It was a big 2019 for startups across the Pacific Northwest.
Venture capital dollars flowed into the region at record pace, minting several new unicorns — companies valued at more than $1 billion — and fueling growth for a flurry of other early-stage startups.
Nearly $4 billion went to startups based in the Pacific Northwest, according to GeekWire’s funding deal tracker. A big chunk of that went to fast-growing unicorns such as Convoy, Outreach, Auth0, Icertis, and others who remain atop the GeekWire 200, our ranking of the Pacific Northwest’s privately held tech startups.
But investor cash doesn’t tell the whole story of the bubbling activity in the region.
There were some key exits, including Prudential’s massive $2.3 billion acquisition of insurance tech startup Assurance, which bootstrapped its way to success. Business cloud software giant Workday acquired Seattle-based Trusted Key, which spun out of Kernel Labs, one of several startup studios in Seattle.
Biotech company Adaptive Biotechnologies went public this past summer, and employee wellness platform Limeade just did the same. Nike swooped up TraceMe, a Seattle startup founded by Seahawks star Russell Wilson and backed by Jeff Bezos, helping to set up a new “Nike Seattle” tech office.
Amid the growth, there were downfalls.
Multiple Seattle startups including wellness company Arivale and high-tech football helmet maker Vicis shut down. Just this week, another startup, Magic AI, closed its AI-powered horse monitoring tool.
In between it all, there were a bevy of early-stage startups — many led by veterans of local tech giants such as Amazon and Microsoft — working away at their potentially game-changing ideas that could be the region’s next Expedia, Zillow, or Tableau.
A year of big deals
This year saw seven deals in excess of $100 million, compared to four last year. These deals alone totaled $1.44 billion in investment in the Pacific Northwest’s top startups.
On-demand trucking startup Convoy led the way, raising a massive $400 million round at a $2.7 billion valuation in November. It was the biggest round in for a Seattle-area company in more than a decade and brought total funding for the company to $668 million.
Here are the other major deals of 2019:
Vacasa: The Portland, Ore.-based vacation rental platform raised $319 million in October.
Clio: The Vancouver, B.C.-based company aims to infuse law firms with technology and raised $250 million in September.
Remitly: One of Seattle’s top startups that uses mobile technology to help people send and receive money across borders, including immigrants who support families back home. Remitly raised $220 million in July, including $135 million in equity and $85 million in debt.
Icertis: The Bellevue, Wash. contract management startup joined the unicorn club in July when it raised $115 million.
Outreach: Another new unicorn, the sales automation startup reeled in a huge $114 million round in April.
Auth0: The startup that helps developers build identity authentication capabilities into their applications raised $103 million.
Waiting in the wings
If you’re a GeekWire newsletter subscriber, you’ve likely heard about the high-valued companies above. But which startups are waiting in the unicorn wings, set for major success in the coming years?
Seattle is becoming a key hub for life sciences and biotech innovation. There were several related startups that are poised for growth and raised cash in 2019, including Icosavax, Viome, Bardy Diagnostics, Navigating Cancer, Faraday, KenSci, Immusoft, Magnolia Medical, and others.
Real estate is also a theme for the Pacific Northwest tech scene, anchored by longtime industry leaders Zillow and Redfin. Startups including Crowdstreet, Modus, Flyhomes, Blokable, Knock, and Pro.com all raised capital this year.
And you can’t talk about the Seattle tech industry without mentioning Amazon. Much like veterans of Microsoft have done over the past several decades, Amazon is slowly but surely spawning entrepreneurs who are taking lessons learned and spinning out their own startups across industries such as retail, logistics, and media. Some examples of newer Seattle companies led by Amazon vets include Ideoclick; Shipium; Downstream; Spiral; Veeve; and others.
Companies with all leadership teams made up entirely of women raised $3.3 billion nationwide in 2019, according to PitchBook. That may sound like a lot, but it represents a paltry 2.8 percent of all VC funding across the U.S., reflecting ongoing challenges of bias and inequality in the larger world of investing and venture capital.
The numbers are a little better when looking at startups with at least one woman co-founder. In 2018, these companies raised $46.3 billion, more than double the prior year, or roughly 18 percent of VC funds invested nationally, per PitchBook data. It doesn’t look like we will see a similar jump this year, as companies with at least one woman leader raised $18.7 billion through the end of August.
At the beginning of the year, we reported that 16 companies on the GeekWire 200, our ranking of the top Pacific Northwest tech startups, are led by women, or 8 percent. That’s a little better than the larger business world, where women made up 5 percent (24 CEOs) of the annual Fortune 500 list in 2018, down from an all-time high of 32 women CEOs on the 2017 list.
Last year, DreamBox Learning, led by the Big Tech CEO of the Year winner at the 2019 GeekWire Awards Jessie Woolley-Wilson, raised $130 million in one of the biggest rounds of 2018.
This year, the biggest deal for a woman-led startup was a $33 million round for nutPods, a maker of plant-based dairy alternatives. Founded by Madeline Haydon, the company was named Small Business of the Year as part of Amazon’s Small Business Spotlight Awards earlier this year. Haydon was also a EY Entrepreneur of the Year award winner.
Here are a few other notable deals for women-led startups in the Pacific Northwest in 2019:
- In January, Seattle startup Modumetal reeled in a $14 million investment round led by Vulcan Capital to scale up production of a unique metal that the company says offers better performance at a cheaper price than conventional steel.
- High-tech clothing rental startup Armoire completed a $3.9 million seed round in June and at the same time scooped up a new 7,500 square-foot office in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood that serves as headquarters, warehouse, and retail space all in one.
- Evrnu makes technology that takes discarded consumer apparel waste and converts it into renewable fiber. The startup raised $9.1 million in October and is licensing its technology to companies like Levi’s, Adidas, and Target.
- In October, IOTAS, a Portland, Ore.-based startup that helps landlords install and manage smart home devices raised $8.5 million.