Week in Review: Remembering the Seattle of Chris Cornell and Grunge

Seattle mourns the death of Chris Cornell, the Soundgarden front man and Seattle native synonymous with the city’s grunge sound. Some thoughts on that below, but first tech news including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to the Microsoft CEO Summit; results from the Seattle Angel Conference; new leadership at the University of Washington’s entrepreneurship program; Cray’s entry into the supercomputing as a service business; electric vehicle chargers from ReachNow; and a new rocket for Spaceflight.

—Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Seattle this week for the Microsoft CEO Summit, which Bill Gates created 20 years ago as a way to show off the company’s products and vision for the future of technology to the business world’s elite. Trudeau touted his country’s burgeoning tech industry, which has seen a boost in the wake of Trump administration policies that have made the U.S. less welcoming to immigrants.

Microsoft has been a vocal proponent of the idea of a Cascadia Innovation Corridor, linking the tech hubs of Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. Microsoft President Brad Smith helped convene a conference on the topic in Vancouver last fall, and Microsoft is supporting a collaboration between the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia.

Smith is scheduled to speak on the topic at Life Science Innovation Northwest on Tuesday.

—Speaking of events next week, the UW’s innovation transfer arm, CoMotion, hosts a panel on food innovation to assess local entrepreneurs’ appetites for the emerging clean meat and plant-based protein industry. Proponents say Washington has all the right ingredients.

—Seattle Angel Conference (SAC) awarded a $145,000 investment to SafKan Health, which is making a Class I medical device—the lowest-risk designation given by the FDA—designed to automatically remove earwax. The Seattle company says some 231,000 people have weekly ear cleanings at a doctor’s office to deal with impacted earwax. The product, a “cerumen removal device,” is in clinical testing and the company intends to begin sales and shipments this year.

SafKan won the investment at the culmination of SAC XI, a 12-week program that helps novice angel investors learn how to perform due diligence. Forty-three companies applied to the program. SafKan was selected from six finalists. The others were: Meta Arcade, StriveWear, Signl.fm, Bridgecare Finance, and C3 Backflow.

SAC got its start in 2012 and has now trained more than 275 new angel investors and invested more than $2 million in startup companies, according to a blog post from founder John Sechrest. Here’s an in-depth look at SAC from 2014.

Rob Adams, a Seattle angel investor and tech executive who led acquisitions at Cisco, will head the University of Washington’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. He replaces the long-serving head of the program within the Foster School of Business, Connie Bourassa-Shaw, who will lead the school’s new Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program—a last blast before retirement. Adams begins in the job June 1.

—Cray, the Seattle-based supercomputer maker, announced a partnership to give customers access to the high-power capabilities of its machines via cloud computing. Working with Boston-based data center and cloud computing provider Markley, Cray will offer supercomputing-as-a-service

—BMW unit ReachNow, which operates a fleet of rental cars in Seattle and other markets, plans to invest $1.2 million to build 20 electric vehicle charging stations in the city, each with three to five chargers. The stations will be available to the public. The first was installed at Woodland Park Zoo.

—Seattle-based satellite ridesharing company Spaceflight announced the purchase of a second rocket. This one is an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab, which Spaceflight says is well-suited for delivering satellites to mid-inclination orbits.

“There are numerous rideshare launches each year to Sun Synchronous Orbit, but getting to 45 to 60 degrees is hard to find, and can cost the equivalent of buying an entire rocket,” Curt Blake, president of Spaceflight’s launch business, said in a news release.

Spaceflight previously acquired a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, slated to launch later this year.

—Like the demolition of a landmark, the loss of an iconic rock star is provoking more introspection about Seattle’s accelerated self-reinvention, and the place for art in the tech-dominated metropolis it has become.

Brook Ellingwood, a longtime Seattle digital media person, writes on Medium:

“Artists were drawn to this place precisely because you didn’t need influence to survive here. All you needed then was some friends and couple hundred bucks a month for rent and food. Out of that grew creativity and, with it, influence and power. The homegrown kind. The kind that stayed accessible and didn’t humblebrag about how humble it was.

“Chris Cornell is being eulogized around the world for his art, and rightfully so. But for so many of us, what we are feeling today is tied to the loss of our place of cheap rents, shows in neglected warehouses, camaraderie in our social circles, and a shared culture studiously documented every two weeks in the pages of The Rocket.

“When Tech Seattle fetishizes the culture of Pre-Tech Seattle, it has no idea how far off the mark it really is in understanding what it thinks it admires. It does not admit how miserably it has failed in supporting environments where culture—any honest, true, culture—could sprout from the grassroots like it did here.”

Indeed, parts of the city would be unrecognizable to its denizens from the height of the 1990s grunge era, but of course that’s always been the case for Seattle and other Western cities for which growth and change are nearly constant. And as GeekWire reports, some artists are thriving thanks to the tech industry’s appetite for big, showy sculptures at their headquarters buildings.

You don’t have to look far for real perspective on the passage of time, and the impermanence of the seemingly solid ground on which we build today. 37 years ago this week, Mount St. Helens erupted, demonstrating the raw power of this land to remake itself in moments. Another recommendation: 99 Percent Invisible’s heart-rending retelling of the 1964 Anchorage earthquake—a 9.2 on the Richter scale—and how the young community came together afterward.

Photo credit: Chris Cornell in 2014 by Flickr user swimfinfan cropped and used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.

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

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