Bags of coffee beans are shown sitting on scales developed by Bottomless, a Seattle startup that measures coffee consumption and delivers refills. (Bottomless Photo) The next cup of coffee should be on . The Seattle startup using technology to make sure that coffee lovers never run out of the stuff they love has raised $1.9 million, according to a recent . The company declined to reveal investors. RELATED: Michael Mayer, the entrepreneur who co-founded Bottomless alongside his wife Liana Herrera, had been bootstrapping the 3-year-old company prior to raising $245,000 last summer. Bottomless combines original hardware, an online marketplace, machine learning and more to determine when customers need a shipment of fresh beans. The solution, in part, is a rechargeable scale on which users set a bag of fresh beans that they’re using to make their daily coffee. The scale is connected to WiFi (and to Bottomless) and as the bag becomes lighter, it triggers the order for more beans. Users select from numerous Seattle-area roasters — Caffe Vita, Ladro Roasting and more — who are partnering with Bottomless. Mayer, a “self-taught developer/technologist,” said his machine learning algorithms have already matured and that the plan with the new capital is to “add a few team members to continue investing in our algorithms and tech.” He also wants to scale up in the fresh coffee market with eyes on expansion, and they just added roasters in the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego.
Arivale’s offices were empty this week after the company’s abrupt closure. (GeekWire Photo) Founded in 2015, Seattle startup Arivale aspired to pioneer a new sector called scientific wellness, combining genetic testing with personal coaching to improve the health of its members. Arivale raised more than $50 million in funding, employed 120 people, and served about 5,000 members over the life of its program. PREVIOUSLY: So optimistic was the company about this field that it trademarked the term “scientific wellness.” Seattle’s tech community voted Arivale the 2016 GeekWire Startup of the Year. Its co-founder, genomics legend Leroy “Lee” Hood, said when Arivale launched that the company “really stands a chance of being the Google or Microsoft of this whole arena.” It wasn’t to be. Four years later, Arivale , surprising its customers and employees, many of whom were left wondering what happened. Clayton Lewis, Arivale’s CEO, said in an interview that the company faced significant business headwinds, including the high costs of customer acquisition and genetic testing. But bigger picture, he said, the company also grappled with societal challenges, including the reluctance of Americans to invest in their health despite success stories among Arivale’s members. “I do not believe at this point that there is a meaningful market in the United States for a program that’s going to help people do something in the future,” he said. “I think that Americans, related to their health, are so living in the moment that the idea of optimizing your health so you can live this vibrant, joyful life as you age” isn’t appealing to enough people. But some former employees said Arivale also made things more difficult for itself. One former employee, who requested anonymity, told GeekWire that Arivale didn’t spend its marketing dollars effectively, focusing too much on events and parties rather than more effective digital campaigns; hired too many coaches and had many of them sitting idle for significant portions of the day; and had a culture where top executives seemed unwilling to take feedback from rank-and-file employees on ways that they and the company could improve. Arivale launched at a cost of $3,500 per year for its flagship program but had shifted to a model where many of its members were paying a $99/month subscription for ongoing genetic testing and coaching. Lewis said, in hindsight, he would have changed the way the company rolled out and priced its service. The company believed that it would see more adoption when it lowered its pricing and rolled out its service nationally after starting with a small number of states. “The mistake I would tell you I made as a CEO is that I drank my own Kool-Aid,” Lewis said. “For the first few years, we were not trying to rapidly scale the business because we wanted to prove the efficacy of the program. … Instead of launching with lower-cost, simpler programs, we stayed laser-focused on our flagship offering and we clearly did that to our peril.” Genomics pioneer Lee Hood, left, and Clayton Lewis, the CEO of Arivale. (GeekWire File Photo) Earlier this month, Hood about the future of Arivale. “In the future, we’ll be able to manage chronic diseases before they show up,” he said at an event hosted by Town Hall Seattle and the Institute for Systems Biology, which Hood co-founded. “We’re already doing this with Alzheimer’s, and early results look spectacular.” But Hood also admitted that Arivale’s wellness approach was “pretty expensive” at more than a thousand dollars per year. “In principle, most people spend a lot more money than that utter trivia. And if you could get healthy, I’d argue it’s a real bargain,” he said. Of Hood, Lewis said that “I’ve never met a man who’s a more determined optimist.” In the wake of the company’s closure, Lewis was blunter than Hood about the cost issues, calling the company’s research-based approach to wellness “wickedly expensive.” The startup’s resources were strained both by customer acquisition costs and the high price of novel testing services. Lewis said, “We tried an extraordinary number of ways to get people to join Arivale and we could not find a path to actually make that work as a viable business. Getting people into the program, the customer acquisition cost, we couldn’t master that.” Arivale CEO Clayton Lewis and co-founder Lee Hood accept the award for Startup of the Year at the 2016 GeekWire Awards. The company also had problems bringing down the costs of its services, such as tests for a person’s genetic makeup, microbiome and more than 40 blood markers. Arivale had expected the cost of those tests to fall more rapidly than they did. Paula Ladd, an entrepreneur who founded a genetic testing startup called SNPgenomics around the same time Arivale was getting started, said that the science can’t yet provide broad-based wellness advice. “What role does genetics plays in wellness? As a researcher, I don’t understand it well enough. How could the general public understand it?” Ladd said. Lewis agreed that Arivale arrived on the scene before its time. “We were very audacious,” he said. “What I believe is we were probably a decade too early.” Dr. Darren White, CEO of employee health and wellness startup Aduro, said a version of Arivale’s approach to personalized health coaching will inevitably reach consumers. “Health systems are already putting genetic testing inside primary care. It will be part of your annual visit with your doctor,” he said. Aduro does not yet incorporate genetic testing but plans to once costs decline sufficiently. Arivale competed in the wellness space with genetic testing companies like 23andMe, Orig3n and the Mayo Clinic’s GeneGuide. Startups that offered health advice based on microbiome tests include Voime, uBiome and Thryve. But Lewis said he considered Arivale unique in providing a comprehensive approach, with testing and coaching. Assessing rival firms, Lewis said that he thought genetic testing companies like 23andMe have been successful due to their lower, one-time price point and simpler offering, but he said that approach offers “surprise and delight” and “genetic entertainment” rather than improving health. As for those that give health advice based on microbiome tests, he said that some startups have made “false” claims. Last week, the wellness industry suffered a major blow after a looking at nearly 33,000 employees in workplace wellness programs found “no significant effects on clinical measures of health, health care spending and utilization, or employment outcomes after 18 months.” Human Longevity, a genomics startup backed by Celgene and DNA-sequencing company Illumina, late last year as investors lost faith in its ability to sell its services to wealthy individuals and pharmaceutical companies. Yet some data-driven wellness startups continue to draw funding. Viome, a startup that makes nutritional recommendations based on microbiome testing, recently in a round that included backing from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Arivale attempted to win customers directly through a healthcare system to no avail. Working with Michigan-based Spectrum Health, Arivale launched a test program directly in a health clinic. “Despite the fact that, if you walked in, it basically was an Arivale commercial, we saw about a 10% conversion into the program,” Lewis said. Ladd said she thought the general public does not yet crave this sort of service. “I don’t come home from work wishing I had tested my microbiome, but I do wonder whether I have influenza or not,” she said. Despite the startup’s challenges, Lewis said it was able to bring around 20 percent of customers with prediabetic or heart disease indicators to within a normal range in six months. Lewis, who competes in Ironman triathlons, was able to overcome a prediabetic diagnosis by following Arivale’s program. In a statement this week, Hood acknowledged the company’s business challenges but said he’s still a believer in the larger vision. “We started Arivale with the goal of helping people improve wellness and avoid disease through personalized data and actionable health coaching. This approach has positively changed many lives and has shown great scientific merit. While Arivale’s direct-to-consumer model isn’t yet sustainable because of the high cost of the assays, I am proud of and thankful to everyone at Arivale for their dedication and devotion to this mission. They gave real meaning to the term scientific (or quantitative) wellness, which will be a major component of 21st century medicine.”
