Amazon Funds Risky UW Projects & More Recent Seattle Tech News

Xconomy Seattle — 

The public research university is the source of so much that makes an innovation ecosystem run: talent, technology, fresh ideas, and a conduit for research funding. But where federal dollars fall short, Amazon is stepping in with a new program of small grants to back students, researchers, and others pursuing “bold, risky, globally impactful projects.”

The program, Amazon Catalyst, begins at the University of Washington, which has been busy. With leaders in China, the UW announced that its inaugural program in the Global Innovation Exchange will begin at Tsinghua University next fall. The UW was also tapped by the National Science Foundation for another big data effort. And it’s poised to green-light a new biology building.

Meanwhile, Jobaline landed a big deal; SCI Solutions acquired Clarity Health; Chef acquired VulcanoSec and bolstered its offerings in security; and Porch is going through some growing pains. Read on for details:

—Amazon has introduced a new funding mechanism for far-out university research, starting with the University of Washington. UW students and staff can apply for grants of $10,000 to $100,000 from a new Amazon program designed “to identify, fund, and support bold, risky, globally impactful projects proposed by members of the university community, and to help expand the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Amazon Catalyst, developed in collaboration with the UW’s CoMotion program and the Office of Research, will make the grants to current students, faculty, and staff in any discipline.

“Our goal is not to focus solely on technology, but rather, to expand the field of exploration to all areas of study in the university, including the humanities, social sciences, liberal, and practical arts,” according to an Amazon Catalyst FAQ. “We aim to fund bold, disruptive ideas even at the conceptual stage to enable the first steps of validation; many of these ideas will be too early for venture capital funding and too unconventional to fit within the lower-risk model of federal research funding.”

Any intellectual property developed using a grant will be owned by the UW, and Amazon will receive a nonexclusive license to it.

In typical Amazon fashion, applicants are asked to write a “press release to tell the world” about the project for which they’re seeking funding. “The press release will be used by the selection committee to evaluate your idea on its inventiveness, elegance, clarity, persuasiveness, and benefit to society,” the application notes.

—Meanwhile, the UW, and the surrounding innovation community, scored another feather for its big data cap: It will co-lead of one of four National Science Foundation Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs. The UW, the University of California, San Diego, and the University of California, Berkeley, will run the West Coast hub, focusing on big data technologies, natural resource management, precision medicine, metro data science, and data-enabled scientific discovery and learning. The hub will encourage collaboration among academia, government research labs, and industry. Already, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Tableau Software have signed on with the Western hub.

—Also, the UW’s Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a partnership with China’s Tsinghua University announced earlier this year, will begin an initial dual degree program next fall in China. After a year studying at Tshinghua University, students will move in 2017 to the GIX facility planned to be established in for Bellevue, WA. Thereafter, the program will be housed in Bellevue. The degree program focuses on innovative user experiences and connected devices, as well as entrepreneurship. Graduating students will earn a Master of Science in Technology Innovation from UW (which is still reviewing the proposed degree) and a Master of Engineering in Information Technology from Tsinghua.

—One more UW item: The UW Board of Regents is poised to approve a new $165 million Life Sciences Building to house biology programs. Funding for the building will come largely from student tuition—a controversial source for capital projects, as The Seattle Times reports.

Jobaline, the Seattle-based service for helping improve the process of hiring and training hourly workers, announced a major deal with facilities and staffing giant ABM. The company used Jobaline’s mobile, bilingual job application system in a pilot program to process in excess of 45,000 applications—including for Seattle janitorial and security jobs—saving some 7,500 hours of work in pre-screening, and reducing recruitment spending and labor by some 60 percent. Jobaline helped ABM fill some 500 janitorial positions faster than ever. The company is now expanding use of the service to its facilities nationwide.

—Two Seattle area healthcare companies have joined up. SCI Solutions, which makes software for managing referrals and scheduling patients, announced it has acquired Clarity Health, which provides cloud-based software to accomplish some of the same tasks. The combined company will have some 10,000 physician practices and 700 hospitals, health systems, and other providers among its customer base. SCI and Clarity had previously inked a distribution and technology integration deal in 2014.

Fresh off of a $40 million late-stage funding round, Seattle IT automation company Chef announced the acquisition of VulcanoSec, a Germany company making security software. Its technology underpins new Chef offerings in compliance and auditing. Chef also rolled out a new “Delivery” offering, that automates IT workflows from software development through testing, deployment, and production.

—Fast-growing Seattle home improvement services startup Porch is going through some growing pains, cutting up to 90 employees, even as it makes hires and acquisitions elsewhere in its business. GeekWire took an in-depth look at the company and its challenges. Well worth the read.