Seattle Week in Review: Mariners Win World Series (of New Ownership)

Xconomy Seattle — 

Another accomplished technology leader will control a Seattle sports franchise, but don’t try taking the Alaskan Way Viaduct to see John Stanton in the Mariners owners’ box at Safeco Field over the next two weeks. This week, we’re reviewing a big funding round for Remitly, a spinout company from Whitepages, a minimum-wage pledge from Vacasa, and a new partnership for satellite imagery provider BlackSky. Also, AR ping pong!

Seattle traffic during the morning commute April 29, 2016.

Seattle traffic during the morning commute April 29, 2016.

—The Alaskan Way Viaduct closed just after midnight for two weeks while tunnel drilling machine Bertha cuts a 385-foot tunnel section that passes beneath the aging double-decker highway. Some 90,000 daily vehicles that traverse it need to find another route. Xconomy Seattle is fortunate to avoid it all by telecommuting, which can also be awkward, if, as was the case Friday morning, your interview winds up being a video conference instead of a phone call. [Scrambles to find hairbrush and clean shirt.]

—The Seattle Mariners, which play seven home games at Safeco Field during the planned two-week viaduct closure, are on their way to the World Series, thanks to an ownership change that puts wireless communications pioneer and local tech luminary John Stanton in charge. OK, maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but the ownership change—Stanton and his group of erstwhile minority owners bought out most of the stake held by Nintendo of America—augurs well for M’s fans beleaguered by countless years of mediocrity. At the least, Stanton et al. plan to invest more in talent than did the previous controlling ownership group. The Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker goes in-depth on how the deal went down.

Remitly, a Seattle-based international money transfer service, announced one of the biggest Seattle-area financings of the year so far on Tuesday. The company plans to continue its expansion to new markets, beginning with Canada, backed by $38.5 million in new funding from Stripes Group, Vulcan Capital, and other new investors.

—Whitepages spun its consumer caller ID service into a stand-alone company called Hiya. The company is combatting the modern scourge of unwanted calls to mobile phones. “We’ve made great strides incubating this business at Whitepages, but now is the right time to transition to a stand-alone, startup company,” says Alex Algard, CEO of Seattle-based Whitepages and fonder of Hiya, in a news release. Hiya, an app available for free for Android devices, taps into a database of billions of calls and texts to identify callers, detect and alert people to spam calls and known scams, and allow unwanted call blocking.

Vacasa, the Portland, OR-based vacation rentals service that raised $35 million earlier in April, says it is raising the minimum it pays employees in the U.S. to $15 an hour. The company has upwards of 1,000 employees and says it will hire 900 more this year. The wage increase applies to about a quarter of the current staff, mainly people who clean and take reservations for the 3,500 properties it manages. The company is also expanding overseas. In those markets, “Vacasa is committed to paying local staff a competitive wage based on the specific regions they live and work in,” Cliff Johnson, Vacasa co-founder and chief development officer, says via e-mail.

UNOSAT refugee map

—Expanded sensing capabilities, including satellite imagery, are giving us new ways to see the world and approach large-scale problems. BlackSky, a Seattle company building a satellite network to provide imagery as a service to businesses and governments, is partnering with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) “to explore how imaging can be applied to humanitarian relief, human security, climate change adaptation, sustainable water management, territorial management, high priority peace-keeping missions, maritime monitoring of illegal activity, and more.” UNITAR, part of the United Nations, helps train national and international leaders in service of the intergovernmental body’s goals. Part of UNITAR is UNOSAT—the UN Operational Satellite Application Programme—which provides geographic information systems and satellite images. BlackSky is an offshoot of Seattle-based Spaceflight.

The image above, from UNOSAT, is an analysis of satellite images showing the concentration of shelters in the desert near the border between Jordan and Syria.

—German AR ping pong trainer!