Praveen Seshadri, left, and Brian Sabino of AppSheet. (AppSheet Photo) Seattle startup has raised $15 million to fuel growth of its platform that helps businesses develop their own data-based apps without requiring a team of developers. Shasta Ventures led the round, with participation from existing investor New Enterprise Associates. Total funding to date is $19.3 million. Founded in 2014, AppSheet sells software that enables nearly 6,000 customers such as Husqvarna Group, Solvay, Tigo Guatemala, American Electric Power, M&O Partners, Boom Technology, and others to build “no-code” apps. More than 200,000 apps have been deployed using AppSheet and more than 18,000 “active app creators” build apps with AppSheet each month. Use cases include inventory management, CRM, and field service, and span across industries such as manufacturing, construction, scientific, and others. Examples of include those designed for requesting and tracking equipment maintenance; generating daily construction reports; or completing a pre-surgery checklist. AppSheet has been and natural language processing technology to further speed the creation of apps. AppSheet CEO launched AppSheet with , a former student in his database systems class at Cornell University. They had been exploring how mobile apps can make businesses more productive and discovered that businesses were hungry for modestly priced custom-built apps. AppSheet is among a number of platforms touting themselves as quick and easy app development platforms. The startup competes against products built by other Seattle-area companies such as Microsoft and K2 Software, as well as Siemens-owned Mendix, OutSystems, Betty Blocks. Asked about AppSheet’s secret sauce and differentiators, here’s what Seshadri shared with GeekWire: We disrupt traditional business software development across three dimensions: 1. Access: Our true no-code model allows every business user to create and innovate with apps without writing any code to build them. 2. Agility: Deployment of apps from the AppSheet intelligent no-code app platform is lightweight and instant. It is an order of magnitude more agile than a low-code solution, significantly more powerful, and comes at a fraction of the cost of using mainstream programming languages that convert a desired program into a sequence of low-level instructions computer hardware can execute. 3. Ambition: The expressive power of the AppSheet intelligent no-code platform is constantly improving. Our current generation of apps includes machine learning, rich integrations, micro-services, and are not limited to mobile/web apps. The fresh investment will be used to increase marketing spend and platform enhancements. AppSheet will also open a “center of machine learning excellence” in Portland, Ore. The company employs 20 people and expects headcount to grow to 50 over the next year. “We believe AppSheet’s demonstrated success with a broad horizontal customer base is a key indicator of its expected impact,” Ravi Mohan, managing director at Shasta Ventures, said in a statement. “There is no doubt that we are at the start of a technology revolution that will allow business users to create their own software solutions, and there is no doubt that AppSheet is the market-leading platform that will drive this transformation.” Other recent Shasta investments in Seattle-area companies include ; ; ; ; ; and . The firm is among a crop of Bay Area investors .
AskNicely CEO Aaron Ward. AskNicely Photo) It’s can be difficult to relocate your startup to a different city, let alone a different country. But the tech talent and affordability of Portland, Ore., made it an easy decision for . The CEO of just moved his company’s headquarters from New Zealand to the Rose City after it raised a $10 million investment round led by Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Blackbird Ventures and K1W1. AskNicely sells “Net Promoter Score software” that helps companies bolster their customer feedback process. Ward said the access to “customer-facing tech talent” in Portland was part of why he moved his HQ. “Portlanders ‘get’ customer experience more than any other city I’ve seen in the world because the service culture here is so strong,” he said. “This means new recruits come pre-loaded with the customer experience gene which, in turn, helps us build an authentic customer obsessed culture. Another important factor is how the economics of Portland enable us to support a standard of living for our people that we’re proud of.” Founded in Auckland four years ago, AskNicely has more than 1,000 customers and 50 employees. The company competes against the likes of Qualtrics, Promoter, SurveyMonkey, and others. Total funding to date is $15 million. “We’ve been huge believers in customer experience as a major priority for companies globally, yet it’s surprising that most have no scalable way to systematically measure, analyze, and operationalize it.” Abhishek Sharma of Nexus Venture Partners said in a statement. “We were blown away by the ease of use and simplicity of AskNicely.” Earlier this week, wind turbine engineering firm Diamond WTG Engineering & Services moved its headquarters from California to Portland, per .
Chris Young, CEO and co-founder of ChefSteps, demonstrating the Joule sous vide cooking device at the GeekWire Summit in 2016. (GeekWire File Photo / Dan DeLong) , the high-tech cooking startup financed by video game titan Gabe Newell, cut an unspecified number of jobs on Wednesday, significantly scaling back its operations. But the company plans to remain in business, and continue selling and supporting its Joule sous vide cooking device, according to co-founder and CEO Chris Young. , ChefSteps built a community around online videos, vivid photographs and cooking insights from its expert founders, before expanding into hardware with the Joule device. , controlled via smartphone, heats water to precise temperatures to cook immersed food evenly over extended periods of time, using the sous vide cooking technique. A reported Wednesday that ChefSteps had “laid off almost their entire staff and will be shuttering day-to-day operations.” However, Young told GeekWire via text Wednesday evening that ChefSteps remains in business and will continue to sell and support Joule. Further details on the cutbacks weren’t immediately available. People familiar with ChefSteps said the company had employed about 50 people in addition to contractors. The company is currently of the Pacific Northwest’s top privately held companies. ChefSteps co-founders Chris Young, far left, and Grant Crilly, far right, with other early members of the ChefSteps team at their Pike Place Market studio and kitchen in 2012. (GeekWire File Photo / Todd Bishop) Young and co-founder Grant Crilly are known in part for their past roles collaborating with former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, the Intellectual Ventures chief, on the epic . Young previously was the founding chef of Heston Blumenthal’s influential Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen. Crilly’s experience includes serving as chef de cuisine at Busaba in Mumbai and Mistral in Seattle, and head development chef at Delicious Planet. The company has been funded through a low-interest loan from Newell, head of video game company Valve, the operator of the Steam video game platform. In , the ChefSteps co-founders credited the funding from Newell with giving them the ability to focus on the long-term goals of building and serving a large, high-quality community of users, without the short-term pressures of monetizing that community or generating a quick return. It’s not an easy business: Another Seattle startup that made a sous vide device, Sansaire, .
