Seattle Week in Review: UW Gets $279M, Cow Sharing, Techstars & More

Seattle’s role as a capital for global health was highlighted again this week when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a historic grant to a key University of Washington population health effort. We’re also rounding up a handful of recent early-stage funding rounds for area companies pursuing cow-sharing, healthcare IT, and water metering. And, check out the new Techstars Seattle cohort, a new partner at Voyager Capital, recognition for Modumetal, an armored vehicles deal for Kymeta, and the new world of alternative credentials in tech education.

—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will contribute $279 million over the next decade to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a unit of UW Medicine that gathers independent data in support of population health initiatives. The grant, which the UW says is the largest private donation it has ever received, is one of more than 250 from the Gates Foundation to the UW, totaling some $1.25 billion.

The IHME is a key part of the UW’s broader focus on population health. Its 300 faculty and staff members carry out research including an annual assessment of some 300 major diseases around the world, known as the Global Burden of Disease study. Its data is used by major international health and development groups such as The World Bank and U.S. Agency for International Development.

—Cow-sharing startup Crowd Cow raised $2 million in a seed funding round led by Fuel Capital, with participation by Maveron and individual investors, including Zulily founders Mark Vadon and Darrell Cavens, and Joe Montana. The Seattle company allows consumers to buy beef directly from ranchers in smaller increments than are typically available in the direct-sales model. The company, founded last year by serial entrepreneurs Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry, was recently featured in The New York Times.

KenSci, which is applying machine learning models to healthcare data to predict things like which individuals are at highest risk for hospital infection, announced an $8.5 million funding round on Wednesday led by Ignition Partners. Here’s our coverage.

—Another healthcare IT deal Xconomy covered this week: Redox, which helps unlock data in electronic health records systems, raised $9 million. Coverage from our Wisconsin bureau.

Techstars selected nine startups for its Seattle accelerator. They complement many of the region’s core technology strengths.

Apana, a Bellingham, WA-based maker of technology for monitoring water use, raised $3.5 million in a Series A funding round, led by Kurita Water Industries. The company plans to spend the new capital on sales and marketing and continued technology development. Apana makes sensors that monitor water flows at locations across a facility, and it presents data on a cloud-based platform.

Other investors include Cowles Company, based in Spokane, WA; Seattle-based cleantech angel investing group Element 8; and the Urban Innovation Fund of San Francisco.

Apana recently landed a marquee customer in Fetzer Vineyards, which expects to use the Apana smart water meters to find leaks faster and stop water waste before it gets out of control. That should help the company’s Hopland, CA, operations meet its water efficiency goals two years ahead of schedule, according to a Fetzer news release. Apana also announced a pilot project covering multiple Mister Car Wash locations.

Incidentally, my family had a run-in with water meter technology recently. Our bill was an astounding $990. How could this be? We must have a leak somewhere, everyone—from the city utility’s customer service representative to our contractor—agreed. As I was about to begin digging up the front yard to unearth the water line to the house, my wife began digging through our bills more closely.

It turns out that rather than taking actual meter readings, the city had only estimated our water usage for four months during the summer and early fall—peak usage time for us, as we do a lot of gardening. The under-estimate was by a factor of about 10, and so the December reading was actually just a catch-up.

—Another item from last week: Voyager Capital hired James Newell as a partner. The early-stage, Northwest-focused venture firm—coming off of a run of positive exits—attracted Newell from IVP in Menlo Park, CA. But it’s a homecoming for the University of Washington alumnus.

—In other cleantech news, Modumetal was named to the Cleantech Group’s 2017 list of the 100 most innovative cleantech companies.  The Seattle-based company, founded in 2006, uses an energy-efficient process to make nanolaminated materials, replacing heat in the manufacturing process with electricity.

—Redmond, WA-based metamaterials satellite antenna company Kymeta announced a deal to integrate its technology into civilian armored vehicles. The arrangement with Aurum Security, which makes vehicle protection systems, will put Kymeta’s flat-panel satellite antennas on vehicles designed to protect high-profile individuals from attacks.

“Terrestrial cellular networks are easily disrupted and hacked, leaving the convoy blind and vulnerable,” says Aurum managing director Andre Uschakow. “Satellite systems are notoriously difficult to compromise, and with Kymeta mTenna technology, we will be able to deliver secure, high-throughput, satellite-based Internet access.”

Kymeta is one of several companies spun out of Intellectual Ventures to commercialize metamaterials technology.

—Alternative credentials—badges, nanodegrees, and other certifications indicating an individual’s skills, regardless of how they were acquired—are a burgeoning part of the new world of tech education. Check out this in-depth report from our San Francisco editor Bernadette Tansey.

Gates Foundation headquarters by Travis Wise via Flickr, cropped and used under a Creative Commons license.

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