could actually hurt efforts to increase representation of women in other tech leadership roles. “The data, so far, on how well the regulation works is kind of mixed,” she said in an interview with GeekWire. “One of the phenomenons that I’ve noticed is that we’re already seeing a lot of women retiring early from C-suite jobs instead of becoming CEO. The board path is becoming the easier path.” Redman added, “If I had to pick where I would want to see women be, I would pick CEO all day long … the board does not have its fingers on the knobs.” Several executives expressed a begrudging acceptance of the mandate’s necessity. “Frankly, I was disappointed that it had to be mandated,” said Nicole Piasecki, a Seattle executive who sits on several board seats, including Weyerhaeuser, in an interview with GeekWire. “I understand why it was mandated because progress wasn’t occurring.” California’s law will open up 692 board seats to women by 2021, . If the rest of the nation followed California’s lead, it would amount to more than 3,000 board seats available to women, nearly a 75 percent increase. During Thursday’s panel, Wright said that California’s board law is moving the needle. The former longtime Tableau executive noted that without a legal requirement, California’s big corporations were not making much progress on gender diversity among directors. She explained that California’s law actually started as a recommendation from the government, not a mandate. “Unfortunately, over time, nothing happened,” she said. “There was no change.” From Wright’s perspective, the power of California’s law — which governs some of the most powerful tech companies in the world — is the impact it’s having beyond the state’s borders. Seattle-based Amazon, for example, added to its board in February; it now has six men and five women on . “It’s at least raised the conversation to the point where now people are actually looking at the data and looking at the facts, and we are starting to see some positive progress,” Wright said.
(Photo via Black Girls CODE) — , a nonprofit dedicated to teaching girls of color ages 7-17 about computer programming and technology, is holding on Saturday, March 30 in advance of the opening of a Seattle chapter in April. The workshops, scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon, will be held at the following locations: Sammamish High School, 100 140th Ave. SE, Bellevue, Wash.; Seattle Central College, 1701 Broadway, Seattle; South Shore Pre K-8, 4800 South Henderson, Seattle. The events are free but require advance registration (via the Black Girls CODE homepage). The Seattle chapter, the organization’s 15th, was made possible . — When most of us were in school, we were probably told that nine planets existed in the solar system. Now there are eight. Poor Pluto lost its planetary designation in 2006 when astronomers decided it didn’t fit the criteria as the other eight “true” planets. But the debate has started again. You can get the full scoop on Pluto at the Evergrey’s presentation at the Pacific Science Center on April 11. — Women’s History Month may be drawing to a close, but the Female Founders Alliance is continuing the celebration with their annual on April 4. The Champion Awards were created to honor individuals and companies in the Pacific Northwest that are making a notable difference in helping women succeed in the workplace, regardless of their field or industry. The Champion Awards pick winners in five different categories, including advocates, investors and role models. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : An event honoring people and companies who are impacting change in the city, hosted by The Evergrey in Seattle; 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4. : An event featuring panels and guest speakers about the art of networking at The Columbia Tower Club in Seattle; 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 4. : A talk about how startups can effectively use social media to reach their goals at CoMotion Labs at the University of Washington in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 5. : A talk about the opportunities and how to get started in the public sector at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 5. : An event featuring panels and discussions with the goal of linking founders with other founders and investors at WeWork Labs in Portland; 2 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9. : An event focusing on the basics of blockchain at the Flatiron School in Seattle; 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 9. : A job fair specifically for startups to meet some of the students who might make for good additions to teams, at the University of Washington Intellectual House in Seattle; 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 10. 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? .
