Roundup: Tech Economy, Startup Competitions, Code Fellows, Solar Storage

Usually, long before a company gets that eight-figure Series B investment—as Seattle’s Context Relevant did this week—it has to scrape together experience, validation, and more modest sums through investment competitions, such as Seattle Angel Conference and the University of Washington Business Plan Competition, both of which took place this week. They play a key role in replenishing the state’s technology industry, which is booming, as a new Technology Alliance economic impact report underscored this week. Read on for details on these items and news from Code Fellows and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory:

—More than 460,000 people were employed in technology-based businesses and organizations in Washington state last year, according to a report from University of Washington professor William Beyers, prepared for the Technology Alliance, a trade group. (The report can be downloaded here.) The jobs tally includes self-employed individuals in technology and people at universities and federal research labs, and amounts to about 14 percent of total employment in the state. The report defines a company as being “technology-based” if at least 16.6 percent of its employees are engaged in research and development. The biggest categories are aerospace and motor vehicle parts manufacturing, software publishing and data processing, computer system design, and architecture and engineering. Income in this broad sector of the state’s economy averaged $120,005, compared to $53,111 in the rest of economy.

Seattle Angel Conference (SAC) invested $155,000 in Discuss.IO and $45,000 in SocialGlimpz at the culmination of its fifth investment competition Thursday. Discuss.IO, based in Seattle, aims to make consumer market research easier. SocialGlimpz is a brand marketing company focused on images. They were selected from more than 40 applicants. Last month, we took an in-depth look at SAC, which is an effort to provide an introduction to angel investing newcomers and a source of very early capital to startup entrepreneurs. SAC says 15 new angel investors participated in the fifth round, guided by a larger group of people with more experience in early stage investing. The program has educated more than 100 investors since it began in 2012. The next SAC is set for November.

—The University of Washington Business Plan Competition handed out $70,000 to 11 student teams, including Projected Talent, which won the $25,000 grand prize for its marketplace to connect students with paid project work at companies. Other winners include Flu Finder, which has a novel test for influenza; OlyKraut, which makes sauerkraut; and Korvata, an alternative chemistry products business. More information on the competition is here.

Code Fellows is introducing a women-only Ruby on Rails training program that guarantees graduates a job paying $60,000. The eight-week program begins July 7 and is one of a growing number of software coding programs aimed at bringing more women into the technology workforce. Another in Seattle is the Ada Developers Academy, which is accepting applications until June 16 for its second cohort, beginning in September.

—Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have been awarded a $2.9 million grant to work on a solar thermal energy storage system that uses metal hydride powders, which they hope will be more efficient than the current molten salt storage technology. The grant is one of six from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative aimed at improving the cost-effectiveness of concentrating solar power, which differs from photovoltaic solar in that it focuses the sun’s heat to make energy, rather than converting photons to electrons. At PNNL, researchers led by Ewa Ronnebro will use the funding to build and test a 240 kilowatt-hour capacity system using the metal hydride powders.

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