Seattle Week in Review: Budget Cuts, Health IT, Alexa on iOS & More

It was a full week with Pi Day, the Ides of March, and St. Patrick’s Day. Tech was busy, too.

We’re reviewing the potential impact of the Trump administration’s proposed budget; a Boeing executive tapped for deputy defense secretary; healthcare IT doings at Accolade and Limeade; PACCAR’s work on self-driving trucks with Nvidia; Alexa’s move onto Siri’s turf (and an early sign of what advertising via voice assistant may sound like); new stats from PitchBook on VC investments in women-founded companies; and some recommended reads. The details:

—Federal research funding flows into Washington’s innovation economy through institutions like Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, University of Washington, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The budget proposal floated by the Trump administration this week would stanch that flow, with potential impacts to scientists and, eventually, the entrepreneurs who license their discoveries to build new businesses and patients who benefit from novel treatments.

It’s a long way from a White House budget proposal to the actual federal budget that determines grant-making levels at agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. But the cuts outlined this week to NIH and other federal agencies provoked a strong response from Washington state’s scientific research community.

Fred Hutch and the UW are among the top recipients of funding from NIH, which is in line for a nearly 20 percent cut. As The Seattle Times reports, Fred Hutch President Gary Gilliland said the proposed cuts “are indefensible and would severely impede our progress.”.” Some 85 percent of the research center’s funding comes from NIH.

—Pat Shanahan, a senior Boeing executive and University of Washington regent, was nominated to be deputy secretary of defense by President Donald Trump. The Seattle Times has a good look at Shanahan’s Boeing career and what the nomination might mean for the relationship between the aerospace giant and the administration, which got off to a rocky start.

—Seattle-based Accolade is teaming up with Teladoc (NYSE: TDOC)—which provides quick access to doctors via phone, mobile app, or Web—to help drive up utilization of the service among people whose health insurance plans cover it. It’s the latest partnership for Accolade, which bills itself as a healthcare concierge, helping people navigate and efficiently use their benefits, and is building an ecosystem of partners that provide those benefits.

The company previously teamed up with Bellevue, WA-based Limeade, a corporate wellness technology provider.

Limeade, meanwhile, added a new service that can identify employee turnover risks based on their utilization of corporate wellness programs. Limeade allows employers to examine trends in employee turnover in discrete groups, such as within a given department or location, but not at the level of an individual employee.

The insights the dashboard delivers are based on Limeade research showing that “turnover rates were four times higher among employees who weren’t registered for a well-being program compared to registered employees,” the company says in a news release. Employees who registered but had lower participation levels had turnover rates two times higher than those with high levels.

—The pace of deal-making and alliance-building in self-driving vehicles continues accelerating. Bellevue-based heavy truck manufacturer PACCAR—which makes trucks under the nameplates DAF, Kenworth, and Peterbilt—is working with NVIDIA, the chip-maker whose graphics processing units are fast becoming work-horses in machine learning applications. The companies said they’ve already developed a proof-of-concept self-driving truck.

—If you use Alexa on your iPhone, will Siri be jealous? The turf war over virtual assistants took on a new dimension this week when Amazon put Alexa inside its popular iOS app. Open the Amazon app on your iPhone or iPad, tap the microphone, and Alexa is there.

In the words of Wired reporter Brian Barrett: “Amazon’s shopping app, already a top destination, now becomes a Trojan Horse for Amazon’s most promising product in years. Stop in to check the daily deals, and get acquainted with the most fully formed voice assistant out there while you’re at it. Might as well order an Echo or Dot or Tap while you’re in there. The Fire Phone may have fizzled, but who needs it when you’re on the iPhone 7?”

—In other voice assistant news, Google Home started inserting what appeared to be advertising into its chatbot’s “My Day” dialogues with users, which provide information about the weather, calendar events, and the like. The Register reports the details of the ad, which promoted the debut of the Disney live action “Beauty and the Beast” reboot. Google’s initial corporate response, which The Register described as “absolutely pants-on-head mad” denied that it was an ad, and then doubled-down on the advertising for the film: “the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.”

A Google spokesperson later added that it “wasn’t intended to be an ad. … We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users and we could have done better in this case.”

The indispensable Twitter account of @SwiftOnSecurity took note of the episode and offered the following reminder:

—Seattle-based PitchBook says venture capital investors funded startups with female founders at a higher rate in 2016 than in any prior year. It’s still a pretty low rate: 16.8 percent of VC investment deals in 2016 went to companies with at least one female founder, up from 16.5 percent in 2015, and 7.2 percent in 2007.

—A couple of Xconomy stories to catch up on:

Former Gates Investor, Advisor Unveil $200M Biomatics Health Fund

Visit the Titanic in OceanGate’s Carbon Fiber Sub: Only $105,129 

—And finally, in these fraught and unprecedented times, it’s hard to know what’s important. But this clearly is: Making sure a pint is a pint. Crosscut raised the issue of the city of Seattle enforcing a true, 16-ounce pint. Apparently, there are glasses out there that are designed to hold only 14 ounces, but look and feel like a standard 16-ounce pint. Is there not yet an app for this?

Speaking of pints, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Photo by Flickr user Paul Sableman used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.


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