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OfferUp CEO Nick Huzar
OfferUp CEO Nick Huzar accepts the App of the Year award at the 2016 GeekWire Awards.

Some of the most promising and popular software applications are built in the Pacific Northwest. That much is evident from our nominees for the App of the Year category in the GeekWire Awards, which kicked off online voting today.

This year’s nominees range from tech giants trying to improve enterprise communication to university researchers trying to revolutionize health screening. Last year’s winner was Bellevue-based OfferUp.

Finalists for 2017 include Microsoft Teams; Mighty AI; RIPL; Shyft Technologies; and Senosis Health. Read more about each of them and vote for your pick in the poll below. And a big thanks to Northeastern University Seattle for sponsoring this year’s Newcomer of the Year category. 

Public voting is currently under way in the GeekWire Awards, as GeekWire readers decide the winners from finalists selected by our panel of judges, after an open call for nominations from the community

All of the winners will be revealed at the GeekWire Awards — presented by Wave Business — on May 4 at the Museum of Pop Culture. Tickets are selling fast, and we do expect to sell out, so make sure to go here to grab yours. Vote here:

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams, officially launching today, integrates with existing Office apps as a free add-on to Microsoft Office 365 for business users. (Microsoft Image)

Microsoft last month launched its Teams “chat-based workspace” for Office 365 in 181 markets around the world, challenging Slack and tech giants including Facebook, Google and Amazon in the increasingly competitive market for enterprise messaging. The company’s goal is to become the digital equivalent of the open office space by combining pretty much everything there is to do at work — chatting, having meetings, collaborating on documents, sending cute animal GIFs — all into one place.

Microsoft is looking to leverage its global enterprise customer base and its widely-used software applications for an edge in what’s becoming a key competitive battleground in the business technology market. Microsoft integrates apps and services including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint and Power BI into Microsoft Teams, and it’s promising deeper Outlook integration in a few months. Microsoft Teams is included at no extra charge in business editions of Office 365 subscription service.

This is far from Microsoft’s first foray into enterprise collaboration and messaging; one long-term question following the Microsoft Teams launch is what will happen to Skype for Business and Yammer, a work social network that Microsoft acquired for $1.2 billion in 2012.

Mighty AI

Spare5 founders, from left to right: Patrick O’Donnell, Founder and Chief Architect; Matt Shobe, Founder and Chief Product Officer; Matt Bencke, Founder and CEO; Daryn Nakhuda, Founder and CTO. Photo via Mighty AI.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are two of the most important tech trends in 2017, and Mighty AI finds itself right in the middle.

The Seattle startup, which originally launched in 2014 as Spare5, helps companies train and scale their machine learning/natural language models with human insights that AI engines need to “think” like people. It is essentially making artificial intelligence more intelligent by using human labor to re-tune those models.

Mighty AI, the first spin-out from Madrona Venture Labs, calls this “Training Data as a Service,” as CEO and co-founder Matt Bencke told GeekWire in January after the company raised $14 million.

“Everybody knows AI is probably the biggest wave in technology innovation right now,” explained Bencke, formerly a senior vice president at Getty Images. “Yet there is a lot of anticipation and frustration about seeing it applied successfully across a number of specific use cases. I think our investors are looking at us as providing picks and shovels to the AI goldrush. No one knows exactly where the gold is, but everyone knows you need picks and shovels.”

Ripl

Ripl is seeing traction with its app that gives small business owners and entrepreneurs a “marketing team in their pocket.”

That’s how Ripl CEO Paul Ingalls describes his company’s app, which lets everyone from restaurant owners to fitness instructors to real estate agents create visual content that they can use for social media marketing. It’s a free app, but users can pay $9.99 per month to access premium features like additional designs, custom logos, music libraries, scheduled posts, and more.

Since last year, the company’s paying customer base has grown by 20X and it just passed 1 million in installs of the app, with more than 250,000 active small business users on the platform. It is currently the fourth-highest grossing photo and video app in the App Store.

Ripl, which just raised a $3 million investment round, went through a series of pivots before eventually landing on its current business model. Ingalls and Ripl Chairman Andrew Wright, who previously worked together at Redmond-based Smilebox and Seattle-based RealNetworks, originally tried to crack into the sports content business back in 2012 with an app called Fanzo. They quickly realized that Fanzo was not differentiated enough from other sports-related services and shifted to the first iteration of Ripl, which helped social media influencers leverage their online fanbase to make money.

Ripl began to see some traction, but the app wasn’t seeing enough user growth or monetization uptick. The startup decided to narrow its focus on one pillar of the app — visual content creation — and that’s what ultimately led to what Ripl is today.

Shyft Technologies

Chris Pitchford (Dir. of Growth), Daniel Chen (CTO), Brett Patrontasch (CEO), Kyle Liu (Lead Mobile Developer).

Shyft wants to help retail and service employees quickly swap work shifts with its real-time labor marketplace.

The startup, backed by investors like Madrona Venture Group and local angels, gives workers a way to increase flexibility and also keep businesses from losing money. The app lets people post shifts they need covered or take other people’s shifts, and allows users to offer incentives like a tip for covering a shift.

“The labor industry is broken,” CEO Brett Patrontasch said last year. “Gaps in real-time labor supply and demand create billions of dollars of loss every year. It is our goal to repair this market, and create a marketplace where labor supply and demand can reach equilibrium.”

Shyft, a Techstars Seattle graduate, picked up early traction since launching in 2015 and Shyft CEO Brett Patrontasch told FOX Business in January that there are more than 19,000 Starbucks employees, 8,000 Old Navy employees, and 7,500 McDonald’s employees using the app. There have been 260,000 working hours exchanged on the app in the past year, he added.

Senosis Health

A team of doctors at a clinic in Bangladesh observe the use of SpiroSmart to measure a patient’s lung function. (University of Washington Photo)
Shwetak Patel
Shwetak Patel. (UW Photo)

Shwetak Patel’s latest project aims to turn cell phones into health monitoring devices that can measure everything from pulmonary function to hemoglobin counts.

Patel, a University of Washington computer scientist who won a MacArthur genius grant in 2011 and has sparked innovations ranging from energy meters to air quality sensors, is leading a stealth Seattle startup called Senosis Health that is developing four apps going through an FDA clearance process for clinical testing: SpiroSmart, SpiroCall, HemoApp, and OsteoApp.

Senosis draws upon startup expertise from CEO T.A. McCann (co-founder of Rival IQ and Gist) and COO Mike Clarke (former associate director in UW’s technology transfer office). Patel’s projects are also getting a big assist from the UW through his own UbiComp Lab as well as the university’s tech transfer operation.

Patel’s vision is to provide new lines of screening tools that serve as a first line of defense to counter conditions ranging from asthma to anemia and jaundice. If a person’s smartphone app picks up a problem, that could serve as an alert to go for further screening, and professional care.

“If you think about the capabilities on a mobile device, if you look at the camera, the flash, the microphone, those are all getting better and better,” Patel said in February. “In fact, capabilities on those phones are as great as some of the specialized devices. … Those sensors that are already on the mobile phone can be repurposed in interesting new ways, where you can actually use those for diagnosing certain kinds of diseases.”

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