Genomics pioneer Lee Hood, left, and Clayton Lewis, the CEO of Arivale. (GeekWire File Photo) Arivale, the genetic testing and personal health coaching startup co-founded by genomics pioneer Leroy “Lee” Hood, shut down unexpectedly Wednesday — bringing an abrupt end to its ambitions to transform the lives of Americans through a new field that Hood dubbed “scientific wellness.” All of the Seattle-based company’s approximately 120 employees were let go as of noon today, confirmed Arivale CEO Clayton Lewis in an interview. Arivale raised more than $50 million over its lifetime. The company offered ongoing wellness and nutritional coaching tailored to the results of each person’s genetic, blood and microbiome tests. The decision was a surprise to many Arivale employees and customers. In a message to Arivale customers this afternoon, the Seattle-based company attributed the decision to “the simple fact that the cost of providing the service exceeds what our customers can pay for it.” The message added, “We believe the costs of collecting the genetic, blood and microbiome assays that form the foundation of the program will eventually decline to a point where the program can be delivered to consumers cost-effectively. However, we are unable to continue to operate at a loss until that time arrives.” Lewis told GeekWire that the high cost of acquiring customers also played a role in the decision. “What is tragic on so many levels is that we were not successful in going out and convincing consumers that you could optimize your wellness and avoid disease with a little bit data and some changes in your lifestyle — that there’s not a market for that product that I believe in passionately,” Lewis said. “And that’s what we were trying to do.” About 5,000 people took part in the Arivale program over the lifetime of the company, and Lewis said he is “incredibly proud” of the results. The program launched at a cost of $3,500 per year, but the price had dropped to the point where most customers were paying $99 per month for the flagship Arivale program, Lewis said. CEO Clayton Lewis and members of the Arivale team accept the GeekWire Award for Startup of the Year in 2016. (GeekWire File Photo) The larger personal wellness industry includes heavyweights such as 23andMe, a genetic testing startup valued at more than $1 billion, and smaller players including EverlyWell, which , and Viome, the microbiome company led by Naveen Jain that . Global Wellness Institute that the preventative and personalized medicine and public health industry is worth $575 billion. Some of Arivale’s underlying work will continue at the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), the not-for-profit biomedical research organization co-founded by Hood, where the ideas that led to Arivale were originally developed. ISB is now part of Providence St. Joseph Health, where Hood is chief science officer. Clayton said ISB is expected to hire some of the employees let go by Arivale as part of its closure. He declined to disclose details of the severance offered to employees, but said the same package was provided to all executives and employees. Investors in Arivale included Arch Venture Partners, Polaris, and Maveron, where Lewis worked full-time before joining Arivale as co-founder and CEO. Its scientific advisory board included George Church, a professor at Harvard and MIT; James Heath, president of Institute of Systems Biology; and Ed Lazowska, computer science professor at the University of Washington. “Lee Hood sees the future with unmatched clarity,” said Lazowska, an early participant in the Arivale program. “A clear view, however, does not always imply a short path. Scientific wellness, as pioneered by Arivale, will be a foundation of 21st century medicine. But not right now. Right now, the cost of providing the service (the tests, the coaching) exceeds what people are willing to pay. Those costs will fall in time, and Arivale’s model and Arivale’s discoveries will see another day.” Lewis said he has come to the believe that Arivale was about a decade too early. Arivale’s executive team included Sean Bell, chief operating officer; Jennifer Lovejoy, chief translational science officer; Mia Nease, head of healthcare and life sciences partnerships; Andrew Magis, director of research; Ashley Wells, chief product officer; and others. Hood, who led the Caltech team that pioneered the automated DNA sequencer, that Arivale was “the opening shot in a whole new industry called scientific wellness, and it really stands a chance of being the Google or Microsoft of this whole arena.” GeekWire chief business officer Daniel Rossi was a longtime customer of the program, and we chronicled his early experience with Arivale Here’s the text of the message sent to Arivale customers earlier today, a version of which was . To Our Customers, We are very sorry to inform you that, effective immediately, Arivale can no longer provide our program to you and our other customers. This letter explains why we are ending the consumer program and answers the questions you are likely to have about the process. Our decision to terminate the program today comes despite the fact that customer engagement and satisfaction with the program is high and the clinical health markers of many customers have improved significantly. Our decision to cease operations is attributable to the simple fact that the cost of providing the program exceeds what our customers can pay for it. We believe the costs of collecting the genetic, blood and microbiome assays that form the foundation of the program will eventually decline to a point where the program can be delivered to consumers cost-effectively. Regrettably, we are unable to continue to operate at a loss until that time arrives; in other words, we have concluded that it is simply too early for a direct-to-consumer scientific wellness offering to be viable. We founded Arivale with the vision of making personalized, data-driven, preventive coaching a new wellness paradigm in the United States. Since its launch in 2015, the results of the Arivale program have been remarkable. To cite but one example, our scientific paper describing the improvements seen in multiple health markers in ~2500 participants was recently accepted for publication in the journal Scientific Reports. While our direct-to-consumer model isn’t yet sustainable, we know that the Arivale program improved the lives of our customers and showed great scientific merit. We are proud of everyone at Arivale for their dedication and devotion to our mission and grateful to you and all of our other customers for joining us on this journey. Together, our efforts have launched a new paradigm—scientific or quantitative wellness—which, we are confident will become a major component of 21st century medicine. Developing story, more to come.
Cyemptive CEO Rob Pike. (Cyemptive Photo) Seattle-area cybersecurity startup today announced the acquisition of (ATG), a 14-year-old IT consulting service company also based in the Seattle region. The ten employees working for ATG will join Cyemptive, whose headcount is now north of 65 people. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Cyemptive came out of stealth mode , announcing a $3.5 million investment round from undisclosed investors. The company describes its cybersecurity software as an “automatic self-repairing reliable platform.” It sells products including an endpoint protection service and advanced perimeter firewalls, among others. Cyemptive’s executive team includes founder , who was previously an executive at Hitachi; , who was formerly chief information officer at Microsoft; and , who spent 30 years at the NSA, most recently as chief computer architect. The company plans to use ATG’s expertise in customer service and support to help serve its growing customer base of businesses and government clients. ATG founder and CEO Bryan Greene will join the Cyemptive management team. “Incorporating ATG’s already-established infrastructure of customer focus, service and support with our groundbreaking failsafe, pre-emptive cyber protection technologies is a natural next step in providing the best in cyber security solutions and support to them,” DuBois said in a statement.
The new blockchain startup incubator will open in Portland’s Pearl District. (Flickr Photo / ) An incubator designed to support startups developing blockchain products for businesses is launching in Portland this summer. The will bring a cohort of startups together to identify business problems that could be addressed by the burgeoning technology. A team of mentors will advise the entrepreneurs as they develop their enterprise blockchain products before presenting them at a demo event in October. Blockchain creates secure, decentralized records of transactions and investors on the technology’s possible applications in finance, retail, healthcare, and any business that requires record keeping. The new Portland incubator is a public-private partnership seeking to identify applications for blockchain that can be scaled by corporate partners. The goal is “to build a blockchain-based ecosystem, and position Oregon’s businesses and institutions to further compete globally,” according to R/GA Ventures, the organization behind the new incubator. R/GA Ventures is the investment arm of , an international advertising and marketing firm under the umbrella. “The intersection of the state’s technology workforce and commercial interests provides an opportunity for Oregon to be one of the first state sponsors of a public-private partnership to embrace blockchain technologies, potentially transforming how we live, work, play, learn, and govern,” R/GA said in a statement. The Oregon Enterprise Blockchain Venture Studio will launch July 29 and run through the October demo event. The incubator is currently accepting applications from startups. Technologists and government officials are already working to make the Pacific Northwest a blockchain hub. In March, the to give blockchain organizations a unified voice around public policy and marketing, as well as to create community and share resources.
The University of North Dakota is testing agricultural aerial imagery applications with drones. (UND Photo) Microsoft has awarded a $100,000 TechSpark grant to support , a brand-new startup that’s partnering with the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation to blaze a trail for drone applications in North Dakota’s “Silidrone Valley.” The seed money unlocks nearly $570,000 in additional funding for Airtonomy from local investors, Microsoft . “TechSpark saw the drone innovation in North Dakota’s Red River Valley that is driving exciting advances for the U.S. drone industry and wanted to be a part of it,” said Kate Behncken, general manager of Global Community Engagement at Microsoft. “This cutting-edge project has the potential to increase crop yields and boost the production of renewable energy through safe drone advancements created locally, leading to greater economic opportunities for North Dakotans.” North Dakota is one of the six states targeted by T, a Microsoft civic program created in 2017 to boost economic opportunities in rural areas and small communities. (The other states are Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.) “Microsoft’s TechSpark support represents a significant opportunity for a startup like ours that wants to innovate and create jobs here in our community,” said Airtonomy CEO Josh Riedy. “It gives confidence to others to back our work, providing the jump-start for us to develop a platform that can drive the next evolution in how drones are used commercially.” Airtonomy is combining drone technology and artificial intelligence to help clients in agriculture, energy and public safety realize the benefits of aerial imagery provided by multi-drone systems. The venture take advantage of North Dakota’s leading role as a testbed for drone operations. The Red River Valley has been dubbed the Silicon Valley of unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, thanks to the region’s open spaces, clear skies and the leading roles played by the University of North Dakota and the “UND Aerospace has a long history of providing leadership in aerospace innovation and economic diversification by supporting projects that advance the UAS sector and increase high-tech services in the Grand Forks region,” said UND Aerospace Foundation CEO Chuck Pineo. North Dakota’s Department of Transportation is for extended drone operations, including flying drones after dark and beyond an operator’s line of sight. A estimated the drone industry’s annual economic impact at more than a billion dollars, and said that figure could rise to as much as $46 billion by 2026.
