Tectonic Audio Labs CEO Craig Hubbell. (Tectonic Audio Labs Photo) Seattle-area startup has raised $6 million to further develop its audio technology used in smart speakers, TVs, cars, and other products. WestRiver Group and Delafield Hambrecht led the Series B round. Founded in 2011, Tectonic uses to provide more immersive sound across varying environments. The company’s product uses composite panel tech instead of pistonic vibrations from a traditional cone diaphragm design. Its customers across North America work in a wide spectrum of industries — Tectonic is used inside the ballroom at Treasure Island in Las Vegas; at the lobby and bar at the W Bellevue; and inside . Tectonic aims to ride the growth of the smart speaker market, which is to reach nearly $40 billion worldwide by 2025. CIRP last week an installed smart speaker base of 66 million units in the U.S., up from 36 million a year ago. “We believe the market will continue to shift toward audio products that provide higher voice intelligibility and full range, natural sound,” said , Tectonic’s CEO who joined in November after a 16-year career at PlayNetwork. “We expect that our products will be used in a broad range of consumer products across several industries that want to make voice interaction and audio playback more enjoyable for consumers.” Tectonic employs 25 people.
David Leeds, Tango Card CEO. (Tango Card Photo) startup journey is making a return to Seattle. Founded back in 1997, GiftCertificates.com was one of the earliest gift card resellers in the market. The company relocated its headquarters from Seattle to Omaha . But now it has a new owner: Seattle-based , which announced the acquisition of GiftCertificates.com on Tuesday. Tango Card, which helps companies provide digital rewards, will establish a third office in Omaha and add 30 employees from GiftCertificates.com, which has more than 1,000 customers. The combined company will have 130 employees and more than 3,000 customers. GiftCertificates.com was previously in 2010 by Marlin Equity Partners. Tango Card also announced an additional $10 million investment from FTV Capital, which this past May. “As we got to know the team at GiftCertificates.com, we recognized the same commercial and customer focus,” Tango Card CEO David Leeds said in a statement. “We believe that together and with the backing of FTV we’ll be able to continue creating value for our customers while also being able to grow and influence the incentive industry.” Tango Card’s platform consists of three main ways to deliver rewards. Its “” API allows companies to integrate digital rewards directly into their apps and platforms. allow users to fund a gift card account, build an email template and send out digital gift cards. lets the customer send out a link for the recipient to pick a gift card or donation of his or her choice. Tango Card, which ranks No. 71 on the index of privately held Pacific Northwest tech startups, partners with more than 200 retailers, such as Amazon and Best Buy, in addition to restaurants, movie theaters and others. Tango Card also supports donations to 30 nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity, American Cancer Society and Girls Who Code. Editor’s note: This post was updated to reflect that Tango Card raised an additional $10 million from FTV Capital.
David Leeds, Tango Card CEO. (Tango Card Photo) startup journey is making a return to Seattle. Founded back in 1997, GiftCertificates.com was one of the earliest gift card resellers in the market. The company relocated its headquarters from Seattle to Omaha . But now it has a new owner: Seattle-based , which announced the acquisition of GiftCertificates.com on Tuesday. Tango Card, which helps companies provide digital rewards, will establish a third office in Omaha and add 30 employees from GiftCertificates.com, which has more than 1,000 customers. The combined company will have 130 employees and more than 3,000 customers. GiftCertificates.com was previously in 2010 by Marlin Equity Partners. Tango Card also announced an additional $15 million investment from FTV Capital, which this past May. “As we got to know the team at GiftCertificates.com, we recognized the same commercial and customer focus,” Tango Card CEO David Leeds said in a statement. “We believe that together and with the backing of FTV we’ll be able to continue creating value for our customers while also being able to grow and influence the incentive industry.” Tango Card’s platform consists of three main ways to deliver rewards. Its “” API allows companies to integrate digital rewards directly into their apps and platforms. allow users to fund a gift card account, build an email template and send out digital gift cards. lets the customer send out a link for the recipient to pick a gift card or donation of his or her choice. Tango Card, which ranks No. 71 on the index of privately held Pacific Northwest tech startups, partners with more than 200 retailers, such as Amazon and Best Buy, in addition to restaurants, movie theaters and others. Tango Card also supports donations to 30 nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity, American Cancer Society and Girls Who Code.
