It has been another giant year for technology and science in the Seattle region — featuring everything from rocket launches to big financing rounds to breakthrough devices and huge acquisitions.
Microsoft is showing new signs of life, while Amazon is experiencing unprecedented growth amid new questions about its workplace culture. Meanwhile, new biotech companies are making major strides against cancer and other diseases.
We document these changes every day on GeekWire through our news coverage, and last night at the GeekWire Gala, we unveiled our 2015 Newsmakers of the Year. This annual tradition, now in its fifth year, recognizes the people behind some the biggest stories of the year.
Some of our 2015 Newsmakers were in attendance at the event last night, receiving limited-edition GeekWire soccer scarves and cheers from the crowd of more than 1,000 people. And in a new twist, we recognized one very large (and growing) group of people as newsmakers. Continue reading for details. Without further ado, here they are — our 2015 GeekWire Newsmakers of the Year.
Dara Khosrowshahi, Expedia CEO
It’s been a busy year for Dara Khosrowshahi, who’s helping Expedia make key acquisitions and prepare for a big move from Bellevue to Seattle. The travel giant swooped up companies like Travelocity ($280 million), Orbitz ($1.6 billion) and HomeAway ($3.9 billion) all in the last year.
Expedia also announced this year that it will move its headquarters from Bellevue to a new Seattle waterfront campus in 2019, taking over the former Amgen campus along Elliott Bay.
The 46-year-old Khosrowshahi became CEO in 2005. Since then, Expedia’s stock has increase by nearly 400 percent.
Jason Andrews, CEO, Spaceflight Industries
It’s been a big year for Spaceflight Industries. Led by CEO Jason Andrews, the company raised $19 million in funding to fuel the company’s ride-share program for satellites, a key development in the commercial space industry.
Spaceflight Industries helps the U.S. government and other customers launch small satellites on larger space transportation vehicles.
“We don’t build rockets,” Andrews said earlier this year. “What we do is take excess capacity on existing rockets and we package small payloads, and launch them to space.”
The company also announced this year that its subsidiary, BlackSky Global, will send satellites into mid-latitude orbits — six in 2016, 60 by 2019 — and provide customers in a variety of industries with images of the planet in near real-time.
Amy Hood, Microsoft CFO
After being named CFO in 2013, Amy Hood has helped Microsoft recreate its image on Wall Street, with the company’s stock up more than 40 percent in the past two years.
The company has been able to compensate for ongoing sluggishness in the Windows PC market with new growth in its cloud platform and services, including Office 365 and Windows Azure. Share buybacks and regular dividends have helped to appease investors. Hood, the company’s first-ever female chief financial officer, also led a restructuring of Microsoft’s financial reporting under the vision laid out by CEO Satya Nadella.
Microsoft still faces big questions about its future, including some new criticism from its former CEO, Steve Ballmer. But as signaled by the rebound in the company’s stock, investors are looking more favorably on the company than they have in many years.
Jesse Proudman, CTO and co-founder of Blue Box
More than 12 years after founding Blue Box, Jesse Proudman sold his cloud computing startup to IBM this past summer. The University of Puget Sound graduate bootstrapped the company its early days before raising venture capital to help companies establish and maintain private cloud installations.
“We explored a number of options, and for us the question was: What organization had the breadth and sheer vision around our technology offering and how we should bring it to market?” Proudman said in June. “As we got deeper in the conversation with IBM, it was a no-brainer that they were the obvious winner.”
Proudman, the winner of GeekWire’s 2014 Young Entrepreneur of the Year, is now a distinguished engineer at IBM, serving as a technical consultant for the company and helping to shape its business decisions. He’s also big car racer and a mentor at 9Mile Labs and the University of Washington.
Hans Bishop, Juno Therapeutics CEO
Biotech and medical device veteran Hans Bishop is the CEO of Juno Therapeutics, a company that has experienced meteoric growth in the quest to cure cancer.
One year ago the company went public, with the young Seattle biotech company raising another $264 million on top of $314 million in venture capital financing it raised in the past two years to help revolutionize the way cancer is treated. Since then, biotech powerhouse Celgene invested $1 billion in the highly-touted upstart as part of a 10-year alliance, while Juno opened a manufacturing facility near Seattle.
After pricing its stock at $24 per share at the IPO, shares of Juno are now up more than 100 percent in the past year.
Ana Mari Cauce, University of Washington President
You can expect more innovation and commercialization of research ideas to come out of the University of Washington under new president Ana Mari Cauce, who was appointed to her new position this past October seven months after the 59-year-old was named interim president.
Cauce, who’s been a part of the UW faculty since 1986, is helping guide the university’s innovation efforts, including a new Bellevue, Wash.-based technology graduate school founded as a joint effort between UW, China’s Tsinghua University and companies like Microsoft.
There is an enormous amount of research money ($1.5 billion) that comes to the UW each year, but to Cauce, it’s not about the numbers.
“What’s really important is the impact that that has in the world,” she said in October. “We want to make sure our discoveries actually make a difference in the world.”
The Amazon Worker
As Amazon posted meteoric growth throughout 2015, the company’s workplace came under increased scrutiny with the publication of a New York Times story detailing Amazon’s bruising workplace and leading to calls for changes at the technology giant.
Current and former employees defended the company and its practices while disagreeing with the Times’ portrayal of Amazon. Others stepped forward as a result of the story, sharing their own difficult experiences at Amazon and asking CEO Jeff Bezos to make the company a more hospitable place for women and parents.
The Seattle tech giant did add employee benefits toward the end of 2015, boosting maternity leave, offering paid paternity leave for first time, and creating ‘Leave Share’ program for spouses. But the scrutiny raised new questions about Amazon’s ability to attract and retain workers, and to sustain its culture and growth long-term.