The Raiin team is made up of current and former students at Western Washington University — including CEO and founder Nancie Weston. Back row, left to right: Clayton Foshaug, graphics (design major); Macall Prengel, actor (kinesiology major); Katie Winkleman, communications (communications major). Front row, left to right: Lucas Van Dyke, videographer (business major); Naia Shedd, graphics (design major); Weston; Michael Nguyen, editor and public relations (public relations major). Not shown: Ian Ferguson, actor (journalism major); Maks Mosses, videographer (public relations major); Dixon Kenley Lamb, website (computer science major). Inspiration can come from unlikely places. For , it sparked in a Goodwill thrift store. Seven years ago, Weston co-founded a company making water purification devices. The Seattle-based business produces water bottles targeted for the outdoors and travelers that filters out heavy metals, disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa, and other contaminants. The bottles use a NASA-created filter and work like a French-press coffee maker where users force water through a filter-containing cartridge. Grayl scrapped its way to success, crowdsourcing support through and In 2015, Grayl announced that from angel investors. Weston was eager to expand the Grayl line to products for home use. After all, it’s easy to find news headlines warning of lead and other contaminants in the water that flows into houses and apartments, schools and other buildings from to The leadership and the board at Grayl, however, were focused on a different use and audience, Weston said. So she left the company in 2017, retaining shares in the business. Then came Weston’s a-ha moment at Goodwill. She was fiddling with a cup with a plastic top and squishy container when she was struck by an idea. She wondered if the squishy cup could be used to create suction to pull the water through a filter. The idea worked, and Weston quickly moved on to applying the technology to a larger pitcher that could meet home-filtration needs. Last year, Weston launched to create the suction-driven, water-filtering pitcher. “I started Raiin to continue my vision of bringing clean water to households and disaster areas around the world,” Weston said. “If families had these water pitchers in these disaster situations, it would stop palette loads of [bottled] water from going overseas. Bottled water drives me crazy, it’s so wasteful.” Despite her previous success, Weston struggled to find investors. She was running out of money and reached out to, which referred her to an entrepreneurship class at Western Washington University (WWU). Weston made her pitch and connected to a team of students eager to help. The undergraduates offered their public relations-focused services for free, but Weston is granting them stock in the startup. Raiin doesn’t have a specific home, ranging from Seattle to Bellingham, Wash., where WWU is located. A prototype of the Raiin pitcher. (Raiin Photo) There are numerous home water filtration options already on the market, including well-known Brita pitchers and more expensive systems installed into home plumbing. Weston hopes to offer an affordable alternative that removes more pollutants than Brita via smaller filters that create less waste. The Raiin team is , on Earth Day 2019. The 30-day, publicly-funded campaign aims to raise at least $20,000 to fund a final prototype. If the fundraising goes well, $300,000 would cover the production of a first batch of pitchers and $500,000 would pay for full production. A $49 pledge will buy contributors a pitcher, if all goes well. The market price for a pitcher will be $74. “I’ve done so much research about water, and it’s just crazy what’s in our water,” Weston said. “You just can’t see it, and we’re drinking all of that.” We caught up with Weston for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: I started a company called Raiin and invented a water pitcher that filters and purifies germs and toxins out of water anywhere in the world, fast. Inspiration hit us when: I was in a Goodwill, of all places, and I found a cup that was squishy on the bottom and hard plastic on the top and thought, “Wait a minute, I could add a filter to this and it would suck the water right through!” I added a filter and it worked! That night I slept on the idea and came up with the design for the pitcher. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap. I went to investors and they all said the same thing: “We don’t invest in hard products, only software, wearable tech or apps.” After six months I was out of money and I had to make the switch to Kickstarter. With no money I went to WWU and pitched my idea to a group of students in the entrepreneur program. Nancie Weston, founder and CEO of Raiin. (Raiin Photo) After class a guy walked up to me and said, “We just started a company and I have all the staff you need to help with Kickstarter. Two videographers, a lighting person, a makeup person, actors and actresses, a website person, two graphic artists, a social media and PR person…for free!” They needed the experience and for their resume. I was an alumna from WWU so we all hit it off. One of the kids was recently shocked when he read a WWU newspaper headline: “Lead found in the pipes of the old buildings on campus.” In two months, we’ve put together everything from branding to a video. We . Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Unlike all the other water filter pitchers out on the market that only filter odor, flavor and a few heavy metals, Raiin’s pitcher filters pharmaceuticals and chemicals and purifies things like bacteria, viruses and protozoa. It is faster than other pitchers — and it’s fun. The smartest move we’ve made so far: Finding these great “kids” at WWU. They are super driven, going to school, working jobs, managing social lives and doing with Kickstarter for me. They are amazing! I am learning from them and they are learning from me. Nancie Weston, Raiin founder and CEO, working on her device. (Raiin Photo) The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: For six months I went in front of investors to raise money. I should have gone straight to Kickstarter. Being a woman raising money is hard. Less than 10 percent of women get funded. I even had an investor actually say they wouldn’t give me money unless I had a male partner! Really? Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Richard Branson. He has charisma, is driven, fun, smart and knows how to pivot fast when things are going right. I would love to have him in my corner. Our favorite team-building activity is: We don’t have time for a team building activity. I wish we did! We met two months ago and it’s been crazy getting ready to launch on Kickstarter. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: People who are passionate about your company, products and vision. People who are driven. They don’t need to be told what to do, they see things that need to get done and they just do it. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: You and your team have to be passionate about what you are doing or you won’t make it through the tough times. There are so many times I wanted to quit, but knowing that the water filter pitchers that are currently on the market are unregulated and just remove odor, flavor and a little bit of lead, I had to keep going to keep people from potentially getting sick from the water we are all drinking.
CI Security’s Kraken Signal on the wall of its office. (CI Security Photo) A cybersecurity startup that pairs software with analysts who review and investigate attacks raised $9.6 million to continue battling intrusions against companies of all sizes, as well as healthcare and government organizations. CI Security CEO Garrett Silver. (CI Security Photo) In addition to the cash infusion, the company has changed its name from to . CEO Garrett Silver said the new name doesn’t mean a major shift in the business is on the way. It’s more about simplicity and reflecting the company’s core priorities and Critical Insight platform. “It gives customers critical insight into the threats they’re facing so we can help them manage, detect and respond,” Silver said of the company’s offerings. The new Series B round, led by a previous investor in Alan Frazier’s , brings the company to nearly $16 million in lifetime funding. The company has 68 employees, with its home office in Seattle and security operations centers in Bremerton and Ellensburg, Wash. The company is planning to expand the security centers, and the new funding round will help with that. Security and tech giants like ADT and Cisco Systems are in the “Managed detection and response” market that includes CI Security. One place where CI Security stands out, Silver says, is its offerings for healthcare and government organizations. The company’s office in Bremerton, Wash. (CI Security Photo) “Core to our mission is defending organizations that protect the health of our communities,” Silver said. “We’re seeing growth in our healthcare customer base as well as growth in our public sector customer base. We’re honored to be defending hospitals, clinics, cities, ports, and school districts. We want to help those organizations keep patients alive, keep the lights on, and keep our water clean.” Citing predictions from Silver said companies spent $96 billion on cybersecurity technology in 2018, yet attacks continue to impact organizations of all kinds. One big problem is a major shortage of qualified cybersecurity experts in the field, Silver said. CI Security’s technology is meant to amplify its human talent, not solve every problem on its own. Silver claims CI Security experts can spot attacks and help remove them much faster than the competitors: “in hours or minutes instead of months.” “There are threats everyday like phishing, crypto-mining, and malicious intruders,” Silver said. “When those threat actors get into a system, the industry standard is that it often takes months or years to detect them — the average is about 200 days. That’s not acceptable.”
