The Top 25 Innovators & Entrepreneurs
October 21, 2009
By Leslie D. Helm, Randy Woods, John Stang, Talia Schmidt and Kate Vesper
Innovation is like a flu virus. Once someone catches it, it spreads, mutates, until eventually it touches everyone. Some get the bug more seriously than others, but no one can deny its existence.
Washington state caught the bug years ago when Bill Boeing decided to build new flying machines in Seattle. But more recently, a critical mass of innovators and entrepreneurs in every industry from software and manufacturing to retailing, entertainment and consumer products has thrust Washington into the spotlight as a hotbed of innovation.
The Top 25 Innovators & Entrepreneurs are Seattle Business magazine’s annual celebration of some of these new pioneers leading the rest of us forward. In a time of accelerating change in business, these innovators will lead the charge tomorrow.
1. Working Backward
Entrepreneur of the Year: Jeff Bezos
CEO, chairman, Amazon.com Inc., Seattle
Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos innovates by first listening to his customers
When Jeff Bezos first launched Amazon.com 15 years ago, plenty of analysts saw it as a company with little potential for growth. After all, how much money can you really make selling books? But Bezos confounded his skeptics by continuously re-inventing the business. Today, it’s arguably the world’s leading online retailer, selling everything from groceries to electronics.
And Bezos is just beginning. The guy who changed the way we thought about bookstores keeps opening up new frontiers. The Kindle, Amazon’s electronic reading device, is changing the way we look at reading. And with its approach to “cloud computing,” a set of new web-based services that enable customers to operate their software on Amazon’s computer systems, paying only for the computer power they actually use, Amazon is changing the face of information technology.
This year, analysts expect the company to earn more than $750 million, up nearly 400 percent from 2006, on sales of more than $22 billion. And Amazon is worth $40 billion, giving Bezos a personal net worth of more than $8 billion. He will soon move his company from its perch on a hill above Seattle to a new campus in South Lake Union which, when completed in 2012, will have 10 buildings capable of housing 8,000 employees.
How does Bezos keep introducing major new innovations at Amazon? The typical approach, he says, is to take the skills you have and use them as the basis for offering a new product or service. That’s what Amazon did with cloud computing, taking a computer infrastructure the business developed internally for its massive electronic commerce operation and offering other firms an opportunity to run their own services over the same infrastructure.
Amazon’s current customers include the Nasdaq stock market and the New York Times, and it is the envy of software giant Microsoft, which is belatedly trying to break into the business.
The less common approach, says Bezos, is to start the innovation process with your customers and then work backward. “You find out what your customers need,” he explains, “and find out how to deliver that.”
That method meant returning to the needs of the company’s original customers: book buyers. Of course, it is a tall order to improve on books, which are essentially unchanged after 500 years, even as the industry continues to evolve. “Physical books have that elegant feature that they get out of the way so you can lose yourself in the author’s world,” says Bezos. “We had to build an electronic device that would disappear.”
But if the device was going to sell, it also had to do things the book couldn’t do. “So we made it really easy to look up a word’s definition while you are reading. We made it possible to buy a book and read it 60 seconds later.”
Unlike past e-book offerings from companies like Sony, the Kindle has developed a loyal following, and analysts expect Amazon to sell as many as 1 million Kindles this year, generating more than $300 million in sales.
But will general purpose devices like the iPhone make the Kindle obsolete?
Bezos doesn’t think so. He points out that digital cameras remain important in spite of the fact the many cell phones can now take pictures. Similarly, he says, “When you want a long reading session, one hour, two hours, you want a device that’s so appropriate for that kind of focused activity that you set aside your cell phone and pick up your Kindle.”
So what’s next from this tireless innovator? Bezos has invested his own money and time in Blue Origin, a Kent-based company that is developing “a rocket-propelled vehicle designed to routinely fly multiple astronauts into suborbital space.” The vehicle has already gone through tests on a 300,000-acre site Bezos acquired in west Texas and could be ready for its first unmanned space flight in 2011.
