Technology Alliance Showcases Five Companies in Sensors, Mobile Displays, and Drug Therapies: Investors Take Notice

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the Seattle-based Technology Alliance’s “Innovation Showcase” at the Rainier Square Conference Center downtown. This is a relatively new event—the fourth one so far, and the first open to the press—in which tech and life sciences companies from Washington state pitch their businesses to a small, select crowd of angel investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and service providers.

The event had a strong University of Washington flavor, as several of the speakers and sponsors had UW ties. Linden Rhoads, vice provost and head of the UW Center for Commercialization, and her deputies, Rick LeFaivre and Tom Clement, each said a few words about the presenters.

Similar to the NWEN First Look Forum last week, the five presenting companies cut across some very different disciplines, including hardware, wireless sensors, and biotech. Guess how many software or Internet companies presented? None.

Well, none of the traditional Web 2.0, social networking, or business software, at least. Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Technology Alliance, told me this was a conscious decision. Her team chose non-software companies for this event, in part because software startups tend to need less capital and can get off the ground more easily these days than other tech and life sciences firms. One of the goals of the Innovation Showcase was to highlight different kinds of companies compared to other events around town—though each was built on a strong technical idea.

Here’s a quick rundown on the companies, and what stood out to me. No audience voting, no winners, just the facts. I’ll say a little more about some companies than others, but this is by no means comprehensive:

1. Enravel (Seattle)

Linden Rhoads introduced this startup by pulling out her iPhone and iPad (yes, one of those) and talking about the devices’ display capabilities. “These are great, these are fun, but they’re going to be so much more fun when there are projectors available for them,” she said. “That day is very, very close at hand.”

Enravel is led by UW mechanical engineer Brian Schowengerdt, an expert in alternative displays, user interfaces, and human visual perception. He co-founded the company in 2009 to commercialize a laser-based “pico projector.” The idea, he says, is to “take a display of iPad size and compress it into the size of an iPhone.” More specifically, to shrink a projector to “the size of a grain of rice” and use it to project on-screen images, video, games, websites, e-mail—you name it—onto any larger surface.

The core technology is a “scanning fiber” projector that uses fiber optics and a vibrating element to scan an image and blow it up, for example, to a size of 17 inches across from just five inches away. A matchbook-size assembly of laser diodes (off the shelf) provides the light source to project the image. You could imagine such a projector might be crammed into a smartphone and used … Next Page »

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