Health care provider Providence St. Joseph Health acquired Seattle startup , which uses blockchain to collect payments more efficiently. The process of billing and collecting payment, called revenue cycle management, is a common headache for hospitals that has attracted solutions from Athenahealth, Experian Health, GE Healthcare Partners and others. Lumedic CEO Lincoln Popp. (Lumedic photo) Lumedic uses blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, to share information between payers and providers on a distributed ledger. Providence said it’s the first integrated health care system to use blockchain for this purpose. By moving what is often a manual process to the blockchain, the companies hope to reduce costs. “New technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning give us an opportunity to view the complexities of today’s health systems through a different lens,” said Venkat Bhamidipati, Providence St. Joseph Health CFO, in a statement. Renton, Wash.-based Providence, which operates 51 hospitals, has hired the Lumedic team and intends to keep it an independent company that will pursue partnerships with providers, insurers and others. Providence did not disclose how much it paid for the acquisition or other terms of the deal. Lumedic was founded a year ago by Michael Nash, the company’s chief product officer, and is led by CEO Lincoln Popp.
(Atomo Image) Andy Kleitsch was pacing, sipping and talking rapidly during a phone conversation on Thursday morning. The Seattle entrepreneur had had multiple cups of coffee already — and he’d just aimed at upending what we think we know and love about the beverage. and are the co-founders of Atomo, a startup that claims to have “hacked the coffee bean,” in so much as they’ve removed it from the process of making coffee and substituted it with a molecular concoction derived from naturally sustainable (and secret) ingredients. Kleitsch is a tech vert who once worked at Amazon among other places, and he currently leads entrepreneur workshops at the University of Washington. He started looking for his “next thing” about six months ago and reached out to friends in Seattle. Atomo co-founders Andy Kleitsch, left, and Jarret Stopforth. (LinkedIn Photos) “I got all kinds of great ideas,” Kleitsch said. “I heard ideas around firefighting robots and all kinds of things. But Jarret said, ‘I want to make coffee without the bean.’ And that was just too good. It blew my mind.” Stopforth is a Ph.D. with extensive experience around food safety and quality at companies such as Chobani and Campbell Soup. “I love coffee, but every day I was adding cream and sugar to mask coffee’s bitter flavor” Stopforth said. “By replicating the taste, aroma and mouthfeel of coffee, we’ve designed a better tasting coffee that’s also better for the environment.” The sustainability element of Atomo’s mission is driven by the belief that regions where beans are grown will be greatly impacted in the coming years. The company points to a last month that said “60 percent of the world’s coffee species were in danger of going extinct in the next 50 years due to climate change, population expansion, and disease.” Atomo promises that its ground coffee will be suitable for drip machines, French presses, refillable K-Cups, and pour-overs. The grounds will be made of a non-allergen, Kleitsch said. “It’s not going to be made out of peanut shells,” he said. “What we’re really excited to do is find a material that we can upcycle — naturally occurring ingredient that is probably a spent item, that is usually thrown away from a different food process and give it life again.” Disrupting something that is so near and dear to the tastebuds and culture of so many people, and doing it in a coffee capital like Seattle, is a big deal. Atomo could simply create a liquid product without worrying about the grounds and consumer’s brew habits. But the five-person company is made up of coffee lovers who respect all that goes into being addicted to the stuff. “People’s coffee ritual is very important to them and it’s something they do every morning,” Kleitsch said. “And so we want to fit into that ritual, we want to be a part of that, and that’s why we’re coming up with the grounds. So they can just replace [their current coffee] one for one.” A video shot on campus at UW shows Atomo going head to head in a taste test against another certain Seattle coffee company: Atomo has set a goal of $10,000 on Kickstarter, with a deadline of March 9. The crowd-sourced funds will be used to further development. The team is partnering with Mattson, a food tech company, and is bootstrapped right now, with eventual plans to seek investors. Kleitsch said no one else is trying to build coffee from the molecular level up. The closest thing might be coffee without the black color. A company called Endless West does make molecular whiskey, and Kleitsch points to the , makers of a plant-based burger that “bleeds.” When told that maybe Gates would like coffee without the bean, Kleitsch said, “I hope he does!”
(GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy) Seattle-based tax compliance company Avalara has acquired Indix, a Seattle startup that had accumulated vast amounts of data on product information. Indix CEO Sanjay Parthasarathy. (Indix Photo) Avalara, which went public this past June year, will use Indix technology to bolster its tax content database that includes everything from international product codes and classifications to taxability rules. “We believe the combination of deep product knowledge, broad product content, and artificial intelligence technology will allow us to provide our customers the information they want and need to factor compliance into their business decision-making, and for Avalara to address more compliance requirements to support their growth,” Avalara CEO Scott McFarlane said in a statement. Founded in 2013 by former longtime Microsoft executive , Indix developed an intelligence platform that helps businesses analyze and visualize product information across various industries. The company had raised more than $30 million from investors. “From day one, we built Indix to collect, organize, and structure the world’s product information using artificial intelligence,” Parthasarathy said in a statement. “With the addition of the Indix expertise, Avalara will be able to efficiently and rapidly refine its content to meet the expanding and evolving needs of its customers.” Parthasarathy is well known in Microsoft circles. He into the tech giant’s product group in the early 1990s. The Indix homepage now redirects to Avalara’s site. We’ve followed up with Avalara and Indix for more details about the acquisition and will update this post when we hear back. Last month Avalara Compli, a California-based company that helps makers of alcoholic beverages comply with government rules and regulations. Avalara has grown to more than 1,500 employees across 12 offices around the world. Avalara a net loss of $9 million on revenue of $69.5 million for the third quarter. Its stock is down about 10 percent from its IPO price. The company will report fourth quarter earnings next week.
Paul Stahura. (Donuts Photo) Cryptocurrency has yet to catch on with mainstream consumers, in large part due to its volatility. Bitcoin, for example, went from $900 in December 2016 to nearly $20,000 one year later, before dropping back down to less than $4,000 this past December. Now some entrepreneurs have come up with a potential solution: stablecoin, a newer form of cryptocurrency that is pegged to a fiat currency such as the U.S. dollar and allows prices to remain more stable. The idea has caught the attention of , co-founder of domain registrar companies such as Donuts and eNom. He’s leading a $1.2 million round in Seattle startup , which today announced the Series A investment. Stably has developed its own stablecoin called StableUSD (USDS). When a user gives Stably $1 to buy its cryptocurrency, it mints one of its digital tokens. If someone gives Stably back that 1 USDS, it removes the coin from circulation and returns $1 from its cash reserve. The idea is to provide benefits of cryptocurrency — fast transaction speed; anonymity; etc. — with less fluctuation in value. Stably CEO Kory Hoang. (Stably Photo) “We’re simply turning dollars into digital dollars,” said CEO . Stahura, who co-founded Donuts in 2010 and remains chairman at the Seattle area company, said he sees many parallels between cryptocurrency — specifically dollar-backed tokens — and domain names. He said there was room for many companies such as eNom or GoDaddy who were selling the exact same product (.com names). “Same with dollar-backed tokens,” Stahura told GeekWire. “How hard can it be to sell a dollar for $1, especially if that dollar has more utility and lower fees, say, than a credit-card dollar?” Stahura pointed to , a startup backed by big-name investors such as Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund that recently passed $200 million in market capitalization for its stablecoin TrueUSD. “I invested because of the sort of familiar opportunity I see, plus I like the energetic and experienced team,” Stahura said. Hoang said that the most immediate use case of stablecoins is as a medium of exchange and a store of value for cryptocurrency traders. “Many exchanges don’t let you easily convert between cryptocurrency and traditional fiat currency,” he said in an email. “A cryptocurrency that has the same value as fiat (i.e. a stablecoin) fixes that, and gives traders more control over their investments, especially in times of volatility.” Hoang, who was previously an analyst at PitchBook, added that the long-term vision is to “enable fast and borderless payments, an efficient and cheaper solution for remittance, and a reliable alternative to money in developing or hyper-inflationary economies.” “The world that stablecoins can enable is one where you can buy a cup of coffee with cryptocurrency,” he said. Stably makes “flat income” on the cash reserve it holds that backs the USDS coins. The company employs nine people and expects to grow as a result of the funding. Other backers include 500 Startups, Beenext, and angel investors. Total funding to date is $1.7 million.