Bezos also hints at big new plans for Amazon. But he won’t offer any offer any details about his future plans.
Says Bezos, “I can only say: Stay tuned.” Leslie D. Helm
Amazon’s criteria for entering a new business:
- It’s a genuinely better way of doing something.
- It’s a meaningful sales opportunity.
- It’s something that Amazon’s current skills make it good at or it has to be something that its customers need or in the near future think they will need.
2. Bioscience: Dr. Ryo Kubota
Chairman, president & CEO, Acucela Inc., Bothell
As a respected pioneer in ophthalmology, Dr. Ryo Kubota says he used to feel frustration over the lack of treatment options for a common ailment called “dry age-related macular degeneration,” or dry AMD. After conducting research on the condition during the past four years, his company, Acucela, may be on the verge of a breakthrough that could save the eyesight of 26 million dry-AMD sufferers worldwide.
Kubota’s eureka moment came seven years ago with the discovery that the process of sight itself-the chemical conversion of photons into electrical impulses inside the retina-produces toxins that, in excess, can lead to potentially blinding conditions such as dry AMD, Stargardt disease and diabetic retinopathy. Working with a team of researchers, Acucela has developed a molecule, called ACU-4429, which can slow down this “visual cycle” and, thus, reduce the amount of toxins produced.
Since early 2008, the treatment, which Kubota describes as “molecular sunglasses,” has undergone clinical trials and shown great promise with very few harmful side effects. As ACU-4429 moves into Phase II clinical trials by the end of this year, Kubota says Acucela is “cash-flow positive” with the help of $40 million in recent venture rounds and a $258 million development agreement with Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceutical. Randy Woods / Photo by Hayley Young
3. Manufacturing: Tamsin Jolley
CEO, Decagon Devices, Pullman
Gaylon Campbell, a now-retired Washington State University agronomy professor, started the company Decagon Devices so that his nine children would be able to work their way through college. His oldest child, daughter Tamsin Jolley, was with the company in the beginning and now leads a growing concern that does much more than provide income to her and her siblings. Located in Pullman, Decagon invents, designs, manufactures and sells precision instruments and sensors used in food quality testing and environmental monitoring and research. Recently, one of Decagon’s sensors played a pivotal role in the trip to Mars by NASA’s Phoenix Lander. The Decagon device went into the Martian soil to search for water. Back on Earth, one of the company’s more popular products does something relatively similar; Decagon’s soil moisture sensors are used in vineyards throughout Washington. “We’re always making new sensors,” says Jolley, who has four siblings who still work for the company. “We’re always doing new things.” Linn Parish
4. Information Technology: Sunny Gupta
CEO, Apptio, Bellevue
It’s tough to be a serial entrepreneur during a recession, but Bellevue’s prolific tech genius Sunny Gupta hasn’t missed a beat. In 2001, he founded Vigor Technology, which was later purchased by Rational Software. Gupta went on to found IT automation company, iConclude, in 2005 and sold it to Opsware less than two years later for $70 million. Today, his new company, Apptio, a provider of on-demand IT software for chief information officers (CIOs), raised $14 million in an August venture round, led by Gupta’s long-time backers, the Madrona Venture Group.
The not-so-secret to Gupta’s success is his focus on technology that can help businesses reduce IT costs. The Apptio software, he says, can trim expenses by 5 percent in the first six months and 15 percent over two to three years by giving CIOs a better understanding of the cost and utilization of their computer operations. So far, Gupta has attracted several Fortune 1000-level clients and expects Apptio to reach $100 million in sales in the next five years.
Although Gupta always seems to be moving on to his next big project, he says he’s staying put. “I’m fully maxed out right now on Apptio,” he says, adding that the on-demand IT services for CIOs have the potential to become a $1 billion market. R.W.
