Seattle Roundup: Auto IT, Real Estate, Space, Smart Grids, & More

Catching up on a few items from last week, we’re following a major investment for truck-tracking technology maker Zonar Systems, local VC fundraising, a big real estate deal for Tableau Software, and an innovative new skyscraper proposed downtown. Also, partnerships for Spaceflight Networks; Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration project results; a new way for small businesses to access Department of Energy national laboratories expertise; and innovation grant awards for promising ideas at the University of Washington. Read on for details:

—In a boost for the Northwest’s automotive IT industry, truck-tracking technology maker Zonar Systems has taken $50 million from Daimler Trucks North America for an undisclosed equity stake. The funding will help the company build more software and hardware to help fleet owners monitor their trucks and drivers. It plans to hire about 50 developers to join the 70 software makers it is moving into new downtown Seattle offices later this summer, reports The Seattle Times.

—Two Seattle-area venture capital investors are raising funds for investments in enterprise software companies. We wrote about Ignition Partners’ new “annex” fund to back companies it originally invested in out of its fourth fund. Tola Capital is raising up to $225 million—with most of it committed—for enterprise software investments.

—Tableau Software’s growth shows no signs of slowing. The data visualization software maker is making sure it has room for as many as 1,300 new employees with a big new lease adjacent to Seattle’s iconic Gasworks Park. The 208,000 square feet Tableau (NYSE: DATA) is taking at the under-construction NorthEdge project would allow it to more than double its current Seattle-area workforce, now spread among seven buildings in the Fremont neighborhood, and in Kirkland, across Lake Washington. Tableau aims to move in to the new four-story, mixed-use building in the second half of 2016. In an SEC filing, Tableau says it entered into an 11-year lease, paying annual base rent of $7.5 million, not including operating expenses or real estate taxes, subject to a 3 percent annual increase.

—Meanwhile, in downtown Seattle, developer Greg Smith, is proposing a skyscraper that would have an 80-foot square atrium at its center, letting natural light into interior spaces, as The Seattle Times reports. At 880 feet, the 888 Second Ave. building would also be the city’s second-tallest. The atrium, reaching all the way to the top of the building, would be unique among U.S. skyscrapers, which typically pack their centers with a concrete bar of elevators and other building services.

—Spaceflight Industries’ satellite data and communications business, Spaceflight Networks, has inked partnerships with four companies as it aims to build a “cell phone network for space”. A partnership with satellite data company Spire Global will bolster Spaceflight’s communications capabilities with a network of stations spread around the globe for communicating with satellites via UHF and S-band radios. Partnerships with radio providers Tethers Unlimited, BitBeam, and Syrlinks, will yield radios to support communications over those channels, as well as X-band.

—The Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, the largest of its kind, has published its final report. If you’re looking for some light reading, the 840-page technical report is available here. Or you can go with a 32-page summary (PDF). For an even quicker overview, check out our April interview with project director Ron Melton of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). The lab worked with about a dozen utilities in five states, as well as six major technology partners on the five-year, $178 million effort to test a range of smart grid technologies.

—In other PNNL-related news, the lab is one of five selected for a new program to connect small clean energy companies with top-flight talent and facilities from Department of Energy national labs. The Small Business Vouchers Pilot will allow companies with fewer than 500 employees to access up to $300,000 in technology assistance from PNNL or other participating labs. PNNL, which is receiving about $2.7 million of the $20 million budgeted for the pilot project, is offering assistance in bioenergy, water power, and buildings. The lab, in Richland, WA, has about 200 staff members working in these areas. The program will be channeled through a service the lab is developing called Tech on Call.

CoMotion, the University of Washington’s commercialization and “innovation transfer” office, has awarded 11 technology projects, potentially on their way to being startup companies, $50,000 to help cross the chasm. Formerly known as the Commercialization Gap Fund, the awards are now known as the CoMotion Innovation Fund. Read details of the winners here.

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

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