Seattle Week in Review: A Unicorn Spotted in the Wild

Not that it matters, but we have the first privately held Seattle-area company in a long time to claim a valuation north of $1 billion. OfferUp is that rare, mythical beast, the unicorn. All without publicly disclosing a business model for its mobile marketplace connecting local buyers and sellers.

Other Seattle tech news we’re reviewing this week: NASA’s just-launched asteroid sampling mission and its import to companies such as Planetary Resources; Spike Aerospace’s look at Washington state to build a supersonic private jet; Julep’s settlement with the Washington attorney general’s office; a change at LinkedIn to correct gender-biased search suggestions; Glowforge’s $45 million in laser-cutter pre-orders; Northeastern University’s new training course, designed by Amazon Web Services; and, oh yeah, a giant ice cube.

—NASA launched the OSIRIS-REx mission Thursday, bound for the asteroid Bennu. The goal is to take samples of the carbonaceous asteroid’s surface and return them to Earth—providing potential clues to the origins of life on Earth—and to better understand Bennu, which “has a relatively high probability of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century,” according to the mission’s website. If all goes well, scientists would have the samples in 2023.

Bellevue, WA-based Planetary Resources, which aims to capture and mine asteroids for use in a future space economy, is watching the mission closely.

“OSIRIS-REx is an exciting mission both for helping us better understand the secrets of the Solar System, as well as measuring the important resources which may be present in Carbonaceous asteroids like Bennu,” said Planetary Resources president and CEO Chris Lewicki in a statement. “Water for life support, radiation shielding for human travels, and rocket fuel for future space explorers are all resources available from these types of asteroids, and Planetary Resources looks forward to the results of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission.”

Meanwhile, check out the OSIRIS-REx mission patch:

—A Boston-based startup is eyeing Washington state, among several others, as a potential location for a manufacturing facility to build supersonic private jets, capable of shuttling 18 passengers from New York to London in three hours. The company, Spike Aerospace, plans to make a decision in mid-2017. (Coverage from Dominic Gates at The Seattle Times.)

OfferUp raised $119 million from private equity firm Warburg Pincus and others, bringing the total invested in the six-year-old company to $210 million. CEO Nick Huzar said the company’s valuation was more than $1 billion, thereby transforming into a cloven-hoofed creature with a spiraling, pointed horn.

Julep Beauty settled a lawsuit brought by the Washington state attorney general over complaints that the company didn’t clearly communicate terms of its makeup subscription plans, and made them difficult to cancel. Founder and CEO Jane Park took umbrage with the way the settlement was characterized in a news release from Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

—Matt Day at The Seattle Times found a disturbing pattern when he searched for people on LinkedIn. The professional networking service, in process of being acquired by Microsoft for $26.2 billion, suggested male names when he entered common female first names. It didn’t do the reverse—suggest female names—when he searched for common male first names. The story caught the company’s attention, and Day reports this week that LinkedIn changed its search algorithm to eliminate the gender-biased suggestions.

Glowforge says it has pre-orders worth $45 million for its consumer-grade laser cutters and engravers, and is preparing to begin shipments to customers in December. Beta units are already shipping out from the Seattle startup, which took in $27.9 million in sales during an historic 30-day pre-order campaign in fall 2015. The company has offered people willing to purchase well in advance a substantial discount to the planned retail price, but will end that offer at the close of September.

—The proliferation of programming schools and technology boot camps shows no sign of slowing. The latest is from Northeastern University—Seattle, which announced a new cloud computing curriculum designed by Amazon Web Services. The aim is to prepare students to take the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate certification exam. “Level AWS: Foundations of Cloud Computing” is a six-week boot camp, beginning Oct. 24. Level is Northeastern’s data analytics skills training program.

A rendering of Olson Kundig's 10-ton ICE CUBE. Courtesy of Olson Kundig.

A rendering of Olson Kundig’s 10-ton ICE CUBE. Courtesy of Olson Kundig.

— Finally, it’s supposed to warm back up this weekend. If you’re looking to cool off—while also pondering the essential, transitory nature of water and ice—there’s a rather large ice cube being installed this weekend in Occidental Park. The 10-ton installation is Seattle architecture firm Olson Kundig’s contribution to the Seattle Design Festival Block Party.

ICE CUBE is meant to showcase “the stages of the natural water cycle while the ice shifts from opaque to translucent,” the Seattle-based firm says. As it melts and changes shape, the cube will scatter “ambient sunlight and colors throughout the park” and mark “the passage of time as its waters slowly return to the sea.”


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