5. Agriculture: Bart Nelson
President, chairman, Nelson Irrigation Corp., Walla Walla
Drive through Washington farmland and you’re bound to find technology developed by Bart Nelson sprinkled-or more accurately, sprinkling-around the fields. Nelson is the president of Nelson Irrigation Corp., a Walla Walla-based developer and manufacturer of agriculture irrigation technology. Working hard to stay ahead of its competitors, the company employs 150 people in Walla Walla and keeps patent attorneys busy with its innovations and advanced technology. In 2007, Nelson Irrigation introduced the MP Rotator, a precise turf micro sprinkler that’s spun off from a line of original rotators, then sold that invention to irrigation innovator Hunter Industries Inc., of San Marcos, Calif. The company also is on the forefront in manufacturing processes and advanced custom machinery, and it has developed uses for its products beyond agriculture. Its products are used in wastewater systems, fire prevention and mining dust suppression, among others. L.P. / Image courtesy Nelson Irrigation
6. Energy: Kirt Montague
CEO, Prometheus Energy, Redmond
In the roller-coaster story of renewable fuels, Kirt Montague is one of the rare survivors. In 2003, with Wall Street falling for any company that produced alternative fuels, Montague started Prometheus Energy, a company that converts landfill gas to clean-burning liquefied natural gas (LNG). After amassing $20 million in venture funding by 2006, Prometheus went public on London’s AIM exchange. Two years later, with oil prices plunging and the global recession deepening, the firm was delisted and nearly broke.
Undaunted, Montague reorganized the company, selling most of the assets to a private equity firm. This summer, with the help of Cascadia Capital, Montague secured an additional $10 million in funding via a strategic partnership with Shell Technology Ventures. With Shell’s deep pockets, the revamped Prometheus plans to expand its LNG plants in California and Utah, as well as to build a new facility in Poland to enter the promising European market. Talia Schmidt
7. Marketing/Advertising: Aaron Finn
Co-founder and CEO, AdReady, Seattle
Designing and properly placing online display advertisements can take a couple of weeks. This approach is usually too costly for small businesses. “More people are trying to do more with less advertising budgets,” says Aaron Finn, co-founder and CEO of three-year-old, Seattle-based AdReady.
“We’re making [online] advertisements cost effective” by having clients use templates to design their ads, with AdReady’s expertise, connections and software placing the ads in the most effective spots on the internet and monitoring customer feedback.
Earlier this summer, AdReady and Yahoo! Inc. announced a self-serve display advertisement operation-Yahoo! My Display Ads-for small and medium-size businesses to reach target audiences on Yahoo and its partner sites, with AdReady providing the back end. In August, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper entered a similar arrangement with AdReady. Other clients include the New York Times and Univision Communications, a leading Spanish-language media corporation.
Finn says the company has undergone significant growth fueled by $12 million in venture capital investments and generated sales, with its workforce increasing to roughly 50 people (despite a round of layoffs in late 2008).
Finn was previously co-founder of a web-based advertising agency, ia Interactive Inc., and has also led online marketing for Classmates Online. John Stang / Photo by Hayley Young
8. Bioscience: Lisa Shaffer & Dr. Bassem A. Bejjani
Co-founders, Signature Genomic Laboratories, Spokane
The mapping of the human genome in 2003 has resulted in fewer medical breakthroughs than experts first predicted. Among the great successes is the development by Lisa Shaffer and Bassem Bejjani of their SignatureChip, a microarray-based method to test for chromosomal abnormalities in children with mental retardation and birth defects. Shaffer and Bejjani say Signature Genomic Laboratories is expected to grow by 30 percent by the end of this year as they prepare to launch a new microarray test to be performed on adult patients in 2010. R.W.
