Seattle Roundup: Airbnb Regulations, Sendachi, Health IT, & More

Seattle lawmakers are moving toward regulations of short-term rentals facilitated by the likes of Airbnb, which says its guests generated some $138 million in direct spending in the city. In other news, Sendachi, a DevOps-focused IT services company, raised $10 million; Seattle healthcare IT companies Wellpepper and EveryMove announced significant new customers; a startup from University of Washington students is aiming lasers at your food—to help count calories; and Washington State University will field one of 16 teams in the next Solar Decathlon. Details:

—With the backdrop of Seattle’s ongoing struggles with housing affordability and lawmakers publicizing intentions to regulate short-term vacation rentals, Airbnb this week released an assessment of its economic impact on the city. The San Francisco-based company claims travelers to the city during the year ending July 2015 generated some $30 million in rental income to hosts and spent $108 million at local businesses.

“Left unchecked, there is concern that online rental platforms, like Airbnb and VRBO, just might provide enough financial incentives to cause homeowners to switch long-term rentals to short-term vacation rentals,” writes Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who chairs the council’s housing committee, in a blog post Wednesday. He adds, “At a time when we face a shortage of affordable rental housing, this issue deserves a closer look.”

Burgess pledges to begin considering short-term rental regulations, similar to those of other cities, that would require tax payments (the company began requiring the collection of state lodging taxes last fall) and possibly limit frequent rentals by hosts who do not live in the unit. He adds that creating a regulatory system that “works on the ground … may require cooperation from the major short-term rental market platforms like Airbnb or VRBO.”

Airbnb says there were some 2,900 Seattle hosts, who generated $30 million in rental income from 151,000 guests during the August 2014-July 2015 period. The company says 80 percent of the rentals in Seattle are primary residences, including “in-law units.”

Sendachi, an IT services company setup to help businesses implement modern practices, has raised $10 million from Columbia Capital, with an additional $20 million available to draw on. Sendachi is the result of a merger between Seattle-based Clutch and London-based Contino, which provided similar services. Its global headquarters is in Seattle, and the company is headed by CEO Steven Anderson. Sendachi says it specializes in helping businesses transition to a DevOps model of software development and IT automation, an area of specialization in the Northwest, with companies such as Seattle-based Chef and Puppet Labs in Portland, OR.

—Seattle healthcare IT company Wellpepper landed a major customer for its mobile platform that helps patients adhere to care plans. The company announced that EvergreenHealth, a healthcare system serving King and Snohomish counties, will use Wellpepper for patients rehabilitating from total joint replacement and other musculoskeletal issues. Doctors and other healthcare providers set specific, customizable tasks and questions (for tracking progress) to be presented to the patient via the Wellpepper mobile app each day, both before and after surgery.

Wellpepper co-founder and CEO Anne Weiler says the company is receiving more interest in orthopedic and joint-replacement applications, driven in part by new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid targets for reduced cost and increased quality of total joint replacement procedures. The company says its app improves patient engagement and adherence to recovery plans. The EvergreenHealth project is supported by a donation from the private foundation of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and his wife, Sheri.

EveryMove, another Seattle digital health company, launched a new product and announced an initial customer in Premera Blue Cross, serving Washington and Alaska. The company makes technology to encourage people toward healthy activities through things like fitness challenges. They can amass points and earn rewards from their employers and health insurers, who are interested in incentivizing healthy behavior. Its new offering, Tandem, helps those health insurers better tailor benefits and incentives to the preferences and health of individuals. “Gone are the days of one size fits all member engagement,” EveryMove CEO Russell Benaroya says in a news release. “Consumers expect to receive relevant offers from businesses and their health plan is no different.”

—Tracking exercise and adherence to rehabilitation programs is one part of the health equation. Another, of course, is diet. University of Washington researchers are building a new smartphone app to automate calorie counting with lasers. NutriRay3D, the startup team led by electrical engineering doctoral student Sep Makhsous and professor Alexander Mamishev, would pair a laser accessory with a smartphone to map a plate of food, calculate its volume, and estimate its nutritional content. “Estimating these portion sizes is where average people and other calorie counting methods often fall short,” Makhsous says in a news release.

The team aims to raise money through a crowdfunding campaign to further test and refine the laser, based on a device first used by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center nutritional epidemiologists. Their goal is to create a consumer product that costs $150 to $200.

—Students from Washington State University were picked to compete in the next Solar Decathalon, a Department of Energy-sponsored contest in which 16 teams from around the world have two years to design and build a small home completely powered by the sun—including energy for an electric vehicle to commute with. For the first time, the contest comes with $2 million in prize money, in addition to the prestige and exposure for students working at the forefront of sustainable design, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. The team is led by Darrin Griechen of WSU’s School of Design and Construction.

Worth a read: The speed with which Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood—home of Amazon’s headquarters—has transformed is startling. Gene Balk at The Seattle Times puts it in perspective with a series of Google Street View images of key intersections from 2008 and 2015. The low-slung brick warehouses and streetscapes with abundant parking are replaced with sleek glass office and residential buildings—some of which will grow to 42 stories—and the ubiquitous orange cones and cranes indicating the ongoing transformation.

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