The PTO Exchange team. Sitting, from left to right: Rob Whalen, co-founder and CEO, and Tom Gemmell, vice president of operations. Standing, from left to right: Rob Schwend, vice president of products and services, and Todd Lucas, co-founder and chief technology officer. (PTO Exchange Photo) If you believe that The Go-Go’s got it wrong and vacation is definitely not “all I’ve ever wanted,” then may be just the software that you do want. The company based northeast of Seattle in Woodinville, Wash., is turning paid time off into something fungible. Employees of participating companies that use the startup’s product can swap their unused PTO for cash, to pay for student loans, make donations to nonprofits, contribute to a 401(k) or health savings account or even give it to a colleague who has health or family issues and needs extra time off. PTO Exchange co-founder and CEO Rob Whalen. (PTO Exchange Photo) “The problem that we have seen is that almost one-third of all vacation gets left on the books,” said PTO Exchange co-founder and CEO . Whalen himself had that experience. While working at Cisco Systems for less than five years, he accrued more than 240 hours of paid leave. Like many of his colleagues, Whalen opted for work over vacation because he had so much to do. After leaving Cisco, the company paid him more than $30,000 for that time. “We are firm believers that [PTO] is an earned wage and individuals should be able to self-direct it for what matters most to them,” Whalen said, “instead of having to wait for companies to pay out the benefits during transition or termination periods.” It can be a challenge for the companies when employees accumulate large amounts of PTO. The time represents a liability and can put a strain on an employer’s cash flow when it’s paid out. The PTO Exchange platform costs companies $3 per employee per month, with lower rates for larger customers. The startup also charges a 3-to-5 percent fee per transaction fee, though the fee is waived during the first year of service. Whalen wouldn’t name his customers, but said that they include businesses with between 200 and 55,000 employees. PTO Exchange is also partnering with the HR services company Alight, which has 22 million employees on its platform. Whalen co-founded PTO Exchange in 2013 with , who serves as chief technology officer. They met because their kids went to the same school. Whalen has years of experience in sales and was a co-founder of a software company in the early 2000s. Lucas has worked as a software engineer at companies including Wire Stone, which is part of Accenture, Infinium Labs (now Phantom Entertainment) and Microsoft. The 11-person company is finishing a seed investment round. Whalen declined to say who was investing and how much. Competitors in the space are mostly focused on offering loans against PTO, Whalen said. In January the insurance company Unum announced that, with the help of Fidelity Investments, it would allow employees to cash out PTO to pay for student debt. PTO Exchange has a patent on this service, said Whalen, and the program might infringe upon it. And what about people who would like more time and less money? Can PTO Exchange run the equation the other direction? Not yet, said Whalen, but they’re considering it. While the next year or two will be focused on customer accrual, the team is thinking about bigger ideas as well. They’re interested in exploring PTO for the gig economy — people driving for Uber or Lyft, making Amazon deliveries and other freelance jobs. Additionally, Whalen said the industry in general is looking at ways to bank PTO so that you can take it from job to job like you do a 401(k). He pushes back against the idea of unlimited PTO being offered by some employers. While it sounds great, it’s often the case that an employee can’t actually take three or four weeks of vacation. That means it’s not really a benefit at all, Whalen said. “Taking time away from your job may be more stressful if you are living paycheck to paycheck, are overwhelmed with student loan debt, or have health and medical bills,” he said. “Relieving stress is not just about taking days off.” We caught up with Whalen for this . Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: PTO Exchange allows employees to exchange the value of paid time off for goods, services and experiences. From student loan repayment, educational support, healthcare or retirement savings, funding family vacations, giving to nonprofits and sharing with colleagues in need. Inspiration hit us when: We came up the idea at an entrepreneur’s dinner at my house; steak and good wine are the usual ingredients necessary to create new ideas. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: I like them all because each one is necessary for scaling a business. Bootstrapping is necessary to get your idea vetted by the market, but when you need to invest in front of revenue like most SaaS companies, then angels and VCs are critical. Just make sure investors have the experience to bring the right value and can help with customer and go-to-market strategy. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: When we started the company, we really saw that there was something unique in what we were doing and how it was being done. We decided to patent some of the unique things that our platform does. It took us four years to get through the process, but we received our patent in October 2018. The smartest move we’ve made so far: Partnering with large human resource solution providers early. We were one of the first partners in Alight Solutions’ partner network and it has allowed us to shorten the sales process and get in front of Fortune 500 companies more quickly. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Sales cycle understanding. Selling to large enterprises (B2B) is a much longer sales process than to everyday consumers (B2C). Underestimating the process and the entrenched mindset within those organizations is probably one of the biggest hurdles we are learning to overcome. The PTO Exchange interface. (PTO Exchange Image) Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Lars Dalgaard, founder of SuccessFactors, or Aneel Bhusri, co-founder of Workday. Both have built incredible companies around helping enterprises manage human and financial capital. Their experiences and knowledge from building those companies would be extremely valuable in what PTO Exchange is trying to accomplish. Our favorite team-building activity is: Breaking bread together with family and friends! We work hard and long hours so adding the extended team (spouses, partners and family) to the mix is a way of building the broader team support for the company. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We like people who know how to problem solve and ask questions. Like most startups, the job is about wearing lots of hats. We have a motto: “We don’t manage, can’t manage and if you need to be managed, then you don’t belong here.” Ask questions, solve problems and make s*** happen. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Be persistent, always think of the customer and remember the word “no” is just two letters and they do not define who you are as an entrepreneur or the company you are trying to build.
