UW Business Competition Highlights, ExtraHop’s $14M Haul, PopCap’s Acquisition, & More in the Seattle-Area Tech Roundup

Anybody concerned with the future of entrepreneurship in the Seattle area would have been buoyed by the enthusiasm at the University of Washington‘s annual business plan competition last week on the waterfront. Nearly 40 teams were whittled down to a “sweet 16” by a horde of judges, but I picked out five that caught my eye while winding through the hive of activity.

Check out my story for the debrief, which covers some interesting little startups—everything from smartphone-driven kit robots to small wind turbines that look like insect wings. Not all of the companies I highlighted moved on to the competition’s next round, but I don’t think we’ve necessarily seen the last of them.

Also making tech news in the past week or so on Xconomy:

—We dove into the venture and angel investment deals for March, and found a pretty large haul for companies: About $53 million in equity financing, spread across several sectors. I was struck by the prominence of two fairly hardcore tech plays at the top of the monthly list. Vancouver, WA-based nLight Photonics had the biggest single financing, worth $11 million. And coming in third on the list was $6.9 million for Physware, which makes software for designing computing infrastructure.

—Showing once again that big money doesn’t just flow to trendy consumer Internet startups, Seattle’s ExtraHop Networks reeled in another $14 million financing round. The company has been around since 2007, and was founded by a pair of alums from Seattle’s F5 Networks. You can read this longer piece for more detailed explanations of what the company does, but in a nutshell, ExtraHop software helps businesses manage their IT infrastructure more efficiently.

—Seattle’s PopCap Games continued its march toward an IPO with the purchase of ZipZapPlay, a San Francisco-based social gaming company. The acquisition gives PopCap, which makes “Bejeweled” and “Plants vs. Zombies,” a social-game outpost in the Bay Area. As Xconomy’s Greg Huang noted, PopCap has been making a big push toward taking its games to social platforms, particularly Facebook—an interesting move that puts it into a bit of a horserace with Zynga, the red-hot maker of “Farmville” and other Facebook-based games.

—We had a pair of strong guest op-eds, including an open letter from Sparkbuy CEO Dan Shapiro, who dug into the recent news that TechCrunch founder (and part-time Seattle resident) Michael Arrington was throwing off his previous ethical constraints and investing in tech startups again. Shapiro says that’s a bad idea—and that’s speaking as a product guy, not a tweed-jacketed media critic.

—Our other guest column, from Taft Kortus of Moss Adams, explored the landscape ahead for merger and acquisition deals, and how the possible heating up of the IPO market could affect the environment. One of Kortus’ more interesting points was that investors might be able to wring some valuable intellectual property or talent out of the large companies that have been on acquisition binges lately, since not all of the startups that get gobbled up wind up finding a fulfilling new life inside the machine.

—Finally, a bit of media news—even if it’s about a competitor. Rebecca Lovell, the well-connected executive director of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network, is leaving that gig after just over two years to take a business operations job with startup tech-news site GeekWire. It’s an interesting move for Lovell, and I noted that it’s another sign of the thriving ecosystem for online media startups in the Seattle area.

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