Today, Seattle now ranks as the most attractive metro area in the US for STEM jobs in a tech industry report, thanks to Amazon and Microsoft, and more companies’ relocation from Silicon Valley. Seattle may fly under the radar compared to its flashier West Coast neighbours, but it's a tech titan in its own right. This city is where behemoths like Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Expedia, and Zillow sprang to life.
Seattle is more than just a scenic city behind a veil of Pacific Northwest clouds. Its biggest names have kickstarted a vibrant tech hub, fostering a new generation of ventures inspired by the very industries that first spotlighted Seattle.
Amazon’s startups ecosystem keep delivering innovation
It’s hard to talk about Seattle without mention of the e-commerce leader. Amazon is starting to disperse some of that wisdom across the startup scene, as previous employees use their experience as a springboard for new ventures.
At the tail end of 2023, Bezos announced he was leaving his hometown for sunnier skies in Florida. His company, however, remains in the city, and for good reason: the city is now fertile ground for innovative companies shaping the future of commerce.
Take Swiftly, which cruised into unicorn status with a $100 million investment in 2022. Swiftly is the brains behind a platform that makes shopping, well, swift. Swiftly's tech weaves together online and in-store shopping experiences, making things seamless for customers and retailers alike. It's not just about buying stuff; it's about a shopping experience that's as smooth as silk.
POSaBIT is a Bellevue-based gem that's carving out a niche in the once cash-only world of cannabis retail. Their point of sale and payment solution is now being used in 500 locations across 23 states. POSaBIT recently ranked on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500, tracking 1,092% revenue growth in a three-year period.
And then there’s Symbiosys, which just this month raised a $9-million Series A round. This startup wants to redefine how retailers and product brands collaborate on off-site advertising. Symbiosis' technology focuses on aligning performance marketing efforts between brands and retailers, leveraging first-party measurement data to drive traffic to retailer sites, and they’re looking to take a big chunk out of the $45-billion retail media market.
And then there's Stackline. These folks are all about retail insights. In October, the company launched its new Shopper Analytics platform, a tool that's giving brands a new understanding of their customers’ journey, both online and in physical stores.
How Microsoft still shapes Seattle’s software scene
If you were asked about the world's most valuable company, you'd probably think of Apple, right? Well, here's a twist - for a brief spell this month, Microsoft actually claimed that top spot.
The launch of Microsoft Windows in 1983 rapidly popularized the personal computer, and by 1986, Microsoft established its main campus in Redmond, now a major employment hub with over 46,000 staff. This growth, often referred to as the 'Microsoft effect' led to the development of Bellevue's own bustling downtown. “When I arrived in Seattle in the late 1970s, before Microsoft took off, it was still just a big town,” Robert Spector, a longtime local business observer, told The Drum. “Now, it’s a medium-sized city.”
Today, a new generation of software startups are following Microsoft’s code for success.
Take OctoML, which recently pivoted to offer a self-optimizing compute service for AI that helps businesses build ML-based applications and put them into production without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure. It somewhat mirrors the strategic direction of Microsoft, which is now heavily focused on the AI sphere through its partnership with OpenAI.
Or what about Textio, which is known for its AI and machine learning technology that helps eliminate bias in workplace language. Textio just had a major leadership switch-up this month, with its new CEO being a 16-year veteran of Microsoft.
Then there’s Temporal, which allows backend developers to incorporate durable execution into their software programs that help systems withstand failures more effectively. The startup raised one of the largest funding rounds in Seattle last year, through a $75-million Series B Prime round, bringing its funding to more than $200 million to date.
The software startups shaping Seattle today might not yet have the scale of forebears like Microsoft, but they sure are making waves.
Seattle’s aerospace industry is flying high
Before there was Microsoft, Amazon, or even Starbucks, there was Boeing. Now, the aerospace giant might be making headlines for all the wrong reasons — yeah, a door flying off mid-flight isn't exactly great PR.
“Seattle and Boeing grew up together,” Lombardi told The Drum. Boeing certainly laid the runway, so to speak, for a whole fleet of innovative aerospace companies to take to the skies.
In the heart of Seattle's Westlake neighborhood, a relatively unassuming company, BlackSky, has been quietly getting the very first view of global conflicts from space. With artificial intelligence to analyze satellite images, they're providing near-instant intel to U.S. national security and other countries.
BlackSky co-designs its satellites in Seattle, and the startup will begin launching its newly designed third-generation satellites with more capability. So, what’s keeping these companies in the Emerald City? Talent, and lots of it.
“Seattle’s our expertise in satellites,” BlackSky’s CEO said in a recent interview with The Seattle Times.
Stoke Space is another Seattle-based aerospace startup that wants to build reusable rockets and get them into orbit by 2025. In September, the startup successfully conducted a vertical takeoff and landing test flight of its reusable second stage rocket. And just recently, the startup secured a $100-million round of funding (the second-largest local tech round of 2023, no less).
The presence of Boeing and other aerospace companies has definitely nurtured a skilled workforce in Seattle. The economic impact of the region’s core space economy is estimated at $4.6 billion annually, supporting over 13,000 jobs. The city’s location on the Pacific Rim also provides strategic advantages for companies looking to do business with Asia, a significant market for aerospace products.
What’s next for Seattle in 2024?
Seattle has been steadily etching its name in the world of public markets with over 20 local, venture-backed companies going public in just five years, as per Crunchbase data. These aren't yet giants on the scale of Microsoft, but with market caps soaring past the $1 billion mark (such as Remitly, ZoomInfo, and Rover), they're certainly attracting attention.
What's truly remarkable about Seattle's rise is the diversity of its new stars. From the biotech promise of Avalyn Pharma to the crypto ambitions of EigenLayer, and the transportation innovation of Inrix, Seattle is breaking new ground. These aren't the sectors you'd traditionally associate with the region, and yet they’re expanding the city's technological repertoire.
Sure, it hasn't been all smooth sailing. Funding for Pacific Northwest startups took a hit in 2023, dropping by nearly 60% according to GeekWire. And while Crunchbase reports don't point to a mass exodus from Seattle's startup scene, there's an acknowledgment of a slowdown in funding.
But remember - Seattle residents are no strangers to weathering storms, both literal and metaphorical. Boeing clawed its way back from the brink in the 70s, Microsoft battled to catch up in the mobile tech race of the 2000s, and Amazon transformed from a garage-born startup to a global juggernaut in the 2010s.
These companies all faced tough challenges and came out on top. That's the essence of Seattle, and that’s what makes a city worth watching.
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