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Seattle Week in Review: Life Sciences at Risk, Keiretsu Record, & More

Xconomy Seattle — 

Here’s a quick look at news from the Northwest innovation economy this week, including a warning about the future of the life sciences industry in Washington; new funding for the University of Washington’s computer science expansion project; 2016 investment totals from Keiretsu Forum Northwest; fresh funding for ReplyYes; and an important new facility for cleantech innovators. Details:

—Washington’s life sciences industry has seen a downturn in key measures such as employment, patent activity, and research and development spending, while the industry in peer states has continued to grow. That gloomy outlook was presented in a report from the Washington Life Science and Global Health Advisory Council to Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday, along with an urgent call to restore state programs such as research and development tax credits that had benefitted the industry in the 2000s.

Top biotech executives in the state called attention to the report, noting that the industry is at a “critical juncture,” as trade group Life Science Washington president and CEO Leslie Alexandre put it in a statement. Juno Therapeutics CEO Hans Bishop says Washington policymakers have a choice: “Will state lawmakers simply stand by and watch as life sciences companies increasingly choose to invest in states that are more attractive?”

The “Future at Risk” report (PDF), from consulting firm TEConomy Partners, found that the state’s industry lost more than 900 jobs—a 3 percent decline—between 2011 and 2014, while the rest of the industry grew 2.7 percent. Life sciences patent activity in Washington declined 1 percent between 2012 and 2015 while growing 15 percent in the rest of the country. Research and development spending increased 11 percent in Washington from 2011 to 2013, compared to 19 percent for the U.S. as a whole.

—Two more high-dollar, high-profile supporters of the University of Washington’s capital campaign for a new computer science building emerged this week. Google is giving the UW $10 million, described as “a mix of support for research projects and research facilities” on the UW’s project site. The UW did not announce the support from Google with the fanfare given to other major corporate and private philanthropic gifts from the likes of Microsoft ($20 million committed), Amazon ($10 million), and Zillow ($5 million), all based in the Seattle area. GeekWire spotted the new information about Google, and noted that while the company isn’t based here, it has a huge and growing Seattle-area presence and has been a longtime supporter of computer science at the UW.

Meanwhile, the UW announced that Charles and Lisa Simonyi gave $5 million for the project, which saw construction begin last month. Their names will adorn an undergraduate commons in the new building. (Naming rights for the building as a whole have not been announced.)

—Members of angel investment group Keiretsu Forum Northwest invested $46.1 million in 84 companies last year, a new record for the 11-year-old group. The Northwest arm of Keiretsu—which includes Washington chapters in Seattle, Kirkland, and Tacoma, as well as Boise, ID, and Vancouver, Canada—spread its investments beyond its home region. While 45 of the deals were done with Northwest companies, members bet on businesses based in Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, and even Turkey.

In 2015, Keiretsu Forum Northwest members backed 57 companies to the tune of $43.5 million.

—We covered a funding round and big new customer for ReplyYes, a startup spawned in Madrona Venture Labs, that sits at the intersection of messaging, mobile, commerce, chatbots, and recommendations. Read what CEO Dave Cotter has to say about the way humans and an AI-powered chatbot work together on the ReplyYes platform to boost sales.

—We also attended the unveiling of the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, a new University of Washington facility that promises to be a boon for early-stage cleantech companies in need of cutting-edge prototyping and testing equipment.

Photo credit: Mount Rushmore by Jim Bowen via Flickr. Cropped and used under a Creative Commons license