Kiran Raj, chief strategy officer of Bittrex, spoke about blockchain regulations at the TF Blockchain Conference in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / James Thorne) Founded by former Amazon and Microsoft security engineers, cryptocurrency exchange defies the Wild West reputation of the blockchain world with an appetite for government oversight. What does Bittrex want more than anything? “Regulatory clarity,” said , chief strategy officer at Bittrex, a Seattle-based company that allows users to buy and sell 200 different currencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. Raj said that current regulations put U.S. startups at a disadvantage. “It’s really difficult to complete with an unlevel platform,” Raj said during a conference hosted by TF Blockchain Conference in Seattle. Raj said the lack of regulatory clarity in the U.S. has hurt innovation and forced startups, including Bittrex, to set up shop in Europe and elsewhere. Bittrex has a European branch that operates within the EU’s legal framework. “It’s not too late for regulatory clarity,” he said. “There are ways to get some of this innovation back to the U.S.” Raj is not alone with his request. Several members of the House of Representatives to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, asking for plans to regulate cryptocurrency. This past November, Clayton said cryptocurrency ETFs (exchange-traded funds) won’t be approved until “market manipulation” concerns are addressed, according to . Raj’s perspective on regulation isn’t too surprising. He came to Bittrex after working at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. Raj was at the DoJ when the FBI was working on taking down Silk Road, an online marketplace known for using Bitcoin to sell illegal drugs. Bittrex co-founders , and bring over 30 years of experience in security engineering at Amazon and Microsoft. “Our executive team is probably one of the oldest teams in crypto,” said Raj. But that experience has also given Bittrex the ability to help other blockchain companies play by the rules, such as by performing background checks on users to comply with anti-money laundering laws. Raj said the founders set out to build an exchange for blockchain-related products with security in mind. After starting Bittrex in 2014, the founders ran the exchange as a side business until leaving their previous jobs in 2016 and 2017. Raj was optimistic that regulated cryptocurrency exchanges will eventually win out over unregulated ones. “We’re hoping for a level playing field in the long term,” Raj said. “We know we can compete. We just have better technology.”
Crelate CEO Aaron Elder. (Crelate Photo) In a startup environment where heavy funding, bold bets, and rapid growth are the norm, stands out for its modest, slow-and-steady approach. The recruiting software startup just raised $5.3 million from Five Elms, a venture capital firm in Kansas City, Mo. Crelate develops tools to help recruiting agencies manage their pipelines of talent and job opportunities. The four-year-old startup just crossed 900 customers. “There’s definitely different approaches to building a business,” said Crelate CEO Aaron Elder. “There’s the burn fast and either get really big or burnout. I’m operating more under the continuous improvement, high probability of success.” The new funding builds off of a $1.2 million round the company closed in early 2017. Crelate plans to grow its 21-person team and double down on sales with the fresh cash. “We see a lot of demand and need for our product,” Elder said. “The industry is growing and they have some very specialized needs.” Crelate is headquartered in Maryland but its engineering operation is in Kirkland, Wash. Elder, who is based at the Kirkland office, said he picked the Seattle suburb because “the tax climate is more friendly to business” and “it’s a little bit cheaper.” Crelate is that have set up outposts in the Seattle area to mine the region’s tech talent.