— When he invented the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee had a specific vision for how it would evolve, and things haven’t gone exactly as he planned. At its inception, the web was supposed to be a place to create as much as receive information. But web browsers quickly eliminated the ability to edit pages, essentially cutting out half of Berners-Lee’s vision. While things have been moving in the right direction, Berners-Lee, working with MIT, is looking to continue the trend with a new open-source technology called Solid. The Solid community is hosting a May 2 where developers and anyone interested in the new technology can learn what it’s all about. — For most entrepreneurs, figuring out exactly what you want to do with your business can be the easy part. But bringing that business into reality often takes outside investment. And that’s where it gets tricky. Perfecting your pitch and getting your idea in front of the right people at the right time can be not only a challenge but a frustrating process of trial and error. Odds are, you’re going to need some help along the journey. Volition Events is hosting the inaugural on April 26. Part of the Women in Tech Regatta, the event offers a place where you can practice your 3-minute pitch and get valuable feedback on how to improve it. Here are more highlights from the GeekWire Calendar: : A conference to discuss technology’s future in various life science fields at the Washington State Conference Center in Seattle; Wednesday, April 24 – Thursday, April 25. : An event where five startups pitch their companies to the audience at The Collective in Seattle; 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 25. : A shark-tank style event where local entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to earn capital at New Holly Gathering Hall in Seattle; 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 25. : An event focused on the preservation of physical as well as digital properties in the event of a disaster at the Living Computers: Museum and Lab in Seattle; Friday, April 26 – Saturday, April 27. : A talk about technology as it applies to air travel at the Sheraton Seattle; 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, April 26. : A presentation for startups about how to cope with business challenges at CoMotion Labs at the University of Washington in Seattle; 12 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 26. A presentation about tactics to have a successful interview for engineering careers at Code Fellows in Seattle; 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday, April 26. For more upcoming events, check out the , where you can find meetups, conferences, startup events, and geeky gatherings in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Organizing an event? .
(Viome Photo) , a wellness startup from entrepreneur , has raised $25 million in funding from a crop of investors that includes Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Jain said the new cash, which brings the Seattle-area startup’s total funding to $45 million, would be used to fund research into the link between the human microbiome and chronic diseases including diabetes, autoimmune disorders and Parkinson’s, as well as cancers. Naveen Jain. (Viome Photo) “We are now doing a bunch of clinical studies with 15 or so separate diseases,” said Jain. The aim of the studies, which are looking at diseases as wide-ranging as insomnia and pancreatic cancer, is to “understand exactly what’s happening inside the human body so that we can predict, prevent and reverse chronic diseases,” he said. Viome analyzes its customers’ microbiomes through stool samples in order to make food recommendations for health or weight loss. The idea is to foster health through microbes, which make up more than half of the cells in the human body. The funding round included return investor Bold Capital as well as Physician Partners, Hambrecht Healthcare Growth Venture Fund, and Matthew Harris of Global Infrastructure Partners. Viome said the financing was part of a series B round in which the company aims to raise $100 million. “People are investing because we’re solving a massive problem,” Jain said. “[Benioff] is a very happy customer and he said, ‘I want to be part of it.'” The Salesforce CEO has shown an interest in mental health and wellness, adding meditation rooms to the Salesforce offices and investing in Thrive Global, a wellness startup founded by Arianna Huffington. A spokesperson for Benioff declined to comment when contacted by GeekWire. Jain says the company’s competitive edge lies in its RNA sequencing technology, which emerged from defense work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Viome uses machine learning algorithms with the aim of predicting the body’s response to certain foods based on the composition of an individual’s microbiome. Researchers cast doubt These claims have drawn criticism. Jonathan Eisen, a professor at UC Davis, the “Theranos of the microbiome world” on Twitter last year, referencing Elizabeth Holmes’ blood testing startup that became infamous for false claims about its technology. “My issue with Viome was overstating the state of the science,” Eisen told GeekWire. “There’s no scientific support for any of their tools.” The Viome material on Amazon is filled with completely misleading overselling snake oil – e.g. they claim they can tell you "exactly which foods to eat and which to avoid in order to support your wellness" — Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics) In the early 2000s, Jain for claims he made about InfoSpace, a high-flying internet business that fell to earth during the dot-com bust. Jain later went on to co-found public records firm Intelius as well as Moon Express, which aims to . (Viome Screenshot) Jain responded to the criticism by saying that Viome’s underlying technology is superior to the microbiome sequencing technology used by other companies. Eisen once served as an advisor to Viome competitor uBiome. Several startups have set out to give health insights based on an analysis of gut bacteria, including and . And the promise of the microbiome has caught the attention of investors. Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee, famous for coining the term “Unicorn” to describe billion-dollar startups, recently about the brain-gut connection and her own dietary experiments. “Changes in diet can modulate the microbiome and have an effect on health,” said Sean Gibbons, an assistant professor at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. But Gibbons said it’s too early to draw conclusions about the specific effect of individual foods on a person’s health. “For anyone to claim that there’s a general purpose algorithm that can predict health from the microbiome is sort of a sci-fi, weird claim to make this point,” he said. Prominent endorsements for Viome That’s not to say that tinkering with the microbiome doesn’t have potential. Fecal transplants, which insert gut bacteria from healthy people into sick patients, have proven to be , a bacteria that infects nearly 500,000 Americans each year. Viome has received endorsements from health and wellness celebrities like , as well as . The startup recently partnered with Helomics, a precision medicine company, to study the link between the gut microbiome and ovarian cancer. Viome from Campbell Soup earlier this year for an undisclosed sum. The company has nearly 150 employees across six locations, including its headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. and offices in San Diego, Santa Clara, Calif., New York, Bangalore and Los Alamos, N.M. Viome is Jain’s seventh venture and the first to come out of his Bellevue-based innovation factory. BlueDot looks for market opportunities for technology developed at leading research labs, with a focus on the health and energy sectors.
