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How An Apprenticeship Pilot Might Solve Tech’s Diversity Problem

September 27, 2016

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a surge of over 1.3 million technology sector jobs by 2020. These jobs will fall under computer programming and computer support specialist roles. Despite the increase in jobs, the tech sector will have trouble filling these roles because of a widening skills gap in the marketplace. A lack of representation among women, African-Americans, Hispanics, new immigrants, and even veterans makes it difficult to create any diversity within the field. Apprenti, an apprenticeship program being piloted by the Washington Technology Industry Association, is hoping to diversify the skill set and talent pool. The program combines training, testing, and a co-op employment placement model to match newly skilled tech workers with hiring tech companies. Apprenti was recently awarded $7.5 million by the U.S. Labor Department to expand its apprenticeship model nationwide. Jennifer Carlson serves as the Executive Director of the Washington Technology Industry Association’s Workforce Institute. Carlson oversees development and implementation of the Apprenti program within Washington State, and eventually nationwide.

Tech association gets $7.5M to expand apprenticeship program nationwide

September 27, 2016

The Washington Technology Industry Association’s apprenticeship program just got a big boost from the federal government and a nod to take what it’s doing in Washington state nationwide.

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded WTIA’s Apprenti apprenticeship program at $7.5 million contract to expand nationwide.

The local industry association launched its apprenticeship program late last year with the goal of training 600 job candidates– including at least 300 women, people of color and veterans – to fill roles at talent-starved technology companies. Originally funded by a $3.5 million federal job-training grant and recent $200,000 investment from JP Morgan Chase, the goal is to train individuals for roles that don’t typically require a college degree, including database administrators and project managers, and find candidates who can complete training programs already offered by technology companies.

Now the Department of Labor wants Apprenti to be the national model and help bridge the skills and diversity gap in the technology field across the nation. Congress set a goal of doubling and diversifying registered apprenticeship programs nationwide. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast a surge of over 1.3 million new computer programming and computer support specialist jobs by 2022. Less than 20 percent of the tech workforce is female, less than 3 percent is Hispanic or African American, and there are an even smaller number of veterans.

The funding from the feds is a slice of a $90 million funding pie that was set aside to expand job opportunities by collaborating with industry partners and develop registered apprenticeship programs in a number of industries.

“Millions of dollars being invested at the federal level in the Apprenti program validates the effectiveness of the registered apprenticeship model we have created for the tech industry. We will work tirelessly to expand this model on a national scale to bring new job opportunities to the underrepresented while delivering the tech skills our country needs,” Jennifer Carlson, executive director of Apprenti, said in a statement.

Local firms go Down Under for reverse IPO in Australian market

September 3, 2016

Syntonic Wireless, a Seattle technology company, was approached this summer by a number of Australian firms hoping to buy the mobile tech business. But the Australian companies weren’t pitching their technology or talented employees as an enticing reason for Syntonic to join them. Instead, the companies wanted to merge with Syntonic for their most valuable remaining asset — a place on the Australian stock exchange. Syntonic eventually merged with Pacific Ore Limited, a defunct mining company, in a “reverse takeover.” Syntonic changed the trading symbol to “SYT” and the company, based in Pioneer Square, became publicly traded. The company’s move, also known as a “reverse IPO,” is the second time in the past year that a Seattle tech business has gone public this way in Australia. Internet of Things software company Buddy Platform merged its way onto the Australian Securities Exchange in December. A reverse IPO does not have the hurdles of a traditional IPO, which requires attracting significant new investors and wading through a mountain of legal paperwork.

Study: More cars will get automatic software updates

September 3, 2016

“Streaming updates to cars is going to be a big play for the auto industry,” said Scott Frank, marketing vice president of Airbiquity, a Seattle-based company specializing in connected-car services. “It’s central to a lot of new things we’re working on. “Phones and TVs are already updateable. Your car will be, too.” The number of features that can be affected will surprise you. The first steps will include connecting to the cloud for entertainment and security functions, but Frank says nearly every aspect of how vehicles operate will be affected. Many updates that now require a trip to the dealer for a software flash — Hyundai’s addition of Apple CarPlay to cars it had sold, for instance — will be handled by beaming new software to the vehicle. Software-only recalls — ideal candidates for streaming updates — affected 3.3 million vehicles in the U.S. last year. That’s nearly a five-fold increase from 2014, a trend likely to continue as vehicles add more software and electronics. Updates will include fixes, new security to keep up with would-be hackers, and adding features. “Adding features and improving performance post-purchase is a game-changer for the industry,” Frank said. Potential examples include new transmission programming to increase fuel economy, updated navigation information, and new infotainment apps.

