Seattle Week in Review: A Century of Innovation on Lake Union

Reeling from yet another horrible attack in France, we undertake a review of this week’s tech news from Seattle and beyond.

Start by reading Wade Roush’s essay on what we can and can’t expect from innovation and tech startups in this season of tumult, fear, and anxiety.

Moving on to the happy glow of Boeing’s centennial; a down quarter for Seattle-area venture investment; resources for improving tech industry diversity (and a discussion of whether to blame the “pipeline problem,” as Facebook did this week, while also donating $15 million to Code.org); a dispatch on Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence’s innovation and entrepreneurship strategy for Indiana; and some observations and wisecracks about the Pokémon Go craze because if it’s not distracting you directly, then at least have a chuckle about it.

—Today, Boeing marks 100 years in business, a remarkable milestone for any institution. Boeing (NYSE: BA) and the generations of people who have designed and built its airplanes have left an indelible mark on the region, providing the scaffolding on which the rest of the innovation economy here was built.

The origin story is well-known. Detroit, MI-native Bill Boeing moved to Seattle in the early 1900s to pursue his fortune in the Pacific Northwest’s iconic timber industry. But he found a better opportunity at the dawn of the age of flight, founding his startup, the Pacific Aero Products Company, on July 15, 1916.

Bill Boeing’s fateful pivot to building airplanes is a fantastic prompt for today’s innovators and entrepreneurs flocking to Seattle to pursue their fortunes in cloud computing, data science, digital commerce, and so much more. What new, world-changing industries are in their infancy here today, ready to foster the next Boeing, the next Microsoft?

Just something to ponder the next time you watch a seaplane soar over the evergreen trees, descend past Amazon’s headquarters towers, and touch down on the surface of Lake Union, as they’ve been doing for a century.

—Another thought experiment: Are venture investors circa 2016 making bets on modern-day Bill Boeings? How willing are they really to back someone going after what looks like an outlier at the moment, but 100 years from now could be the largest private employer in the state?

While you think on that, here’s the latest stats on second quarter venture capital investment in the Seattle area, from the MoneyTree Report, prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters:

VCs poured $179.3 million into 23 Seattle-area deals in the second quarter, up a bit from the first quarter, but down by more than half, by dollar value, from the second quarter of 2015, when investment reached $433.8 million in 37 deals.

Seattle-based remittances company Remitly had the largest round of the quarter, raising $38.5 million.

Nationally, VC investment totaled $15.3 billion across 961 deals, fully one-fifth of which went to Uber. The national total was down 12 percent by dollar value and 22 percent by number of deals from the second quarter of 2015. Our story on the numbers is here.

—The Washington Technology Industry Association published a great resource for people who care about addressing tech’s diversity problem. The trade group reviewed 55 programs in Washington state helping women, under-represented minorities, and veterans prepare for and transition to careers in technology.

One of those programs is Code.org, which this week received a $15 million commitment from Facebook.

But Facebook also took heat for a statement from its head of diversity, Maxine Williams, on its latest U.S. workforce diversity statistics. Four percent of its employees are Latino and 2 percent are African American, unchanged from a year ago. A third of Facebook employees are women, up 1 percent.

“Appropriate representation in technology or any other industry will depend upon more people having the opportunity to gain necessary skills through the public education system,” Williams said.

Critics say blaming the “pipeline problem” is a dodge, noting that computer science and engineering university graduates are significantly more diverse than the workforces of the large tech companies.

—Donald Trump named Indiana Gov. Mike Pence his running mate in a tweet this morning. From Xconomy’s Indiana bureau, a look at Pence’s just-unveiled plan to invest $1 billion in entrepreneurship and innovation efforts over the next decade.

—Korean conglomerate Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction announced the acquisition of Seattle-based 1Energy Systems this week, forming Doosan GridTech, which will continue building software for managing energy storage systems. The company will remain based in Seattle and will grow under its new ownership. It’s the second recent acquisition in Washington’s energy storage sector. BASF bought EnerG2, an energy storage materials company.

The interest in this broad area from large international strategic investors speaks to the magnitude of the electricity machine, and the role storage is expected to play in the future energy grid.

One of the best things I’ve read on that score in a while is from Greentech Media’s Shayle Kann outlining three scenarios for a distributed electricity grid in 2030. He writes of an ongoing makeover that’s upending another “century-old industry,” but the divergent scenarios speak to how much is still to be determined as the old utility model crumbles. Energy storage plays a major role in each scenario, helping manage the variable output of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

—The risks people will take to capture virtual Pokémon in the real world have prompted a range of warnings, including from the utility industry, which is cautioning people playing the augmented reality game not to go into electric substations or near other utility equipment.

Other businesses, meanwhile, are treating the Pokémon on their premises like wi-fi or bathrooms.

Pokémon Go is taking people to places they might not otherwise travel, which is maybe a good thing. And sometimes they look up from their screens long enough to find things they might not have found otherwise. Like these brothers who found a loaded .32 Magnum in a field in Hazel Dell, in southwest Washington.

Be careful out there.

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