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.”
Merit CEO and co-founder Adil Wali. (Photo via Merit) You’ve probably read or heard about cryptocurrency in the news. Maybe your techie friend owns some Bitcoin. But you likely don’t own any digital currencies or let alone know how to obtain them in the first place. is on a mission to change that. Led by , a veteran entrepreneur who previously co-founded ModCloth (acquired by Walmart last year), the Seattle startup today unveiled its invite-only cryptocurrency called MRT. Wali helped come up with the idea for Merit after he and his co-founder wondered why so few people — even those within the tech industry — actually own cryptocurrency. They concluded that it was a problem around usability and accessibility. “If you want to create the world’s most-used cryptocurrency, what do you do? You have to make it simpler, you have to make it safer, and you have to make it a community,” Wali told GeekWire. Simplicity, safety, and community are the pillars of Merit — the third of which is perhaps most important, Wali said. Part of what makes Merit different from other cryptocurrencies, and what helps build community, is the invite-only requirement to obtain and own MRT. Wali explained that the anonymity associated with many existing cryptocurrencies enables hacking and theft too easily. He said Merit enables an “active stewardship model” and can track, across its blockchain, who is bringing in who to the community. Merit also changes the fundamentals of mining, or the process by which cryptocurrency is made via powerful computers. The company has created what Wali calls “proof of growth mining.” Since the service is invite-only, Merit can better assess and control who is rewarded with MRT. “What that enables is folks can actually mine merit without a computer,” Wali said. Another differentiator is how Merit allows its currency to be exchanged between owners. Rather than exchanging long 34-character public key strings, Merit built its own protocol. “We created an escrow on the blockchain that can hold money for you to claim it,” he said. MRT can be created and sent via SMS, Twitter, or various other communication tools. Merit also features decentralized vaults, password-protected transactions, and cancelable transactions. It is launching today without an ICO, as Wali said the company wants the community to determine price. Wali, who sold his most recent startup Fox Commerce to a blockchain commerce company, said his 10-person team is focused on making Merit accessible to just about anyone, regardless of technical knowledge. That feeds into the company’s vision of getting more people owning and using cryptocurrency. “Any currency is only as useful as the number of people who use it. If you can’t transact with it, what’s the point?” he said. “If we have dramatically less than a percent of the world’s population using crypto, it’s a really big problem when you think about the viability of the space at large.” Merit is bootstrapped, with the founders investing an initial $1 million in the company. The business model is split between Merit Labs and a non-profit called the Merit Foundation. A percentage of all MRT distributed goes into a genesis block, which is allocated across the foundation. “The idea of Merit is that with a decentralized launch and a longer-term approach, we are incentivized to make Merit valuable everyday,” Wali said. “With both the non-profit and for-profit, we’ll sell a little bit of Merit over time to continue operations in the organization. As the value of the currency goes up, then we’re able to do that more.” Cryptocurrency remains a hot — yet still relatively misunderstood — area of the startup world. According to PitchBook, 179 venture capital investors in the U.S. in at least one crypto startup deal in the past two years. noted this week that top VC firms Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures “are increasingly investing in public blockchains and cryptoassets broadly.” this week reported that the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange is working on an online trading