Seattle Roundup: Live Long and Prosper Edition

Our hearts are heavy today with news of the death of Leonard Nimoy at age 83, who was Star Trek’s Mr. Spock and so much more. He exemplified his most famous character’s most famous line: Live long and prosper.

On to this week’s Seattle tech news. There was new funding announced this week for Unify Square and PlayFab. Area tech executives gave their support to the University of Washington’s computer science expansion plans, but preservationists rallied to protect an historic building that occupies one potential campus site for the expansion. King County announced a major energy efficiency initiative. Intellectual Ventures inked a licensing deal with Ford. Five UW professors were named 2015 Sloan Research Fellows. And won an arts entrepreneurship grant from Fractured Atlas. Read on for details:

—Bellevue, WA-based Unify Square is raising an $8.2 million Series B funding round to further its business in helping companies use Microsoft’s online communications technologies. The cash comes from Microsoft and former executives of large tech companies. Unify Square was founded by some of the creators of the technology underlying Microsoft Lync, which the software giant is combining with Skype as part of its broader suite of communications technologies for businesses.

PlayFab, the Seattle maker of back-end tools and services to power live video games, has raised a $7.4 million funding round. Benchmark led the round and was joined by Madrona Venture Group, prior investors such as Startup Capital Ventures, and individual angel investors. The year-old company previously raised $2.5 million. Benchmark general partner Mitch Lasky is joining PlayFab’s board. “Games depend on live operations now more than ever, but given the backend challenges involved, studios are spending much of their resources reinventing the wheel,” said PlayFab CEO and co-founder James Gwertzman in a statement. “The capital we’ve raised will allow us to reach a wider set of game studios, invest in new technology, and integrate with a growing list of industry partners.” Gwertzman provides more detail on where the company is going next, as well as the fundraising process, in this blog post.

—The University of Washington’s computer science department gained support from big names in the local technology industry for its expansion plans this week. Senior executives from Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Zillow, Vulcan, Tableau Software, Apptio, Impij, Socrata, Moz, Concur, as well as venture capital firms and business and tech organizations co-signed a letter to Rep. Hans Dunshee, chair of the House Capital Budget Committee. They made the case for a $40 million capital appropriation to help finance construction of a new 130,000-square-foot computer science and engineering building, which would allow the UW to double the number of students who graduate each year. “As representatives of companies and businesses that rely on a ready supply of high quality computer scinece graduates, we believe it is critical for the State to invest in this sector in a way that ensures its vibrancy and growth,” the execs wrote. An additional $60 to $70 million in private funding would be needed to complete the project. The letter might have delivered more impact if they had intimated plans to provide at least some of that funding. But they’ll open the checkbook when the time comes, right?

—In other UW computer science expansion news, one possible site for the new building is a 1961 architectural gem known as the Nuclear Reactor Building, because it was designed to hold a teaching reactor. Knute Berger, aka the Mossback, aka one of the leading authorities on local history and preservation, reports at Crosscut on past attempts by the UW to demolish the vacant building and the preservationists who objected. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places (PDF). Preservationists at Historic Seattle are again rallying in support of the Nuke Building, suggesting that it could be incorporated into a new computer science building, Berger reports.

Intellectual Ventures, the Bellevue, WA-based patent holding company and invention shop, announced a licensing deal with Ford Motor Company to give the automaker and its affiliates access to some 40,000 patents and future intellectual property that IV plans to obtain during the term of the deal.

—King County announced a two-year project to track energy usage in five buildings to improve efficiency, maintenance scheduling, and quickly spot heating and cooling equipment problems. The county will use the same monitoring and analytics software and systems Microsoft uses on its campus, provided by Microsoft partner Iconics. Seattle-based MacDonald Miller Facility Solutions is installing the systems., a Seattle-based outfit helping theater groups and others in the performing arts present their live performances to bigger audiences online and on TV, won a 2015 Arts Entrepreneurship Award from Fractured Atlas, an organization that helps artists and arts organizations with technology, insurance, and other support services.

—Five professors at University of Washington received prestigious $50,000 fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in recognition and support of their promising, early-career work. They are Brandi Cossairt, assistant professor of chemistry; Cole Trapnell, assistant professor of genome sciences; Shyam Gollakota, assistant professor of computer science and engineering; Emily Fox, assistant professor of statistics; and Thomas Rothvoss, assistant professor of computer science and engineering and of mathematics. These five are among 126 2015 Sloan Research Fellows selected from the U.S. and Canada.

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