Seattle Week in Review: Why We’re Great, Code Schools, Health IT, Art in Space

Xconomy Seattle — 

If you’re looking for a concise, articulate answer to the question of why to invest in or start a company in Seattle, look no further than Heather Redman. Her comments lead off our Xconomy Seattle Week in Review, which also covers the boom in coding schools locally and nationally, new data on the fastest-growing occupation in King County’s aerospace sector, a proposal for an “FDA for data and algorithms,” the winners for the inaugural University of Washington Health Innovation Challenge and big expansion plans in Seattle for health IT company Accolade, and our new favorite topic: art in space.

Heather Redman wears many hats. Her day job is vice president of business operations and general counsel at Indix. She is an angel investor, startup mentor, and one of the new members of business-to-business startup accelerator 9Mile Labs’ advisory board. It was at Thursday’s Milestone 9 demo day that Redman, pictured above, second from left, gave her view of Seattle’s “unique opportunity”:

“First of all, Seattle has an amazing heritage of entrepreneurship. If you look at Fortune’s survey of the most-admired brands in the world. Seattle has five of the top 20 companies [Amazon.com, Starbucks, Costco, Nordstrom, Microsoft], which is just startling, and it’s really quite amazing for a city of our size to have 25 percent of the top 20 companies. This town was built on entrepreneurship and the tech community is really carrying on that tradition.

“Secondly, we’ve had a tremendous influx of engineers and technical talent over the last 10 years. We now have more engineers than any other city in the country, and 94 percent of those are from outside of Seattle. … Harkening back to prior elections, Ross Perot talked about the giant sucking sound that was supposedly happening when Mexico was siphoning off all of our jobs. But right now, I think Silicon Valley is hearing a giant sucking sound of all of the engineers.

“Our innovation score, which measures academia, patents filed, stats along those lines, shows us just behind Silicon Valley. We’re at 90 they’re at 93, so we’re an extremely innovative environment. Our employees are also more loyal. We switch jobs half as often as people in the Valley, so we have a great culture for building companies, because you can’t build a company if people are always switching, right? I’m very bullish, just on that basis.

“But then you also look at where we’re dominant. We are the cloud capital. We have really created this cloud industry. Amazon started it, Microsoft piled on very quickly behind them and has grown in to being a very healthy competitor. We’ve got many many companies that are built off of that cloud dominance, and I think that will continue. And that’s really the major technology shift for this decade. We’ve also got tremendous strength in virtual reality, tremendous strength in health IT, and a number of other areas. I see this as being a tremendous place to invest, particularly with the market downturn. Valuations, the pressure’s a little bit off. So from an angel investor perspective, which is a hat I wear very often, this is a great time to invest, and it’s also a great time to start a company.”

—The coding school boom continues. Announcements we’ve tracked during the last week alone: San Francisco-based Dev Bootcamp is expanding to Seattle, Austin, TX, and Washington, DC. Coding Dojo, based in Bellevue, WA, is opening new campuses in Dallas, Washington, DC, and Chicago. General Assembly, based in New York, is celebrating its new Seattle campus on the third floor of the Seattle Tower. And Code Builders, from the team that launched Ada Developers Academy, is creating a new model that combines more training with a software development consultancy.

Code Builders, led by co-founder and lead instructor Bookis Worthy, aims to differentiate itself with a longer, hands-on program—it’s nine months, including classroom training and a three-month apprenticeship with the in-house consultancy working on real development projects for Code Builders’ clients, such as Blue Sky Bridal, Light in the Attic Records, Luna Sandals, and Amazon. “Over the last few years we’ve seen an abundance of code schools and boot camps emerge promising to teach students how to become developers in three months,” Worthy says in a news release. “But the problem we’ve seen is that many of these entry-level developers graduate and have a difficult time finding jobs because they don’t have enough real-life experience and frankly haven’t been given the time needed to hone their skills.”

The code school expansion comes amid an ongoing drumbeat of statistics on demand from employers for competent coders and IT professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics outlook for computer and information technology occupations projects growth in this broad category of 12 percent between 2014 and 2024, from 3.8 million jobs to 4.4 million jobs. The BLS says employment is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations due in part to “a greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, more everyday items becoming connected to the Internet in what is commonly referred to as the ‘Internet of things,’ and the continued demand for mobile computing.”

Underscoring this demand on a local level is a draft analysis of predicted job openings in aerospace, a stalwart Washington industry. Guess which occupation in King County aerospace has the highest employment, fastest growth between 2013 and 2023, the biggest gap between employer demand and supply in the local talent pipeline, and among the highest median wages in the sector? The answer is, of course, computer systems analyst. Just within King County aerospace, according to the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County’s draft talent pipeline study, this occupation will see its ranks grow from 11,311 in 2013 to 15,459 in 2023, or about 3.2 percent annually.

