2018 was a year of acronyms. We witnessed an overhyped search for HQ2, a flurry of IPOs and the passing of Seattle tech pioneer PGA: Paul G. Allen.
It was an intense and crazy year, marked by an unprecedented level of vitriol — much of it directed at tech juggernauts like Facebook, Amazon and Google. And, yet, despite that negative cloud hanging over the country, the tech economy surged, and the pace of innovation only seemed to accelerate as technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing and advances in biotechnology rooted more deeply in society.
With our home in Seattle, GeekWire has a front row seat to much of this transformation, chronicling the innovators, disruptors, regulators and leaders who are pressing on the gas or stepping on the brakes. There certainly was no shortage of news to cover.
In addition to telling stories in our backyard, GeekWire hit the road, running our own HQ2 stunt and taking in RFPs from a number of cities before heading to Pittsburgh — an Amazon finalist — for a month to chronicle the Steel City’s evolving tech scene. We also traveled to Florida and California for historic rocket launches.
Wherever we were, we tried to capture images to help tell the stories that matter to you. Check out some of the 2018 highlights below.
Amazon’s busy year
The tech giant showed no signs of slowing its remarkable growth in Seattle, as construction cranes continued to swing over South Lake Union and the edge of downtown, further building out the company’s towering urban campus. One of GeekWire’s top stories of the year was indeed a story on a time-lapse video capturing the rapid rise of new Seattle.
The unique glass-enclosed and plant-filled office experiment called The Spheres opened as did the revolutionary retail concept called Amazon Go, which allowed customers to walk in and take what they needed without checkout lines or cashiers.
Against that backdrop of growth, Amazon battled its share of backlash, as the Seattle City Council passed and then repealed a so-called “head tax” on large businesses to help combat homelessness. Anti-Amazon and anti-Jeff-Bezos graffiti popped up across the city and finally, after the year-long HQ2 campaign, the blowback spread to Queens, where some loudly declared they were not hitched to New York’s Amazon welcome wagon.
Paul G. Allen: 1953-2018
The loss of the Microsoft co-founder in October, at the age of 65, sent a wave of shock and sadness across the tech landscape. With a lasting legacy tied to technology investing, sports ownership, commercial space, global philanthropy, the environment, museums and the arts, Allen was remembered as a visionary, a philanthropist and the go-to source when local problems needed a solution. (Read all of GeekWire’s special coverage.)
More than 2 million people watched a live video stream, and GeekWire was at the launch site at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in February when Elon Musk blasted his Falcon Heavy rocket into space for the first time. While the launch was a serious step forward for SpaceX, the payload was totally far out as Musk’s red Tesla Roadster sports car and a “Starman” driver were shot into space while David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” played on the radio.
“I set up three cameras at the launchpad for Falcon Heavy, between 1,200 and 2,300 feet away from the rocket,” Lisota said. “The tripods were staked to the ground, covered to protect from rain and dew and activated by a sound trigger that fired the shutter based on the sound of the rocket. Since you have to set up the day before, I crossed my fingers that all of my settings were correct. I watched and photographed the launch from the top of the massive NASA Vehicle Assembly Building.”
The busy race for space continued with, among other events, the launch of the Mars InSight lander aboard an Atlas 5 rocket in May and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two rocket plane, which flew to the edge of space in December. (For more, read the Year in Space.)
Amid a broader national debate over U.S. immigration practices, GeekWire spotlighted the stories of a diverse group of immigrant entrepreneurs and tech leaders over the summer. We asked how the U.S. could improve immigration policy, and we spoke to women entrepreneurs about the biases and microaggressions they experience. (Watch the video series.)
Tracking tech in the Steel City
After Amazon announced plans at the end of 2017 to solicit proposals from North American cities interested in being home to the company’s second headquarters, GeekWire decided to give the same thing a try. Pittsburgh beat out a handful of other hopefuls, and in February we hit the road for a month to learn about and chronicle the emerging tech scene in the once mighty Steel City.
We found self-driving cars, cutting-edge robotics and computer science, a startup scene looking for attention, health and sports and arts tech, and a population starving for the chance to prove how hard working it could be should 50,000 jobs come their way. Amazon ultimately chose another two cities for HQ2, but we’ll never regret our chance to discover Pittsburgh. (Read full coverage from the project.)
DreamBox dreams big
In one of the biggest financing deals of the year, Bellevue, Wash.-based DreamBox Learning — makers of an adaptive K-8 math education platform — announced in July that it has raised $130 million. Led by CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson, the education technology startup is “on mission to transform the way the world learns by using intelligent adaptive technology,” she said.
It was a big year for initial public offerings, as four companies with deep roots in Washington state made their stock market debuts in 2018: tax automation software maker Avalara; electronic signature pioneer DocuSign; enterprise software company Smartsheet; and fiber laser manufacturer nLight. That was up from last year’s total when just online real estate company Redfin went public. In total across the U.S., there were 191 IPOs in 2018, up from 160 in 2017 and 105 in 2016, according to Renaissance Capital. While big tech companies like Uber, Slack and Airbnb are lining up to go public in 2019 at lofty valuations, some are predicting a slow down for IPOs in the Seattle region.
From the GeekWire Awards to the Cloud Tech Summit to the GeekWire Summit, we played host to some of the most innovative and interesting people in tech in 2018.
Uber’s change in direction
On the brink of a promised IPO in the new year, the ride-hailing giant Uber wasn’t done looking at tough issues in the rear view mirror this year. Whether it was dealing with internal harassment issues, data breaches or the death of a woman run over by one of its self-driving vehicles, Uber had a lot on its plate. Chief Legal Officer Tony West made the argument to GeekWire why the company deserves a second chance.
Fun and games
At the top of Seattle’s iconic and redesigned Space Needle or deep inside a virtual reality experience, there’s no shortage of fun to explore when engineering, science and technology join forces to wow us. Or maybe we just appreciate giggling at naked people on LimeBikes.
Shop owners, artists, athletes, kid coders, CEOs and more didn’t shy from sharing their varied and interesting viewpoints about the work they do, the places where they live and tech’s impact on everyday life.