Cash-strapped startups are turning to a funding tactic used by oil and gas companies in the 1900s

September 2, 2016

Seattle-based Lighter Capital, another active player in the market, has lent $35 million to 108 companies since 2010, and is reporting exponential growth this year. The firm made more loans in August than all of 2013.

Most of LighterCapital’s portfolio companies have little outside investment, and only 20% end up taking venture capital, says BJ Lackland, LighterCapital’s CEO. Lighter Capital’s funds are backed byCommunity Investment Management, an impact investment firm promoting small businesses that create jobs in the US.

“The goal was to create a instrument that combines the best of debt and equity,” said Lackland in an interview. “You didn’t really have a funding option for people who just want a damn good business.”

The strategy comes with risks. Revenue-based lending is growing, but the creation of new SaaS startups appears to have slowed from its peak two or three years ago, reports venture firm Redpoint. New SaaS startup fundings dropped by more than half to 423 in 2015 over the previous year. A second worry is that a recession could reduce portfolio companies’ revenue. Repayment rates may fall or companies may slip into default with assets to claim (so far, Lighter Capital reports, default rates are under 2%).

The New Race to Build a Space-Based Internet

September 2, 2016

Jim Cantrell, CEO at Vector Space Systems and a founding member of SpaceX, told NBC News, "the reality is outside of populated areas critical infrastructure doesn't really exist." Cantrell sees a space-based internet as an opportunity for businesses that are driven by clicks, such as Facebook, to reach new markets. "There is an economic and idealistic goal associated with this but if it doesn't pay for itself nobody is going to do it," he said. Virgin Galactic and Qualcomm announced last year they were teaming up with satellite company OneWeb to plan a similar satellite system to foster high-speed worldwide connectivity.

Startups Find the Fund Raising Environment Has Turned Treacherous

August 26, 2016

It's not as if the funding market has closed for business. "I actually think the funding environment has returned to something I'd describe as 'normal,'" Lighter Capital's Lackland said, noting that his investment model, which he describes euphemistically as "VC lite," continues to provide funding to compelling investments. "I know it feels as if the capital environment is down, because it was so frothy," he added. "But raising money should be hard. Equity investors need to be very choosy with high risk businesses. "I think we're just backing off from what was a frothy market," he said.

This Musician Wants To Change How People Buy Marijuana

August 24, 2016

Musician Brendan Hill has been using marijuana for decades, and he claims that it has helped him succeed in his chosen career. As a member of the Grammy-winning band Blues Traveler, Hill says he has used marijuana for a long time, and that it truly makes him, and others, better at their jobs. “When you’re playing live and being creative on a daily basis, I think cannabis helps you get to that flow moment without much effort,” he explained, adding that weed helps form a “connection between the players,” which is especially important when playing live. Now that marijuana is legal to buy and sell where he leaves in Washington state, Hill is helping people learn more about the drug and buy it in a fashion they probably aren’t used to. For the past year, he has been running Paper & Leaf, which is “Bainbridge Island’s first and ONLY premier recreational cannabis boutique,” according to its website. While a small island outside of Seattle might sound like an odd place to open up such a specific type of store, the location is apparently perfect, considering how those that live there feel about the drug. According to Hill, over 70% of the population of Bainbridge Island voted in favor of the legalization, which was the highest in the state. While that might indicate that the town was ripe for this kind of business, opening the store still had to be done delicately and with care, so as to ensure that it would be a success.

The Race to Build a Smaller Rocket

August 19, 2016

There’s a new space race afoot. You may not have heard of it because the competition is so much smaller than the one that took place between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s. And this time around, NASA isn’t even a contestant. Today’s space race is playing out among private companies competing to build tiny rockets. The popularity of small satellite technology has more people looking to shuttle their devices into low Earth orbit. So companies like Vector Space and Rocket Lab are in a hurry to build them a reliable and affordable small rocket—a more convenient alternative to booking space on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 or another large rocket with infrequent missions. But Quartz reporter Tim Fernholz says that a crowded field and technological challenges may mean that many of these rocket makers are still far from the finish line.

Pokemon World Championship Held in San Francisco

August 19, 2016

Contestants compete during the 2016 Pokemon World Championships on August 19, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Over 1,600 contestants from more than 30 countries are competing in tournaments of the Pokemon video game, Pokken and Trading Card Game events during the 2016 Pokemon World Championships. $500,000 in scholarships and prizes will be awarded to winners.

From the Blog

Denver Startup Week: Celebrating Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Mile High City

Last week, the streets and buildings of Denver were taken over by entrepreneurial minded individuals for the largest event of its kind in North America – Denver Startup Week. The free annual summit is intended to bring together the entrepreneurial community and celebrate the exceptional companies, innovation, and ideas happening in this great city we [Read More]

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