Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden and Nordstrom’s chief digital officer, Ken Worzel, share a laugh during the 2019 State of Technology Luncheon, presented by the Technology Alliance. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) There was a heavy aerospace spin to this year’s presented today by the Technology Alliance at the Seattle Sheraton. Alaska Airlines CEO was the keynote speaker for what’s been billed as “the premier annual event of Washington’s innovation community.” Three other aerospace executives had their time in the spotlight as well, and hundreds of representatives from the tech industry, academia and government were in attendance. Here are a few highlights from the event: We’re all tech companies now: During an onstage fireside chat, Nordstrom chief digital officer Ken Worzel asked Tilden whether he classified Alaska Airlines as a technology company. “Absolutely,” Tilden replied. “I bet every single person in this room thinks of where they work as a technology company. It’s hugely, hugely important to us.” What about my Wi-Fi? One of the biggest applause lines came when Tilden responded to a question about the slowness of in-flight Wi-Fi. he said. “We have 225 airplanes with Wi-Fi, 25 of them have satellite [connectivity]. Satellite is 20 times faster than ground-based Wi-Fi. All the airplanes will be done 12 months from now. … It’s not going to be as fast as your 1-gigabit home computer, but it will be as fast as your mobile phone, and you’ll be able to download and stream.” A vote of support for Boeing: Tilden said Alaska Airlines is remaining “hugely loyal to Boeing” as the airplane manufacturer works through issues that have arisen in the wake of two catastrophic crashes. Software updates are soon expected to address problems with an automated flight control system on the 737 MAX. “Our team has looked at them,” Tilden said of the updates, “and we’re satisfied that they’re the right changes.” Debut for Digital Winglets: CEO Tom Gibbons showed off his company’s app, which monitors and analyzes an airplane’s vital statistics and crowdsourced situational data in real time to optimize the plane’s fuel usage and route during a flight. “It’s Waze for your airplane,” Gibbons said, referring to the . Today the company that it was partnering with Alaska Airlines to develop NASA’s technology and deploy it across Alaska’s entire fleet. also makes sure airplanes are serviced in a timely manner during on-the-ground turnarounds, and keeps track of an airplane’s operational health. Electric aviation on the horizon: CEO Roei Ganzarski recapped his electric propulsion company’s recent deals to with electric motors, and . Ganzarski said that Harbour Air’s first converted all-electric plane would make its first test flight in November, and that Eviation’s Alice airplane would have its first flight by the end of the year. “The one thing I would love to see this state do is take the lead in the United States,” he said. Ganzarski suggested that Washington state could encourage short-haul airlines to go all-electric by, say, 2050. The space gold rush: CEO Curt Blake talked up his company’s logistical role in , this year’s launch that , and other satellite missions. “I was downtown in Pioneer Square not long ago, and I went by that ,” Blake said. “And I thought, that’s not really unlike what we’re doing. The people in Seattle were selling tickets to get up to Alaska, they were selling picks and shovels. … We’re basically doing the same thing: We’re providing the means for people to get to outer space and really fulfill their dreams, commercializing what’s up there — hopefully to make what’s down here a little better.”
Trek Aerospace’s FlyKart 2 personal aerial vehicle has 10 ducted propellers and is custom-designed to meet the GoFly challenge’s specifications. (Trek Aerospace Illustration) Five teams from around the world have risen to new heights in the GoFly Prize competition, a $2 million contest backed by Boeing to encourage the development of personal flying machines. The Phase II contest winners, unveiled today at the SAE AeroTech Americas conference in Charleston, S.C., will receive $50,000 prizes and the chance to compete for the $1 million grand prize in a future fly-off. “Now we can unequivocally say we will be able to make people fly within the next one to two years,” Gwen Lighter, GoFly’s CEO and founder, told GeekWire in advance of the announcement. Judges chose the five Phase II winners from an initial field of more than 800 teams from 101 countries. The competition’s requirements call for the development of flying machines that can make vertical or near-vertical takeoffs and transport a single person up to 20 miles. Last year, on the basis of their designs for aerial vehicles, which ran the gamut from mini-helicopters to flying bikes and “Star Wars”-style landspeeders. For Phase II, competitors had to build and test prototypes, either scaled-down or actual size, and show that they could be operated safely and quietly. The five winning teams are: Aeroxo LV, based in Russia and Latvia. Aeroxo’s ERA Aviabike is a tiltrotor aerial vehicle that performs like a flying bicycle. It combines the vertical-flight capabilities of a helicopter with the range and speed of a fixed-wing aircraft. DragonAir Aviation, based in Florida. DragonAir’s Airboard 2.0 is an all-electric, self-stabilizing hovercraft that carries a single passenger in a standing position. Silverwing Personal Flight, based in the Netherlands. Silverwing’s S1 is a flying motorcycle. The device’s main features are two electric ducted fans, a passenger shell for safety, and a landing gear and battery pack integrated into the wing. Texas A&M Harmony, based in Texas. The Harmony team’s Aria aircraft is a compact rotorcraft designed to minimize noise and maximize efficiency, safety and reliability. The team includes researchers from Texas A&M and other institutions. Trek Aerospace, based in California. Trek Aerospace’s FlyKart 2 is an electric, single-seat, multi-rotor, ducted-fan, vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft that’s designed to be inexpensive to build, own and operate. Lighter said the winning prototypes reflect a diversity of design approaches, geographical origins and career experiences. The team members range from veteran aerospace engineers and former jet pilots to engineering students. “Innovation can truly come from anyone, anywhere,” Lighter said. The next phase of the competition calls for finalists to turn their prototypes into full-scale flying machines, for a fly-off at a site yet to be selected in the western United States in early 2020. That time frame is a bit later than the original plan to have the fly-off late this year. “Our primary focus has been on safety and weather and wind,” Lighter explained. “The sites that we are most interested in using are better if we slide the final fly-off back two to three months.” A media programming campaign will be built around the fly-off, but Lighter said it was too early to provide specifics. The teams participating in the fly-off will have the option of sending up a human rider or a lifesize mannequin. Finalists will put their machines through a , and will be scored on the basis of vehicle size, speed and noise. GoFly will award the $1 million grand prize to the top-scoring team. Prizes worth $250,000 each will go to the quietest vehicle that meets the contest’s requirements, and to the smallest compliant vehicle. There’s also a Pratt & Whitney Disruptor Award worth $100,000. Then what? Lighter said GoFly’s mission is to “catalyze the technology” for personal flight — while leaving it up to the participating teams to find the right niche for their technologies. “GoFly believes that it is the public’s opportunity to be able to decide what fliers are best for what uses,” she said. She drew a comparison to the automotive industry, where customers can buy a minivan, a convertible, a sedan or a pickup truck, depending on how they want to use those vehicles. “We want to set up a system where there are many different types of flier designs,” Lighter said. “Some will be more applicable to first responders, Some will be more applicable to package delivery. … Some will be more applicable to short commutes. Some will be more applicable to future sports — you know, human drone racing or a version of quidditch that comes to life.” To paraphrase Chairman Mao, . “World, you get to decide what’s best for all of you,” Lighter said.