Kids on 45th CEO Elise Worthy. (Kids on 45th Photo) had long been Seattle’s most well-known and oldest children’s consignment store. But in 2017, nearly 30 years after it opened, the tiny Wallingford retail shop was ready to shut down. That’s when stepped in and bought the business. Two years later, the tech entrepreneur has turned an old-school brick-and-mortar concept into an innovative e-commerce service that has shipped 500,000 items of used kids clothing to customers across the country. And now the Seattle startup is raising cash from top-tier investors to help fuel its growth. announced a $3.3 million funding round from YesVC, an early-stage firm co-founded by Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake; Maveron, the Seattle firm that previously backed e-commerce giants such as Zulily and eBay; and other investors including SoGal Ventures, Sesame Street Ventures, Collaborative Fund, Liquid 2 VC, and Brand Foundry Ventures. The company offers a unique solution to a problem that parents with young children often face: buying affordable clothes for their growing kids. The service takes advantage of partnerships with nonprofits and thrift organizations to source a supply of “nearly new” kids clothing that is discounted by 70-to-90 percent off similar products online. Customers select the types and sizes of clothing they need — four pairs of pants, three long-sleeve shirts, two dresses, etc. — and Kids on 45th stylists put together a curated box that is shipped to doorsteps. Items sell for as low as $1.99 each and an average of $3.29. There is no browsing process and the entire shopping experience is designed to take less than two minutes. “All of our competitors and incumbents rely on either a browse or discovery process,” Worthy told GeekWire. “We are specifically anti-browse. If you’re a mom who has a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old and they outgrow their pants, you won’t delightfully browse through clothes. You just want to solve the pants problem.” (Kids on 45th Photo) Worthy previously co-founded Seattle-based , a free nonprofit coding school for women that has graduated 250 students since in 2015. She left the day-to-day work at Ada in 2017 and had the opportunity to purchase Kids on 45th from the original owner. “It seemed like such a treasure trove of data,” said Worthy, who serves as CEO. “I thought it would be so cool to buy the store and figure out how to bring it online to be a web-scaled business.” Worthy not only started analyzing years and years of Kids on 45th purchasing data, but also observed customer experiences inside the store. Moms, especially those who don’t enjoy recreationally shopping, just wanted something to replace the clothes that their kids had outgrown. “It dawned on me that we were investing time in a browse experience that our customers didn’t want,” said Worthy, who has two young sons herself. The company has 15 employees in Seattle and another 15 people at its warehouse in Texas where garments are sorted into 350 categories. It has developed an efficient supply chain and distribution model to help keep handling costs low — it’s how items can be priced at such steep discounts, or as the company notes, “cheaper than Goodwill and Walmart.” Worthy described Kids on 45th as a “StitchFix-like experience without the cost or required subscription,” referencing the popular online clothing box service that also sells kids clothing. “We try to bring the StitchFix experience to 90 percent of Americans where that’s just not possible,” Worthy noted. Jason Stoffer, partner at Maveron who was an early board member at e-commerce giant Zulily, said the “rise in value retail offline has been unable to be replicated online until now, due to the difficulties of making the business model work.” “Elise and the Kids on 45th team have been able to sell clothing at radically low price points by challenging some of the shopping behaviors that have been accepted as a given up until this point,” he said in a statement. “They pass more savings onto their customers by pairing a global sourcing supply chain with taking on the burden of selection from moms, thereby reducing handling costs like photos, mannequins and returns.” Worthy added that “we are really happy with the unit economics of this business.” Kids on 45th also has an eye on sustainability, given the nature of its business, and hopes to help lessen the that are thrown into landfills each year. The company recently launched a new buy-back program that lets customers send in used clothes and receive Kids on 45th credit. Worthy said the startup will prove out its model with kids clothing before exploring other potential verticals. There are no plans to open more brick-and-mortar locations but Worthy said she’s open to the idea.
I’m excited to announce that is really shaping up! The awards will be held on 27 June 2019, in London, UK on the front lawn of the in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun, garden party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene. TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside new ‘tech, culture & society’ event creator . You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor which you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months. *** The deadline for nominations is 1 May 2019. *** For the 2019 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. There are now 20 categories including new additions to cover AgTech / FoodTech, SpaceTech, GovTech and Mobility Tech. Attendees, nominees and winners will get discounts to , later this year. The Europas “Diversity Pass” We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why, for the upcoming invitation-only “Pathfounder” event held on the afternoon before The Europas Awards, we’ve reserved a tranche of free tickets to ensure that we include more women and people of colour who are “pre-seed” or “seed stage” tech startup founders to join us. If you are awomen founder or person of colour founder, for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event. The Pathfounder event will feature premium content and invitees, designed be a ‘fast download’ into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London. The Europas Awards The Europas Awards results are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs. The complete list of categories is here: AgTech / FoodTech CleanTech Cyber EdTech FashTech FinTech Public, Civic and GovTech HealthTech MadTech (AdTech / MarTech) Mobility Tech PropTech RetailTech Saas/Enterprise or B2B SpaceTech Tech for Good Hottest Blockchain Project Hottest Blockchain Investor Hottest VC Fund Hottest Seed Fund Grand PrixTimeline of The Europas Awards deadlines: * 6 March 2019 – Submissions open* 1 May 2019 – Submissions close* 10 May 2019 – Public voting begins* 18 June 2019 – Public voting ends* 27 June 2019 – Awards Bash Amazing networking We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. Instead of a sit-down gala dinner, we’ve taken on your feedback for more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden lawn party where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily with free-flowing drinks and a wide-selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last approximately 75 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs. The Europas Awards have been going for the last ten years and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, Tech.eu, The Memo, Smart Company, Cnet, many others and of course, TechCrunch. • No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers • Key Founders and investors attending • Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters Meet the first set of our 20 judges: Brent HobermanExecutive Chairman and Co-FounderFounders Factory Videesha BöckleFounding Partnersignals Venture Capital Bindi KariaInnovation Expert + Advisor, InvestorBindi Ventures Christian HernandezChristian Hernandez GallardoCo-Founder and Venture Partner at White Star Capital
Sean Hsieh. (Flowroute Photo) Less than a year after selling his telecommunications startup, Flowroute founder has embarked on a new venture that aims to open up the world of commercial real estate investing. (Concreit Photo) Seattle startup is a soon-to-be-launched startup that will give investors the ability to invest in private buildings for as little as one dollar. “When I talk to my friends about owning a building, they just stop and go, ‘I don’t even know what to think about that, because I can’t connect with that thought,'” Hsieh said. “We’re trying to bring deals that only millionaires have access to and give them to an everyday investor for very small dollar minimum.” Concreit has raised nearly $1 million in funding from , a new Seattle-based firm co-led by longtime angel investor Andy Liu. Other Unlock portfolio companies include Crowd Cow, Make.TV and Possible Finance. Hsieh started Concreit with Flowroute co-founder and , who was formerly CTO at blockchain startups LifeID and StormX. The company hopes to launch later this year. The idea for Concreit was inspired by Hsieh’s own finances. “After selling Flowroute, I started to figure out how to diversify my portfolio,” said Hsieh. “And private commercial real estate became really interesting to me.” Hsieh to West Corporation last year for an undisclosed sum. Hsieh plans to use blockchain technology for certain aspects of Concreit, which could enable the startup to tokenize its position in certain investments. Concreit will be a mobile-first application with game-like elements in order to appeal to millennial investors. Concreit will initially give access to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), an asset class in which real estate is bundled into easily tradable securities. , a popular online real estate investing platform, uses the REIT structure for many of its assets. Federal regulations limit the access that ordinary investors have to commercial real estate, especially smaller scale projects. Concreit is exploring how different regulatory structures might be used to open up commercial real estate investing to more people. Hsieh said he believes that allowing non-accredited investors to participate “is really how we’re going to change this landscape.” A man of many talents, Hsieh was a hip-hop dancer in the first generation of — a group that was featured on MTV’s “Best Dance Crew” — and he also danced with professional teams Funkanometry LA and Mavyn.
The Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalists, clockwise from left to right: Rad Power Bikes co-founders Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh; Loftium co-founder Yifan Zhang; Slope co-founder Brian Bosché; Buttermilk founder Mitra Raman; and Possible Finance co-founder Tony Huang. (Photos via the companies and GeekWire) The six nominees for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category at this year’s prove that you can accomplish a lot by the time you’re 30 if you catch the startup bug. As part of our annual GeekWire Awards event, we recognize rising stars under the age of 30 who are building startups in the Pacific Northwest. We’re soliciting votes for seven promising young entrepreneurs to choose a winner, with input from more than 30 judges in the tech community. On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19. The 2019 nominees are Slope co-founder ; Rad Power Bikes co-founders and ; Loftium co-founder ; Buttermilk founder ; and Possible Finance co-founder . Last year, the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award , co-founder of the peer-to-peer petsitting startup Rover. This year, we wanted to learn more about our nominees so we went straight to the source. GeekWire contacted their close family members to get the inside scoop on what makes them tick as entrepreneurs. Learn more about each nominee below, cast your vote, , and we’ll see you at the GeekWire Awards! Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh, Rad Power Bikes Ty Collins, left, and Mike Radenbaugh, founders of Rad Power Bikes. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh are childhood friends turned startup co-founders. Together they launched , a direct-to-consumer electric bicycle company that from e-commerce heavy-hitters Darrell Cavens and Mark Vadon. Mike started building e-bikes when he was in high school, taking over his parents’ woodshop. “I think If we let him, he would have stayed home from high school every day putting e-bikes together and filling orders,” said his father, John Radenbaugh. “Big boxes of parts started showing up every day until our garage was overrun and it looked like a mad scientist’s lab for the remainder of his high school years,” added his mother, Patty Radenbaugh. In college, Ty teamed up with Mike, focusing on marketing and events for their fledgling e-bike business. His father, Bruce Collins, said that his son has always had the kind of unshakable optimism that entrepreneurs need to get through startup life. “When he was a small boy, he developed the idea that all possibilities are 50/50 in likelihood of happening, something would either happen or it wouldn’t,” Bruce said. “So, even in the face of long odds, Ty is able to make things happen because he feels it’s just as likely to happen as not.” Mitra Raman, Buttermilk Mitra Rasan, founder of Seattle-based Buttermilk Co. (The Buttermilk Co. Photo) After three years at Amazon, Mitra Raman caught the entrepreneur bug. Inspiration struck when her mother bagged up all of the ingredients needed to cook rasam, one of her favorite dishes growing up. All she had to do was add hot water. “An idea was born,” last year. She quit her gig at Amazon and struck out on her own, launching ., a meal delivery kit startup that charges $6 for meals such as the vegetable wheat porridge dish Khichdi and the lentil dish daal. Mitra’s husband, Amar Rao, said her entrepreneurial plunge was in-character. “She is always working hard and never settles or gets complacent,” he said. “Whenever she finds herself getting comfortable, she starts looking for the next and biggest challenge and, for the most part, succeeds in all her undertakings,” he added. Tony Huang, Possible Finance Possible Finance CEO Tony Huang. (Photo by Sam Cook) After his first startup exactly one year ago, Tony Huang has helped micro-lending startup originate 24,000 small loans and grown revenue by 50 percent month-over-month. Possible Finance offers a service similar to payday loans but the company allows borrowers to pay back the funds in smaller installments over time. The company a $30 million credit facility earlier this month. Tony has always had a streak of entrepreneurial creativity, according to his father, JK Huang. As a child, Tony came up with a unique solution to a pesky problem for kids of his generation. He didn’t have any Pokémon cards to show his friends because they were the “least priority in our spending budget,” JK said. “He put on a big smile claiming he had the most popular Pokémon cards,” JK said. “He then took out his collection. They were the most popular ones, but they were printouts on a regular piece of paper from our home printer trimmed to the standard size!” Brian Bosché, Slope Brian Bosche and Dan Bloom of Slope win GeekWire Startup Day 2016. (GeekWire Photo) Brian Bosché co-founded Slope five years ago as a creative agency in Detroit. He and his co-founder Dan Bloom quickly became frustrated by inefficiencies in creative marketing collaboration. That gave them the idea for Slope, a software service that helps companies manage the creative project production process. Brian moved Slope to Seattle to join the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in 2016 after a frantic application process, according to his wife, Marissa Smith. “Moments before the deadline, they submitted their application to take part in the program,” she said. “They were accepted and everything starting happening fast — Brian had to move to Seattle from Detroit with two weeks notice. It takes someone who’s willing to risk it all to pack up their life on a notice and move across the country, with the hope and dream of making their vision a reality.” It paid off. Three years later, Seattle-based to grow the public company’s work collaboration software suite. Yifan Zhang, Loftium Loftium CEO Yifan Zhang. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) In 2017, Yifan Zhang to shake up home-buying by leveraging Airbnb. promised to help house hunters with their down payments if they agreed to Airbnb a portion of their home and share the profits with the startup. The novel approach to real estate isn’t the only thing to catch people off guard. “I surprise a lot of people,” Zhang last year. “Most people expect me to be a 40-year-old male — my name is androgynous. Expectations and reality. There is always that gap, and you’re compensating for that and it’s tiring after a while.” Startup life can be fatiguing, even when entrepreneurs aren’t battling stereotypes. But Zhang is keeping her head down and growing her company. In 2018, Loftium and the startup is hiring for a variety of engineering and operational roles. Zhang and her relatives could not be reached to comment. Join us at the 2019 GeekWire Awards on May 2!
Vouched CEO John Baird. (Vouched Photo) , a Seattle startup using AI to verify people’s identities online, has joined the accelerator. The 3-month accelerator program in a bid by VC firm Madrona Venture Group to lure talent from tech giants. It is focused on established teams and offers startups coaching and connections to investors. Vouched uses AI to review documents in order to help companies verify the identity of its customers, clients and contractors. Those documents could be anything from passports and driver’s licenses to proofs of address and insurance. The idea is to turn a manual process requiring lots of time and staff into an automated one. “We’re working behind the scenes to verify people on sites you might use every day. You might have already used Vouched and don’t even know it,” Vouched CEO said in an email. Vouched has raised $700,000 to date. In addition to a $100,000 investment Madrona Venture Labs, Vouched’s other investors include Zulily co-founder , New Engen CEO , investor , Bulletproof 360 VP , Revolve CFO , and , CEO of EMEA at Footlocker. Baird said Vouched aims to do for ID verification what services like Stripe have done for online payments, with a focus on ease of use, affordability, accuracy and scale. Vouched is incorporated under the name Woolly Labs. Baird founded the company with , who serves as chief product and technology officer. is the startup’s head of AI research. “Increasingly, companies never meet their customers, clients, or even employees,” Baird said. “How do you know, for example, that a gig economy worker has the legally required credentials to work in their industry?” Baird declined to share the names of customers, but said that Vouched works with “companies in sectors such as the gig and sharing economy, telemedicine, transportation, and enterprise software.” This is the second company to join Madrona’s accelerator. The first was , a software startup that helps speed up clinical trials, which graduated in January and was a . The Madrona Venture Labs accelerator is currently . The program is run by managing directors and out of , the “founder center” that opened beneath Madrona Venture Group last year.