platform for Bitcoin. That followed news of Goldman Sachs’ plan to open a Bitcoin trading unit. Some are still skeptical. Speaking on CBS this week, Bill Gates called Bitcoin and ICOs “one of the crazier speculative things.” “As an asset class, you’re not producing anything and so you shouldn’t expect it to go up. It’s kind of a pure ‘greater fool theory’ type investment,” Gates said. “I agree I would short it if there was an easy way to do it.” Gates previously weighed in on the subject during a in which he called cryptocurrencies “super risky.” Merit is one of several cryptocurrency/blockchain-related companies and organizations sprouting up in the Seattle area. There are startups like and a blockchain consulting group called ; and an investment group called that with blockchain company RChain Cooperative to invest a cryptocurrency equivalent of more than $190 million in blockchain apps and startups. “There is just phenomenally great talent here,” said Wali, who re-located to Seattle in 2016. “We have the ability to be one of the epicenters of cryptocurrency.”
David Adams, founder of the Seattle-based startup SniffSpot, with his dog Soba, at a property in the city where they had access to a fenced-in yard. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) When David Adams moved back to Seattle, he settled in an apartment on the seventh floor of a building in the city’s Belltown neighborhood. On Tuesday, Adams and his dog Soba were enjoying a grassy backyard behind a stranger’s house in Ballard, thanks to the company Adams started six months ago. is a marketplace that connects dog owners, who are looking for a safe and convenient space for their pet to get some exercise, with property owners, who have room outside for pups to play — and the desire to make a little easy money on the side courtesy of the sharing economy. Originally from Ohio, Adams, 31, moved to Seattle in 2010 and spent just over three years at Microsoft. He moved to San Francisco to found his first company: , a marketplace that helps users find monthly furnished housing. That company raised more than $12 million in funding, and Adams still maintains a seat on the board and travels to San Francisco regularly. “The trend that I have is that when I start a company, I start it based on my own problem,” Adams said. He used to always live in furnished rentals, until his girlfriend expressed an interest in something different. “I adopted Soba a year and a half ago and I’ve been taking her around to dog parks. She’s super high energy. I just always have had bad experiences there.” David Adams lives in Belltown near downtown Seattle and uses SniffSpot properties to get his dog Soba the proper amount of exercise. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Integrating pet services and technology is part of a growing trend that appeals to people in larger cities, especially in places like Seattle where so many Amazon employees and others take their dogs to work. Seattle-based has found huge success with its pet-sitting and dog-walking marketplace, and SniffSpot is clearly playing off that demand — with a twist of its own. “Thirty percent of dogs are owned by millennials, and millennials are moving into cities,” Adams said. “So you’re having an all new set of problems with dogs. That’s why you’ve seen Rover be so successful, you’ve seen Wag be so successful, because they’re new services that appeal to urban dog owners. It’s just getting started.” Seattle Parks and Recreation offers for dogs to run free. But after Soba was bit at a dog park and required a vet visit, Adams figured there had to be a better way to get his dog the fresh air and exercise she needed. “I think that dog parks are a really important public service. You’ve got to have them in the city,” Adams said. But SniffSpot caters to people and pets who are looking for a more controlled environment, often because the animal comes from a background that makes it more reactive around other dogs and people. SniffSpot works pretty much like Airbnb, the online hospitality business. Through its website, SniffSpot users can browse a variety of host properties — there are about 70 in the Seattle area right now and Adams is hoping for many more. Hosts provide information and pictures related to the property, including details about fencing. They can set restrictions on times, breeds and numbers of dogs allowed at any given time. It’s possible to reserve a space for solo dog time, or meet up with others. Users choose a date and time to reserve and pay through the site. Soba (and Brobee from “Yo Gabba Gabba”) got a workout on Tuesday in Ballard. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) In Ballard, I met Adams and Soba at a typical house in the neighborhood, advertised on SniffSpot as We let ourselves in through the side gate and found a sizable area in the back for Soba to explore. There were toys scattered about and a bowl full of water on the back deck. “Having off-leash exercise is really important for a dog’s health,” Adams said, as he talked about the full range of exercise that a dog requires, beyond walks on a leash, and how that benefits the animal not just physically, but mentally, too. It’s clear that the young entrepreneur is combining his marketplace and tech experience with a new passion for pets. “I’ll be the first to say I didn’t know anything about dogs when I adopted Soba,” Adams said. “And I’ve been learning a ton.” A totally bootstrapped endeavor, SniffSpot is pretty much a one-person operation right now. Adams has relied on contractors for a little bit of help, but he’s taken no outside funding and is doing no marketing right now. He believes the right way to start a company is to build a product that people want and need, and then the product will take off on its own. In the two full months since the website has been up and functional, SniffSpot has seen 60 percent growth month over month. An app will get built eventually, he said. Soba gets a drink of water on the back deck of a SniffSpot property after running around for 30 minutes. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) There’s no requirement to be a host on SniffSpot, so long as the property doesn’t contain any hazards and is owned by the person posting it. Hosts are vetted through name, email and address checks and generally there is an interview and even a site visit if needed. Hosts can set their own price, with $4 being the minimum per pet, per hour. SniffSpot takes 12 percent of the revenue. “We’ve got hosts on our platform making $60 a day,” Adams said. “You’re not investing in the space. You’re not working. It’s not like Uber where you’re going and driving for hours to make money. You just let someone come use your yard — maybe you’re at work or something else and you’re just making incremental income.” Users are expected to treat the space like it’s their own — clean up the dog poop and toys, be courteous to neighbors, etc. SniffSpot hasn’t officially launched outside of the Seattle area yet, even though some properties are listed around Washington and in other states. A couple listings on the site show the possibilities beyond a backyard romp. David Adam’s dog Soba, right, plays with Adams’ girlfriend’s dog, Toshii, in the Skykomish River at a SniffSpot called PaJo Ranch. (SniffSpot Photo) Just past Monroe, Wash., a includes a wooded area and access to the Skykomish River for $10 an hour. And south of Seattle in Cinebar, Wash., on a mountainside are available. For anyone who is apprehensive about hiking in open areas with their dog off leash, the bigger SniffSpot properties could provide a solution. Adams, who goes to SniffSpots pretty much every day, sometimes multiple times a day, said there are a million examples of people sharing things these days, but that SniffSpot doesn’t really compare. It’s not really invasive because no one enters your house, they’re in a controlled space, they stay for an hour and leave. Sitting behind someone’s house in Ballard, in rapidly growing and housing-crunched Seattle, he admitted how special a place it was. “If everyone had their own yard, there’d be much less demand for something like SniffSpot,” Adams said. “It’s amazing that these yards actually even exist still.”