The Smith family takes a break from their entrepreneurial ventures to go on vacation. (Photo courtesy of the Smith family) Soojung Smith thought entrepreneurship was a grownup pursuit. Then her sons schooled her. The up-and-coming Generation Z-cohort that includes her two boys, “tend to be more independent minded and have seen the success of starting a business from social media and their icons,” Smith said. “And they have less fear. They’re like, ‘Hey, I want to try this.’” And that’s just what they’re doing. Soojung and her 17-year-old son Douglas are co-CEO of , a Bellevue-based education startup. Her 12-year-old Jonathan works on technology for the company. All three are co-founders, and the boys’ dad, Doug, is their advisor as well as a business development executive at Microsoft. They launched KuriousMinds last year. Their first effort is a program called Young Sharks that’s focused on teaching kids the fundamentals of starting a business, including building a business plan and pitching it in front of a simulated panel of investors. “There is no shortage of ideas,” Smith said. “But whittling them down to something meaningful that will really bring value to their intended audience, that is something that they really struggle with.” The program targets kids in later elementary years and middle school — a sweet spot where there are few options for young entrepreneurs, Smith said. Her sons have additional ventures already under their belts. Douglas launched a tutoring business in eighth grade, and Jonathan has created two aquarium products: a filter diffuser showcased at the 2016 and an automatic fish feeder with AI integration that he’ll debut at this year’s fair. Soojung Smith has worked as a product and marketing executive at Dr Pepper/7 Up, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T and Microsoft where she helped incubate new products and businesses. Smith said that Douglas plays a key role in developing curriculum for Young Sharks and figuring out which digital tools are best suited to the students. Soojung and Douglas co-teach the program. They collaborate well, she said — at least most of the time. “We’re family. We are very passionate individuals. He gets passionate and I get passionate and sometimes we need a time out,” Smith said. “And sometimes my husband jumps in and serves as a referee.” We caught up with Smith for this Mother’s Day edition of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We are on a mission to help enable Generation Z to become a generation of confident future entrepreneurs.” Inspiration hit us when: “I’ve always had a dream of building something impactful and long lasting as a family.” Soojung and Douglas Smith, the mother-son co-CEOs of KuriousMinds. (Kurious Minds Photo) VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We are an entirely self-funded, bootstrapped business. Client work in education coaching is funding our work for the design and delivery of the Young Sharks program. This is our second startup, and we are determined to build a solid foundation by growing at a measured pace.” Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “The deep involvement of our kids provides us with a unique view into effective learning styles for this generation. In addition, we are building an active local community of mentors and coaches with domain expertise who can guide and support young student entrepreneurs.” The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Working with partners in the community is integral to our success. We deliver our project-based experiential entrepreneurship program in partnership with city governments, educational institutions, homeschool co-ops and camp organizers with the programs tailored to the student profiles for their communities.” The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Building a business as a family comes with both opportunities and challenges. Trust, loyalty and shared values are the ones that glue us together. Of course, there are challenges when stress and pressure from the business side sometimes spill over into family relationships. We have learned to leverage each other’s strengths to get the benefit of operating as a family while minimizing the stress.” Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bill Gates because he is such an inspiration to everyone not only for his business success, but, more importantly, his philanthropic work to provide opportunities through education. His work in this area speaks to us most in terms of who we’d most want to back our endeavors. We admire Bill and Melinda’s commitment to impacting the lives of others and investing in a better world.” Our favorite team-building activity is: “Cooking as a family. We try to improvise and create our favorite dishes including crossovers between Korean and Mexican food.” The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “We look for curiosity, creativity, passion for entrepreneurship, empathy and strong success in working and connecting with kids.” What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Ideas on a piece of paper without sufficient experimentation won’t help you to build a business. Planning is critical, but implementation is king. Be proactive about learning from your customers, partners, competitors and everyone around you. Be gracious about receiving feedback from them.”