Seattle Week in Review: Mech Bezos, Bay Area Capital, Family Leave

Spring will get here eventually, and it will be more glorious for the wait. In the meantime, we’re looking back on a relatively quiet week in local tech, including: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in the pilot seat of a giant robot; PitchBook data on investments in Seattle by Bay Area-based venture capitalists; a new Seattle proposal for universal paid family medical leave; a major gift to the University of Washington’s chemistry department; and some recommended weekend reading.

—Jeff Bezos posted a picture of himself in the pilot seat of a giant robot, which was rolled out as part of the exclusive MARS conference (Machine-Learning Automation, Robotics & Space Exploration) Amazon hosts. I wonder what the robots working in Amazon fulfillment centers think of this.

—Silicon Valley is the center of the venture capital industry, but investors based there are doing more deals with companies based in other innovation hubs around the country. Seattle-based investment data provider PitchBook found that in 2016 more than half of the deals done by Bay Area VCs were with companies outside of Greater San Francisco.

Seattle ranked fourth on the list of regions attracting the most Bay Area capital, behind Los Angeles, Boston, and New York City. In 2016, 80 Seattle-area deals met the criteria.

—A majority of Seattle City Council members voiced support this week for a universal paid family leave plan that would grant employees of private companies up to six months of paid time off—up to $1,000 a week—to care for a sick family member or new baby. The proposal, floated by Councilmember M. Lorena González, would have both employers and employees contributing to an insurance pool to fund the benefit, as The Stranger’s Heidi Groover reports. She contacted each member of the council and five of them support the proposal, which González plans to advance if bills in the state Legislature with similar aims fail.

Paid family leave is viewed as an important measure to help reduce the gender pay gap, which is a significant issue in the startup world, according to the Catalyze Seattle survey on gender in Seattle startups released earlier this year.

A Seattle City Council webpage on universal paid leave notes that existing state and federal family medical leave laws require only 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and only at companies with 50 or more workers.

The Pew Research Center released a study of American opinions on this issue this week. Some top-level findings:

  • 82 percent of respondents support paid family and medical leave for new mothers, with 61 percent of those people saying employers should pay
  • 69 percent think new fathers should also receive paid leave following the birth of a child
  • 67 percent would grant leave to people to care for a sick relative

—The University of Washington’s Department of Chemistry received a $12 million gift from an emeritus professor, Larry Dalton, and Nicole Boand, his wife, to create a postdoctoral fellowship program, endow two faculty chairs, and create a flexible fund for other opportunities.

The Dalton Postdoctoral Fellowship in Chemistry will enable the department “to attract and support the brightest early-career scientists from across the nation, ensuring that the UW is a leader in next-generation research in the chemical sciences,” said Professor Michael Heinekey, chemistry department chair, in a news release.

Dalton, a professor at the UW since 1998, researched photonics and nonlinear optics, and founded Lumera Corp., which designed photonic communications components before merging in 2008 with GigOptix.

—We looked at Seattle startup Remitly’s support for immigrants through its #WhyISend campaign.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at how Vancouver, Canada’s government and tech industry is attempting to position itself to take advantage of the more restrictive immigration positions pursued by the Trump administration. These restrictions are affecting tech employers based here. As The Seattle Times’ Matt Day reports, the province wants to turn its short-term opportunity—its immigration policies are far less strict—into a long-term advantage that would nurture more home-grown talent and tech companies.

Another good read: GeekWire’s Kurt Schlosser shares his 10-year-old son’s experiences interacting with Alexa. “In just under a week of boy-meets-artificial-girl bonding, the question-and-answer sessions range from misunderstood to enlightening to super cute. There’s stuff in there that I’m glad he’s asking Alexa. There’s stuff in there that I wish he had asked me. And there’s just a lot of music that I’d prefer he listen to in his own room.”

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

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