Big ideas in Emerald City
Seattle is no Silicon Valley, but the home city of Amazon and Microsoft is a hotbed for innovation in its own right. Seattle-based start-ups collectively raised $1.12 billion in venture capital in 2015, according to VC data provider CB Insights. And this Pacific Northwest hub boasts some of the most exciting companies in the United States, in industries ranging from machine learning to virtual reality.
We checked in with prominent local venture capital investors and experts on entrepreneurship to uncover some of the most innovative and well-funded start-ups on their watch lists.
— By Graham Winfrey
Posted 4 April 2016
Dan Shapiro founded 3-D laser printing company Glowforge in 2014 after selling his comparison-shopping website Sparkbuy to Google for an undisclosed sum. Glowforge's flagship product uses a laser with 1,000 DPI (dots per inch) resolution to carve and engrave materials, including acrylic, glass, leather and wood. The machine sells for $2,395.
Glowforge raised $9 million from Foundry Group and True Ventures in 2015 and has grown to 22 total employees. During a 30-day period last fall, the company presold more than 10,000 units of its 3-D laser printer to consumers through a crowdfunding campaign on its website, generating $27.9 million in revenue. The presale represents the largest preorder campaign in crowdfunding history, according to Shapiro.
Photo: Glowforge co-founders (L-R) Mark Gosselin, Dan Shapiro and Tony Wright
After a stint as vice president of strategy at asteroid-mining company Planetary Resources, Frank Mycroft left to start gasoline delivery start-up Booster Fuels in 2014 with co-founders Diego Netto, a former software consultant, and Tyler Raugh, a former private equity analyst.
The 25-person company has an app with an invite-only service in San Francisco and Dallas that sends trucks to refuel cars on demand in corporate parking lots. Booster buys gasoline wholesale and charges its customers —primarily working professionals — roughly 5 cents less per gallon than most gas stations.
The company declined to disclose revenues but has raised $12.5 million in funding from venture capital firms, including Maveron, Madrona Venture Group, Version One Ventures and RRE Ventures.
Mobile-only marketplace OfferUp is taking the Craigslist and eBay model and streamlining it for smartphone users. Founded in 2011 by former software engineer Arean van Veelen and former T-Mobile product manager Nick Huzar, the company aims to make local buying and selling of goods — from furniture and clothes to appliances and laptops — as easy as taking and sharing a photo. Users simply take a photo with a mobile device of what they're selling and post it to the app's e-commerce platform.
The company is still pre-revenue, but consumers completed nearly $14 billion in transactions using its app in 2015, and the app has been installed more than 18 million times from the App Store and Google Play, according to data from Google. OfferUp has raised $90 million from venture firms, including Andreessen Horowitz, and has grown its staff from 25 to 80 in the past year.
Photo: OfferUp co-founders (L-R) Arean van Veelen and Nick Huzar
Wellness biotech start-up Arivale is determined to launch an industry it terms "scientific wellness," says co-founder Clayton Lewis. Co-founded in 2015 with biologist Lee Hood, who previously helped start the Institute for Systems Biology and biopharmaceutical giant Amgen, Arivale charges $4,000 per year to sequence your genome and analyze things like blood, stress levels and fitness to make personalized recommendations for how you can improve your health.
The 80-person company isn't offering its service through hospitals. Instead, it employs licensed health-care professionals as personal coaches who help clients achieve custom-tailored wellness goals. Arivale has raised $40 million from venture firms, including Maveron, and expects to grow its customer base from roughly 1,000 to multiple thousands by the end of 2016.
Photo: Arivale co-founders (L-R) Clayton Lewis and Lee Hood
Carlos Guestrin, the Amazon professor of machine learning at the University of Washington's science and engineering department, co-founded machine learning start-up Dato in 2013. Dato's software product enables web developers to add predictive technology to any website, giving anyone the same machine-learning capability used by Pandora to recommend songs, and Visa to detect fraudulent credit card transactions.
The 45-person company has raised $27 million in funding from venture firms, including Madrona, NEA and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital. Dato has roughly 80 enterprise clients for its subscription-based software product, including PayPal, Zillow and Glassdoor. The company declined to disclose revenues.
Cosmetics start-up Julep crowdsources product feedback from its community of customers to co-create beauty products. The company lets its customers weigh in on things like which ingredients to avoid and which applicators they prefer.
Founded in 2007 by Jane Park, a former retail strategy consultant at Boston Consulting Group, the company launches around 120 SKUs every year, ranging from nail polish to lip gloss, with fewer than a dozen surviving for continuous production runs.
"Our goal is to be the first global multibillion-dollar brand that's grown in this very community-focused, collaborative way," Park said. The 180-person company has raised $60 million in funding from venture capital groups, including Andreessen Horowitz, Azure Capital Partners and Maveron. Julep declined to disclose its annual revenues.
It's still early days for virtual reality start-up Pluto VR, which is likely two years away from rolling out its first product: a form of VR software focused on shared virtual experiences. But co-founder and video game developer John Vechey is no newcomer to fast-growing tech companies. Prior to co-founding Pluto VR in 2015, he sold web and app-based video game company PopCap Games to Electronic Arts for $750 million.
Vechey and Pluto's three co-founders plan to build a VR-based communication platform that hardware companies will be able to use in a wide variety of settings. The 14-person start-up is short on specifics — they're still prototyping its software — but Vechey says the ultimate product will be used by consumers and professionals in business and for general communication applications and feature a "much higher fidelity, better communication experience than you get on a video conference." To date, Pluto VR is self-funded by its co-founders.
Photo: Pluto VR co-founders (L-R) Jonathan Geibel, Forest Gibson, Jared Cheshier and John Vechey