Techstars Picks 9 Startups For Seattle, Complementing Local Strengths

Techstars has named nine startup companies for its 2017 Seattle accelerator class, each with a focus that complements one of the region’s core or emerging technology strengths.

Techstars Seattle managing director Chris DeVore says this deliberate matching of startup companies to strengths in the local tech industry is meant to “give the teams we select an unfair competitive advantage on the long road to startup success.” In a blog post Thursday, he says that this strategy is essential for Seattle to differentiate itself from the center of the startup universe—the Bay Area. Seattle must “lean into opportunities where we consistently, systematically outperform that market and earn the attention of the world’s most talented makers and investors,” DeVore says.

Chris DeVore

DeVore’s list of those opportunities serves as a pretty good tour of the things that make the regional innovation economy robust and diverse. By DeVore’s lights, those areas include:

—Enterprise software-as-a-service, the legacy strength derived from Microsoft and the tech companies that followed.

Techstars Seattle 2017 companies fitting into this area are: Hazel, making modern human resources tools; Valid8, making tools for independent financial operations auditors and analysts; and VendorHawk, making tools to monitor spending and utilization of software-as-a-service tools.

—Cloud infrastructure and developer productivity, an area where Amazon and Microsoft are two of the three top players, with dozens of other companies establishing engineering offices in Seattle to tap expertise resident here.

Stackery, part of the 2017 cohort, is making developer tools to ease cloud infrastructure design, deployment, monitoring, and scaling.

—eCommerce and marketplaces, Amazon’s original joint, but one with a long legacy in Seattle through retailers such as Nordstrom, Starbucks, Costco, and REI, and leading online marketplace companies in real estate and travel.

The Techstars startups relevant here are Coastline Market, a local, direct-to-consumer seafood marketplace, and Swym, cross-channel branding for e-commerce companies.

DeVore calls the following four areas “emerging” strengths:

—Biopharma and healthcare IT, sectors whose perceived strengths in the region have ebbed and flowed over the years, accounted for “some of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest recent venture financings,” DeVore notes, citing Juno Therapeutics and Nohla Therapeutics in particular. Healthcare IT, which Seattle has all the elements to excel in, has also seen an acceleration of new companies and financings of late, including an $8.5 million Series A round announced by KenSci on Wednesday.

While Techstars hasn’t typically selected many startups in these sectors, the 2017 cohort has two: Silene Biotech, a service to preserve cells for future personalized medicine applications, and CuePath Innovation, a platform and service for medication monitoring.

—Energy transmission and trading, an under-recognized regional strength stemming from the federal hydroelectric power infrastructure on the Columbia and Snake rivers, as DeVore notes. Regional work on modernizing the electricity grid through efforts led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and state incentives for energy storage technology development (including grid management software) and deployment also contribute here.

LevelTen Energy, which aims to streamline clean energy purchase agreements for commercial and industrial customers, was selected for the 2017 cohort.

—Space and aerospace. With a century of history of The Boeing Company beginning on Lake Union, aerospace is hardly emerging, but the talent and supply chain built up here over generations of aircraft manufacturing provides fertile ground for a new wave of commercial space companies.

Kepler Communications, a Techstars Seattle 2016 company, was the accelerator’s first investment in the sector, DeVore says. And while no space companies made the cut in 2017, Techstars is “actively looking for referrals in this domain for 2018,” he says.

—The “AI Stack,” the Seattle area’s “newest” category is really only new in the sense of its public recognition, DeVore says, noting the legacy of research at University of Washington, Microsoft, and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Amazon, with the breakout success in 2016 of its voice-controlled computing system, Alexa, is also a huge driver in this area. “Seattle has become a gravity well for the world’s best technical talent in the intertwined technologies of Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU),” DeVore says.

There won’t be just one or two Techstars startups working in this area in 2017. Late last year, Techstars announced a partnership with the Amazon Alexa Fund to devote an entire accelerator to this set of technologies. It begins in July.

If I were to add one more area that should be on this list, it would be agriculture and agtech. From novel use of drone-mounted sensors to monitor tree fruit to entrepreneurs experimenting with insect farms in urban settings, the Northwest’s historic business of food production is another foundation on which to innovate.

The Techstars Seattle 2017 cohort began on Monday. The accelerator program concludes with a Demo Night on April 19. It is the eighth Techstars Seattle class.

Downtown Seattle by Flickr user Tiffany Von Arnim, cropped and used under a Creative Commons License.

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

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