Seattle Roundup: M&A Swarm, Element 8, STEM Diversity, & More

When the history of Seattle’s 21st century innovation economy is written (by a machine, of course), June 18, 2015, might mark the beginning of an important new chapter about the Global Innovation Exchange. In other news, there were acquisition announcements in bunches, headlined by Techstars’ pickup of UP Global; a new satellite company unveiled; more progress on STEM diversity from the University of Washington and local startup Glowforge; and much more. Here’s our roundup:

—The Global Innovation Exchange or GIX—apparently pronounced “geeks,” and a Microsoft-sounding product name if we’ve ever heard one—is a graduate-level, technology and innovation-focused university being formed by University of Washington and Tsinghua University, one of China’s top research institutions. The school is backed by $40 million from Microsoft. Here’s our coverage, along with stories from The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and GeekWire.

Element 8, the Seattle-based clean technology angel investment group, has ploughed $1.4 million into a dozen companies through the first half of 2015. The group announced investments in ConnectDER, Empower Micro Systems, Axiom Exergy, WISErg, Energy Storage Systems, Intellihot, Indow, SparkFund, APANA, PotaVida, TBF Environmental Technology, and Green Canopy Homes. Element 8 co-chair Bill Lemon says in a statement: “We continue to see strong interest in grid-related technologies. From technology to produce clean energy, to batteries to store it and to technologies and funds to more efficiently consume it, it’s clear that as renewable energy gains marketshare, the industry is responding with increased innovation.”

—Microsoft will provide startups with $120,000 a year of credit toward its Azure cloud services, in an expansion of its BizSpark Plus program. The company is linking up with more than 150 accelerators around the world. Details are on the blog of Microsoft chief evangelist Steve Guggenheimer.

—The University of Washington is touting another accomplishment in improving the diversity of its STEM programs. More than a fifth of the tenure-track engineering faculty—22.4 percent—are women, the highest percentage among the top 50 programs in the U.S., the UW said. The national average is 14.5 percent. The UW has held workshops to help leaders of STEM departments “create equitable and inclusive environments” and foster a culture supportive to women and other minority groups under-represented in STEM fields. Now the UW is distilling that experience and sharing it with others through an online toolkit called LEAD-it-Yourself! (LEAD stands for Leadership Excellence for Academic Diversity.)

—Also on the diversity front, Seattle startup Glowforge is offering a diversity bounty of $5,000 for referrals that lead to it hiring under-represented minorities. It’s also publishing the terms of its health insurance coverage for all to see.

—Another satellite business is starting up in Seattle. BlackSky Global plans a constellation of small satellites to reduce the cost of commercial satellite imagery and deliver it to customers much faster.

—“A great victory for the entire entrepreneurial industry as it matures.” So says Marc Nager, erstwhile CEO of UP Global, which organizes Startup Weekend and other entrepreneurial events around the world, on the nonprofit’s acquisition by startup accelerator Techstars. Here’s our full coverage.

And now on to the other local M&A deals announced this week:

—Avalara + VAT Applications NV: Another week, another acquisition by Bainbridge Island, WA-based tax software maker Avalara. This one, of Belgium-based VAT Applications NV, focuses on calculating value added taxes common in Europe.

—Limeade + 9Slides: Limeade, which makes technology for engaging employees in wellness and performance programs, acquired 9Slides, a provider of employee training tools.

—Vista Equity Partners + EagleView Technologies: Private equity firm Vista Equity Partners is acquiring Bothell, WA-based EagleView Technologies, which specializes in aerial imagery and employs software to, for example, measure rooftops for solar energy developers or walls for siding installers. It also has customers in insurance, government, construction, and public utilities.

—Vertafore + QQ Solutions: Insurance industry software maker Vertafore acquired QQ Solutions of Deerfield Beach, FL, which makes agency management software. Vertafore says the deal strengthens its position in Texas and Florida, in particular.

—Groupon + Venuelabs: Social commerce company Groupon is buying Seattle-based Venuelabs, which helps businesses measure customer experiences at specific locations. GeekWire has more details.

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