The HyperAI team, from left to right: Benji Barash, Yves Albers, Dave Matthew, and Elizabeth Nelson, with TiE Seattle board member Shirish Nadkarni and Madrona Venture Labs CTO Jay Bartot. (Not pictured, from the Hyper AI team: Ritesh Desai and Joaquin Zapeda) (Photo via Madrona) Food safety is a pressing issue. The latest example came last month when an elusive strain of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce sickened 121 people across 25 states and killed one, for how food is screened for safety and quality. Now a newly-formed group of entrepreneurs wants to use machine learning technology to help keep food free of harmful bacteria and containments before it reaches the dinner table. Hyper AI took home the first place prize at a hosted by TiE Seattle and Madrona Venture Labs, the startup studio housed inside Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group. The event featured eight teams who came together last month and spent this past weekend creating startup ideas that incorporated the latest machine learning and deep learning technology. Eight teams participated in the Machine Learning Startup Creation Weekend at Madrona Venture Labs. (Photo via Madrona) The winning team, Hyper AI, aims to help the food industry with hyper-spectral imaging tech that can detect everything from foreign objects to deadly bacteria. It plans to deploy edge devices on customer premises and do the heavy lifting for image analysis with machine learning in the cloud. The group, made up of Amazon vets and experienced technologists, explained that existing solutions are either too manual and expensive, or too specialized. It hopes to use machine learning to improve the food scanning technology over time as it learns how to detect more and more contaminants. “They were able to demonstrate why there is increasing awareness of the issue and demand for new, innovative solutions,” said Mike Fridgen, CEO of Madrona Venture Labs who helped judge the pitches. “They had defined their beachhead opportunity, where they would start, through in-depth conversations with potential food processor customers.” As the first place prize winner, the Hyper AI team will now meet with Madrona Venture Labs with a chance to land a $100,000 investment and participate in , which just . Accepted startups in the accelerator will use Madrona Venture Labs resources — expertise in company creation, design, engineering, etc.; access to Madrona’s advisor and investor network; and more. It will be housed in Madrona’s that opens later this summer underneath its existing downtown Seattle office. Madrona Venture Labs held in the past and ended up investing in the winning companies. The studio is focusing on supporting “vertical” machine learning and artificial intelligence startups, as explained . The second place team from last weekend’s event was FireWise, which aims predict wildfires before they happen. The third place team, HealthShop, wants to help guide healthcare patients to surgery centers. (Editor’s note: I was one of the six judges at the event. Others included Madrona Venture Labs CEO Mike Fridgen; Flying Fish Managing Partner Heather Redman; Madrona Ventures Venture Partner and University of Washington professor Dan Weld; Koru CEO Kristen Hamilton; and Microsoft GM Sona Vaish Venkat )
U2’s Bono and The Edge in concert Friday night on the 2018 Experience + Innocence Tourin St. Louis. (Photo by Remy, via , ) Seattle-based on-demand trucking technology startup Convoy already counts several rock stars of the tech world among its investors — including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Turns out some actual rock stars have invested, as well. Convoy that U2’s Bono and The Edge quietly invested in the company last year. Convoy declined to disclose the amount of the investment. The U2 frontman and guitarist were introduced to the company by Hadi Partovi, a Convoy board member, investor and CEO of Code.org. The news coincides with the recent start of U2’s “Bono and The Edge know more about trucking than you might think. They’ve spent most of their adult lives touring the world with U2, and trucks are an essential part of moving the show from city to city,” said Convoy CEO and co-founder Dan Lewis in . “When they heard about Convoy, they loved that we are using technology to empower millions of truckers to grow their businesses while at the same time reducing empty miles and waste.” Convoy co-founders Dan Lewis, CEO, and Grant Goodale, CTO, inside the company’s Seattle headquarters. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The company has been described as the “Uber for trucking,” using technology to connect truck drivers with excess capacity to shippers looking to move freight — including Fortune 500 companies — automating traditionally a slow and time-intensive process. Convoy works with 15,000 trucking companies and 100,000 truck drivers, and has grown to 225 employees. Bono and The Edge are no strangers to technology investing, from to cloud storage giant Dropbox. Partovi and his brother, Ali, who met Bono and The Edge through their previous startup iLike, also , as well. Convoy raised $62 million in a Series B round last year, led by , the investment arm of Silicon Valley-based accelerator Y Combinator. The investment by Bono and The Edge was not part of that round. Total funding in the company now tops $80 million. Convoy was named and is , set for Thursday night in Seattle.