Seattle Week in Review: Light Reading for the Darkest Day

As the darkest day of the year approaches—Winter Solstice is Dec. 21—we’re taking in some low-angle winter sun and catching up on a few news items from the past week. Check out new data on venture capital’s lack of diversity, a survey of diversity at Seattle startup companies, applied research funding for teams at Washington’s flagship universities, and reading recommendations.

—The venture capital industry is mostly white and majority male, especially so among the ranks of the investing partners who make the decisions about who gets funded.

You probably knew this already, but the National Venture Capital Association released some fresh data this week to back it up.

Among the key findings of the NVCA-Deloitte Human Capital Survey conducted by the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion: women fill 45 percent of the jobs in venture firms, but they’re dramatically overrepresented in administrative and communications roles (95 percent and 75 percent of which are filled by women, respectively) and under-represented among the ranks of investment partners who have final say over which startups get checks. Only 11 percent of these jobs are held by women.

There were no black investment partners reported among the 217 VC firms that responded to the NVCA’s survey last summer. (The survey was sent to 1,336 firms and the NVCA says the response rate provides “a 90 percent confidence level that the study is representative of the entire venture capital population.” It also says that the absence of black investment partners in the sample “does not equate to a zero number of black investment partners working across the industry.”)

Overall, the survey reveals that black employees represent 3 percent of the VC workforce, Latino employees have 4 percent of the jobs in the industry, and Asian employees have 14 percent.

The full report can be downloaded here.

—Meanwhile, Seattle journalist and author Ruchika Tulshyan is trying to fill the data gap on diversity in Seattle startups. Tulshyan, author of the 2015 book The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in The Workplace, along with entrepreneurs Christy Johnson and Martha Burwell, is asking founders and employees of Seattle-based startups with 250 or fewer employees to complete the survey. It asks demographic questions, but also about availability of child care, opinions on whether entrepreneurship is a meritocracy, and people’s paths into startup companies.

Earlier this year, Techstars released results of a survey it conducted on diversity at startup companies. It revealed that startup leaders value diversity, but many don’t know how to improve it, and don’t recognize its well-documented connection to financial performance.

Tulshyan says there’s a need for location-specific startup diversity surveys. “From anecdotal evidence, I think some of the barriers are quite different [in Seattle] than in NY/Silicon Valley and I can’t wait to find out what they may be,” she says via e-mail.

—The Washington Research Foundation (WRF) quietly provides millions of dollars of small, highly-targeted grant funds to help promising research at the state’s flagship universities bridge the gap from laboratory to society.

At the University of Washington, 10 teams will receive $40,000 for product development and $10,000 for business development through the CoMotion Innovation Fund, supported by the WRF. The fall 2016 winners (descriptions from CoMotion):

  • UnTape Medical is developing tape that can be removed rapidly and painlessly.
  • FimH Antibody is an antibody that stops pathogenic E. coli and Klebsiella species, which cause urinary tract infections, sepsis, meningitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • PlayGait is an affordable, lightweight, and easy-to-use pediatric exoskeleton that will help children with gait disorders improve their walking ability.
  • Alpenglow Optics will help pathology laboratories process surgical resection specimens more accurately and at a lower cost.
  • EigenHealth provides a low-cost smartphone platform for recording, storing and analyzing endoscopic exams.
  • MistEase is developing a novel way to deliver eye medications accurately and easily.
  • CORE-MI provides feedback to addiction counseling trainers and service providers on the quality of addiction treatment in support of training, supervision, and quality assurance.
  • HAOPs Water Treatment is developing a new “pre-treatment” process that uses a proprietary material and a novel method to remove key contaminants from water.
  • ThruWave is a wave imaging technology that will let construction professionals work faster and with lower risk by accurately imaging the internal structure of walls, floors, and ceilings.
  • Team Bilingual Baby helps early education centers teach young children a second language by providing research-based method and curriculum that work in one hour per day.

At Washington State University, WRF-backed Commercialization Gap Funds will support 13 faculty projects (descriptions from WSU):

  • Haluk Beyenal: Electrochemical band-aid for wound healing
  • Hergen Eilers: Biodegradable hydraulic fluid for hydropower equipment
  • Karl Englund: Fire performance of recycled wind turbine composite panels
  • John Harkness: Home cage-based magnetic trolley for the automation of sleep disruption in rodents
  • Hanjo Hellmann: Biotechnological platform for crop yield and stress tolerance improvement
  • Michael Kessler: Shape-changing smart materials
  • Lei Li: Ultra-low-cost, mobile-point-of-care platform for high-throughput infectious disease diagnostics
  • Weimin Li: Innovative 3D tissue matrix scaffold system for tumor modeling and drug screening
  • Hang Liu: Self-weighing, self-powered, smart sensing textile
  • Rahul Panat: Highly stretchable metallic interconnects for flexible electronics
  • Xiangming Shi: Cement-free binder using fly ash as the sole binder
  • Abhisesh Silwal: In-tree crop load estimation of apples with a Smartphone
  • Bernie Van Wie: Rapid low-cost miniature dual ionophore ion selective electrode biosensor for cells and proteins

—A couple of weekend reads well worth your time:

GeekWire contributor Lisa Stiffler takes a deeply reported look at Amazon’s local philanthropic efforts.

Xconomy contributing editor Wade Roush lists his 50 favorite podcasts. (We’re excited for the 2017 debut of Wade’s podcast Soonish, “about the future and how it will be shaped by the choices we’re making about technology today.”)

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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