The Startup CEO of the Year finalists, from left to right, clockwise: Leen Kawas, Athria Pharma; Scott Moore, Ad Lightning; Ambika Singh, Armoire; Milkana Brace, Jargon; and Forest Key, Pixvana. (Photos courtesy Athria; Ad Lightning; Timothy Anaya; Jargon; and Pixvana) Managing a fast-growing startup is not easy. But the GeekWire Awards finalists for Startup CEO of the Year have figured out a way to not only lead early stage companies but also inspire others to join them on their mission. We’ve opened voting in 11 categories, and community votes will be factored in with feedback from more than 30 judges. On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19. This year’s nominees for Startup CEO of the Year — Jargon CEO Milkana Brace; Athria Pharma CEO Leen Kawas; Pixvana CEO Forest Key; Ad Lightning CEO Scott Moore; and Armoire CEO Ambika Singh — run companies that operate in various industries, from virtual reality to fashion to biotech. To qualify for this category, eligible CEOs must have 200 employees or fewer. You can see the nominees for the other CEO of the Year category, for big tech companies, here. Learn more below about what makes the finalists for Startup CEO of the Year special, and vote on all the categories while you’re here. And don’t forget to , as the GeekWire Awards sell out every year. Jargon CEO Milkana Brace Jargon CEO and co-founder Milkana Brace. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) In her short time as CEO of , has demonstrated a crucial skill for any entrepreneur: the ability to adapt. Brace, a former senior director at Expedia and Groupon, originally helped start Jargon in late 2017 as an on-demand interpretation service. But after joining the Alexa Accelerator in Seattle last year and getting feedback from mentors, the company switched gears and started building a localization product for voice apps. Jargon made another slight pivot in recent months and is now focusing on developing a voice content management service. The company’s latest iteration helped attract last month from investors including Amazon’s Alexa Fund. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Brace: “Milkana Brace is both brilliant and humble, and this combination, combined with her unwavering commitment to delivering value to her customer, enabled her to lead and execute a massive pivot during the Techstars program that has positioned Jargon for success today. As a multilingual founder, her vision and leadership is helping drive culturally-competent global communication through multi-sense technology.” Athria Pharma CEO Leen Kawas Clinical pharmacist and founder of Athria Pharma Leen Kawas speaks at the 2018 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Based on her years of work both inside the lab and in the boardroom, is wholly committed to developing therapies that can help slow and stop the course of neurological diseases. The foundation of, previously known as M3 Biotechnology, began while Kawas was earning her Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology at Washington State University nearly a decade ago. The Seattle company, which its name change today, uses technology that Kawas developed at WSU and has raised more than $20 million. Athira is developing its lead therapeutic candidate, NDX-1017, a drug that could halt or reverse the nerve damage that causes Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses including Parkinson’s and ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It uses regenerative technology, rebuilding connections between neurons and increasing the mass of the brain and brain health. NDX-1017 is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials, with Phase 2 set to begin later this year. Kawas serves on multiple science and Alzheimer’s-related boards and holds a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Jordan. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Kawas: “Leen Kawas is a dedicated CEO who takes finding a therapy for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s very seriously. She is a champion for patient advocacy, promoting biotech in our region, and creating a work culture full of collaboration and innovation.” Pixvana CEO Forest Key Pixvana CEO Forest Key. (Pixvana Photo) is a quintessential early-stage company builder. The CEO of Seattle-based virtual reality startup likes to “build things that don’t yet have antecedents.” “I’m particularly good at 1.0 stuff: creating the vision, getting other people on board, pivoting aggressively and often… and always driving to outcomes,” Key writes on his . The entrepreneur already had one big startup success. After stints at Lucasfilm, Adobe, and Microsoft, in 2009 he launched buuteeq, a software startup for the hotel industry. The company raised $17 million in capital and grew to 150 employees and 10,000 customers before it was by travel giant Priceline in 2014. Now Key is back on the startup horse as the leader of Pixvana, which launched in 2015 and has raised $20 million from investors including Vulcan Capital, Raine Ventures, Microsoft Ventures, Cisco Investments, Hearst Ventures, and Madrona Venture Group. The company sells end-to-end cloud-based VR storytelling software and now also . Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Key: “Forest Key embraces a steady and smart ‘get-things-done” leadership style, compassionately guiding his loyal team through startup challenges.” Ad Lightning CEO Scott Moore Ad Lightning CEO Scott Moore. (Photo via Ad Lightning) Whether it’s building an online humor website or scaling an advertising exchange platform, is a proven leader. Moore is founder and CEO of , a Seattle startup that helps online publishers and advertising exchanges . Ad Lightning spun out of Seattle-based startup studio Pioneer Square Labs in 2017 and has raised nearly $5 million from investors such as Sinclair Digital Ventures, an investment division of Sinclair Broadcast Group; Seattle Angel Fund, Flying Fish Partners; Curious Capital; and The Alliance of Angels. Total funding in the company is $4.8 million. The startup was also part of the inaugural class of Verizon Ventures’ “Media Tech Venture Studio.” Prior to Ad Lightning and Cheezburger, Moore was general manager of Microsoft’s MSN consumer portal and head of media at Yahoo. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Moore: “Scott Moore is someone you just want to be around. His good nature, coupled with fierce tenacity, pair tremendously to make him an outstanding CEO. He leads with integrity and fairness, no matter the situation — and he’s seen quite the spectrum over the years.” Armoire CEO Ambika Singh Ambika Singh, CEO and co-founder of Seattle-based Armoire. (Timothy Anaya Photo) Functionally, is a women’s clothing rental service. But a conversation with may convince you that her startup is really about girl power (or more precisely, busy professional woman power, but that’s less catchy). Singh is CEO and co-founder of Armoire, a Seattle startup that uses data-driven curation . Starting at $149 per month, the 3-year-old company ships designer clothes to customers who can swap out the items at any time or purchase them at a discounted rate. Singh helped launch the company while at MIT’s Delta V accelerator program and has since grown Armoire to more than 30 employees while raising $4.2 million from investors such as Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens; Foot Locker exec Vijay Talwar; and a number of female backers who decided to invest after first becoming customers. Here’s a comment from one of our GeekWire Awards judges about Singh: “Ambika Singh’s entrepreneurial journey is a source of constant inspiration … Most inspiring is that she lives her values, creating the sizeless, endless, closet-of-the-future for women, while hiring a team of primarily women (engineers, designers, stylists and machine learning experts), and exuding the very confidence she inspires in her clientele.” Join us at the 2019 GeekWire Awards on May 2!
Showdigs interfaces for property managers, users and brokers. (Showdigs Photo) Another new Seattle startup has raised cash to fix problems in the complicated world of real estate. raised a $3 million seed round to make life easier for property managers who are inundated with requests for showings of rental homes and apartments. The company operates an Uber-like marketplace model, connecting property managers in need of people to show houses and apartments with real estate brokers looking to make some extra cash. “They get bombarded with hundreds of inquiries every time they have a vacancy,” Showdigs CEO said in an interview with GeekWire. “The problem is they have to start following up with everyone and scheduling meetings and times for people to see the unit, and this is where they get swamped and need help.” Showdigs CEO Kobi Bensimon. (Showdigs Photo) Showdigs plugs into property managers’ systems, and when they get a request for a showing from a site like Zillow or Apartments.com, the company sends back a link to set up an appointment. Visits can be scheduled with as little as 30 minutes notice, and Showdigs then pings brokers on the platform in the neighborhood to do a showing, the same way Uber finds nearby drivers for ride requests. Brokers make $25 per showing, paid by property managers, with Showdigs taking a cut. The company is still tinkering with how it brings in revenue, testing options like taking a percentage off each showing, offering subscriptions for property managers, flat fees per vacant unit and more. Showdigs just launched its service in November, starting small in the West Seattle neighborhood. A month later, the company expanded to all of Seattle and Portland. In 2019, Showdigs plans to expand to more major markets. Showdigs is one of a number of Seattle startups tackling problems in the real estate industry. Some are dealing with the sales process (FlyHomes), while others aim to solve construction (Blokable) and title and escrow (JetClosing). FlyHomes is testing a similar service — “a role where rideshare drivers who were also real estate agents could show homes on demand,” as this notes — but for those looking to buy properties, not rent. Today, Showdigs has about 150 brokers on the platform and is working with 10 large property managers. The company just showed its 1000th unit. The nine-person company is split between Seattle and Tel Aviv, Israel. Bensimon and a lot of the business team are in Seattle, while the product team, led by Waze veteran Ohad Ron, is in Israel. The seed round was led by Bellevue, Wash.-based venture capital firm . Bensimon said the cash infusion will be used to beef up the company’s software and platform, so that when the time comes to expand, scaling up the business will go smoothly. Bensimon is a veteran of the real estate tech business. He co-founded and led a startup called ActiveBuilding that helped large apartment complexes communicate with tenants. He in 2013. The experience at ActiveBuilding gave Bensimon a window into the issues property managers deal with and inspired the idea that became Showdigs. Brokers rarely show apartments anymore thanks to technological innovations from sites like Zillow. But they possess unmatched local knowledge, the training to show units and flexible schedules to take some load off overbooked property managers. Brokers are primarily reliant on sales commissions, so Showdigs gives them an opportunity to earn extra money in between sales or keep cash coming in during a dry spell. “It’s a way for them to complement their income,” Bensimon said of the platform for brokers. “They get a commission every time they make a sale, and sometimes they could go for months without having an income.”