Seattle Roundup: UW Commercialization, WISErg, Element 8, & More

Big news for the state’s innovation economy this week was the change of leadership in the University of Washington’s commercialization efforts. We also saw funding for WISErg, which takes grocery food scraps and makes organic fertilizer, and heard that cleantech-focused angel investor group Element 8 is on pace for a record year. Meanwhile, Smartsheet and Cray landed significant new customers. Also worth noting was Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner’s speech linking the future of the state’s largest employer with the future of the state itself. Details follow.

—Vikram Jandhyala was named vice provost for innovation at the University of Washington. He will build on the improvements made over the last five years by Linden Rhoads, who was vice provost for commercialization. The change in title is telling, as Jandhyala has a broader mission of integrating entrepreneurship into all corners of UW, including the undergraduate curriculum, as he told us in an interview earlier this week. He will also confront changing revenue sources to fund commercialization and technology transfer activities, and questions about the way they have been structured, as we detailed in this story.

WISErg, a Redmond, WA-based company that takes food scraps from grocery stores and restaurants and converts them to fertilizer, has raised $5 million in a Series B funding round. WISErg says it has contracts to place its Harvester units—sealed units that replace foul-smelling dumpsters and compost bins—at locations of Whole Foods Market, Town & Country Markets, PCC Natural Markets, and Red Apple Markets. It says it will use the funding to enter California later this year. The company, founded in 2010 by former Microsoft employees Larry LeSueur and Jose Lugo, has raised $7.75 million to date. The company had 14 investors in its Series B funding round, but did not disclose their identities.

Element 8 is showing why it changed its name earlier this year from Northwest Energy Angels. The investing group says its members have backed 10 cleantech companies through the first half of 2014 to the tune of more than $3.7 million. In all of 2013 the group invested $3.8 million. The investments this year span Hawaii, where Ibis Networks is producing smart electrical wall sockets; New York, where management firm Greenbacker Group is focused on renewable energy, efficiency, and sustainability projects; and Surrey, BC, where TBF Environmental Technology is making industrial solvents with reduced levels of volatile organic compounds and other pollutants.

The angel group dropped its Northwest Energy moniker to reflect a broader geographical and industry focus. Other new investments so far this year include Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies, Perpetua Power Source Technologies, and SparkFund. The group also made follow-on investments in existing portfolio companies Empower Micro Systems, Flux Drive, Green Canopy Homes, and OneEnergy Renewables.

—Many of Washington’s cleantech companies were on display Monday during the Washington Clean Technology Alliance showcase event. I spent time at the event and wrote about the Northwest’s unique blessing of clean, low-cost energy thanks to the region’s hydroelectric dams, as well as questions about what the region can do better than anyone else in clean energy.

—Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner told the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle this week: “Boeing and Washington state have a shared future. We need each other. So it’s important to understand the competitive environment that drives Boeing’s decisions.” As Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates writes, “Conner sought to counter the unease aroused this year by news that Boeing will shift several thousand engineering jobs out of the region to new centers in Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina and Southern California.”

—Seattle supercomputer maker Cray (NASDAQ: CRAY) won a $54 million contract to provide two of its Cray XC machines and a Cray Sonexion storage system with 21.7 petabytes of capacity to the Korea Meteorological Administration. The computers will power improved weather forecast accuracy and higher-resolution forecast models, as well as provide research and backup capabilities, the company says.

Smartsheet, which last month raised $35 million, has won a major customer in the U.S. General Services Administration. The Bellevue, WA-based company makes software-as-a-service collaboration tools based on a familiar spreadsheet interface. Smartsheet takes a jab at Microsoft in announcing this large customer, noting that the “GSA made the decision to bypass traditional project management software such as Microsoft Project and other web-based apps in favor of deploying Smartsheet across the entire organization.”

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