Silicon Valley may be the startup capital of the world, but Seattle has a leg up when it comes what is arguably the most impactful technology of the future.
The age-old Bay Area vs. Seattle tech ecosystem debate came up again during a venture capital panel discussion at the Seattle Interactive Conference on Thursday that included Heather Redman, managing director at Flying Fish Partners; Hope Cochran, venture partner at Madrona Venture Group; and Shauna Causey, partner at Madrona Venture Labs.
They gave the usual responses — Seattle is too humble; there isn’t enough capital flowing; it’s cheaper in Seattle and employees are more loyal here.
But Redman, a veteran of the Seattle tech scene who launched Flying Fish last year, offered a forward-looking take. She said Seattle not only has more artificial intelligence and machine learning talent than the Bay Area, but its innovation culture is one that lends itself to setting the ethical bar for the industry at large.
“This is the place where we can thread the needle on how to get the benefits from those technologies without tripping into some of the really nasty potential side effects of having a lot of machines making ethical choices for us,” she said.
Redman said that in Seattle, there is a “very deep philanthropic and social conscious culture,” citing organizations such as Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, and the Allen Institute, in addition to Microsoft and Amazon, which Redman described as “trusted brands.”
Companies in Seattle have an approach to building things “that are actually beneficial to the world,” she said.
“There’s a cultural maturity here that I think will lead to the next wave of technology companies that are built around solving really fundamental ideas — and trusted to solve those ideas, as opposed to dating apps or something of that nature,” Redman said. “We are really well-positioned for the next wave of evolution.”
Seattle has long been known as the “cloud capital of the world,” but it is also turning into a hub for AI and ML. There are a bevy of Seattle-area startups developing related technologies. Amazon continues to bolster its industry-leading voice assistant platform, Alexa. Microsoft is making a huge investment in AI as it aims to bring the technology into everything it develops. Both tech giants also host the leading cloud computing platforms with AWS and Azure, key components to any AI or ML-related products and services. Google also has a large team in the region dedicated to Google Cloud.
Other large companies such as Redfin and T-Mobile are baking AI and ML into their products. There is also a long list of Silicon Valley tech companies who have established engineering outposts in the Seattle area.
The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, founded by the late Paul Allen, keeps growing and launching ambitious initiatives. And the University of Washington’s computer science school is one of the leading AI research hubs.
That momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon. A search for “artificial intelligence” on Glassdoor for Seattle shows more than 3,600 jobs available.
Redman advised entrepreneurs that no matter what type of startup they are building, it must have an AI or ML backbone.
“What’s great about Seattle right now is because we have that talent in greater abundance than anywhere else, you have the best chance to build a very large company in an as yet undisrupted sector that will be the winner,” she said. “You will not only be one of the people who realized that you need to build things on an AI/ML backbone, but you will also be able to do it because you can access the talent.”