Acquia's Tom Erickson (left) and Dries Buytaert

—We have marketplaces for data and algorithms (Seattle-based Algorithmia just made its marketplace free for developers to try). Now, Dries Buytaert, above at right, who created the open-source Drupal Web publishing system, proposes an “FDA for data and algorithms.” Xconomy’s Boston-based senior editor Jeff Engel covered Buytaert’s presentation to Harvard Business School this week, where he outlined three ideas to “turn the tide toward a more open Web, one in which users have more control over their data and the overall flow of information online.” Engel writes:

“Just as the government introduced the FDA to ensure the quality and safety of food and drugs in the U.S., a federal agency could oversee private companies’ software algorithms and boost transparency.

“‘We need to know which data is captured, how that data is used, but also how these algorithms work,’ Buytaert said. ‘If you have these large platforms like Google that have an impact on society, that can influence outcomes of elections, it would be good if somebody could audit these algorithms to be sure there isn’t bias built into them—either on purpose or accident.'”

—As Redman mentioned, healthcare IT is a growing area of strength in Seattle. On Thursday, 18 interdisciplinary student teams from universities across the Northwest pitched their startup ideas to investors and industry leaders at the inaugural University of Washington Health Innovation Challenge (HIC), modeled on other business plan competitions put on by the UW’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.

  • A Washington State University team, Engage, won the $10,000 grand prize for a cap attached to the top of medicine vials that sterilizes a needle each time it is inserted to draw out a dose. The aim is to reduce the spread of infectious disease in the developing world through contaminated needles.
  • Second place and $5,000 went to UW team miPS Labs, which proposes preservation of a person’s youngest cells for use in future treatments.
  • The $2,500 third place award went to UW team MultiModal Health, which wants to apply data science and software “to quantify rehab, extending advanced treatment from the clinic to the home.”

Meanwhile, a more mature health IT company, Accolade, is ramping up its Seattle presence under the guidance of the former leadership team of Bellevue, WA-based expense reporting software company Concur Technologies, acquired by SAP for $8.3 billion. New Accolade CEO Raj Singh and one of his Concur co-founders Mike Hilton, along with several other former Concur senior executives, have set up an office in the Washington State Convention Center and plan to hire some 50 people to help develop Accolade’s cloud based software for helping people navigate and engage with healthcare plans.

—If humanity is to become a truly space-faring species, how will our art and culture manifest beyond our home planet? That is one of the questions posed by a new art exhibition in Seattle that challenged artists to conceive of works they would execute on the Moon. The opening night party Thursday had a line out the door. Giant Steps, Artist Residency on the Moon, is open at King Street Station weekends through the end of the month.

And there’s more space-related art coming up. Paul Allen’s South Lake Union art gallery, Pivot Art + Culture, is readying an exhibit called Imagined Futures, opening April 7, that will explore “visualization of new space frontiers through works of art by modern masters of the speculative and fantastic. Combining the mysterious worlds of the imagination with the hard realities of technology and engineering, these artists take the majesty and wonder of the universe as their inspiration, addressing the challenges of imagining the multiple realities of the unknown.” The works by artists including Chelsey Bonestell, Fred Freeman, John Berkey, Jim Burns, Don Dixon, Bob Eggleton, Chris Foss, Fred Gambino, Ron Miller, Ludek Pesek, Richard Powers, Alex Schomburg, and Tim White, come from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, and will be displayed alongside computing and rocketry artifacts from Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection and Living Computer Museum.

One intriguing aspect of Imagined Futures is an installation called voyager one, by Kristina Estell and David Bowen, “created from custom software used to visualize the current location of the Voyager One space probe, launched by NASA in 1977.”

The Golden Record. Via NASA JPL

The Golden Record. Via NASA JPL

(The Voyager missions carry the Golden Record. I mention this because in reporting on Giant Steps I was looking for other examples of art in space, whether or not it was created there. The music on the record, by Bach and Chuck Berry, and imagery by C.S. Lewis and Ansel Adams, among many others, certainly qualifies. More recently, we have photography by Commander Scott Kelly during his just-completed 340-day stay on the International Space Station, and music performed in space by Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, including “ISS—Is Somebody Singing?”, co-written by Hadfield and Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, and more famously, his rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.)

Speaking of the Moon, Google is out with a digital documentary series chronicling teams competing in the Google Lunar XPRIZE. The 16 privately funded teams are trying to land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon, where it must explore 500 meters, and send video and images back to Earth by 2017. There are at least a couple of Northwest connections. Team SpaceIL, from Israel, has booked a flight for its entry on Seattle-based Spaceflight’s 2017 launch. Team Plan B is based out of Vancouver, Canada. The preview for the series, Moon Shot, which goes live in a couple of weeks, looks pretty inspiring.