9. Information Technology: Mike McSherry
CEO, Swype Inc., Seattle
If Swype Inc. has its way, the company’s new input technology could create a revolution in mobile phones. With a radical new approach to typing from Cliff Kushler (the creator of the text-entry technology T9) and aggressive marketing by CEO Mike McSherry, “hunting and pecking” will soon be dead. Swype’s new technology allows users to simply drag their finger across the touchscreen from letter to letter in a swirling motion. Since the finger is never lifted from the screen, the company estimates that the average user will be able to type 50 words per minute. “It’s easy; my four-year-old son knows how to use it, as do my 70-year-old parents,” McSherry says. And Swype execs have also worked to provide a quick alternative to those with severe disabilities. R.W.
10. Architecture: Chris Pardo & Dave Biddle
Co-founders, Pb Elemental, Seattle
The Dakota, four townhomes on Seattle’s Beacon Hill, capture Pb Elemental’s innovative modern design aesthetic.
While most young architecture firms tout their potential with bold sketches and grand plans, five-year-old Pb Elemental can already point to dozens of real-life examples of the firm’s against-the-grain, ultra-modern aesthetic. With the help of its sister companies-construction firm Lead Construction and real estate brokerage Modern Dwelling-Pb has built 72 of the more than 450 housing projects it has designed since architects Chris Pardo and Dave Biddle met at the UW and decided to form a design firm.
While other Seattle firms offer a design-build component, Pb is unique, Pardo says, because it “can offer accessory services instead of being focused only on design-build or only on design.” As a result, Pb is able to build eye-catching and affordable single-family homes, townhouses and condos (mostly in the $300,000-$450,000 range) at much lower costs, he says, often in so-called “urban infill” spaces to promote density. R.W. / Image courtesy Pb Elemental
11. Entertainment: Jeremy Lewis and Paul Thelen
President/CEO and founder/chairman/chief strategy officer, Big Fish Games, Seattle
As Seattle’s Big Fish Games continues to reel in profits, it’s clear the company has learned how to survive and thrive in a recession.
Over the past few years, Big Fish has distributed more than 2,000 informal, easy-to-learn games and reached 1 million daily downloads. Through constant new games and special offers, hour-long free trials and acquisitions of developers such as Thinglefin and Grubby Games, Big Fish has risen to the top of the casual computer game industry’s food chain.
Most recently, Big Fish introduced some new products with increased options for interactivity (casual community and massively multiplayer online games). And it established a partnership with People.com for its “New Title Every Day” feature, which will be geared to hook the celebrity magazine’s mostly female readership. Kate Vesper
12. Biosciences: Dr. Mitchell H. Gold
President & CEO, Dendreon Corp., Seattle
After five years of clinical trials and assuaging the nerves of anxious investors, Dr. Mitch Gold may be on the verge of one of the greatest biomedical breakthroughs in the Northwest: a therapeutic vaccine that uses the human body’s immune system to fight cancer. His company’s star candidate, Provenge, which has been held up by delays in the lengthy U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process, received positive final results from its second Phase III Impact study in April, showing that Provenge significantly prolonged the life of patients suffering from advanced prostate cancer with very few side effects.
Gold says he wants Dendreon to become an anchor tenant in Seattle that will spur development of other local biotech firms. By the end of this year, Gold says Dendreon will amend its application for approval with the FDA and by next spring, plans to complete its New Jersey manufacturing plant. Once the feds give the green light, he estimates the potential market size for Provenge will be “north of $1 billion.” R.W.
13. Consumer Products: David Giuliani
Founder & CEO, Pacific Bioscience Laboratories, Bellevue
Even during a deep recession, it’s hard to beat an endorsement from Oprah. That’s the mega-boost that engineer David Giuliani received when Oprah Winfrey anointed his latest invention, the Clarisonic Skin Care System, as one of her “Favorite Things” on her talk show in 2007. “We were stunned,” Giuliani recalls. “We struggled to keep up with the spike in orders, which was about triple our usual business.”
Since then, Clarisonic has grown by nearly 2,200 percent and raked in $40 million in sales from retailers such as Nordstrom, Saks 5th Avenue and Sephora. Inc. magazine recently placed Clarisonic at No. 60 on its list of the 500 fastest-growing American companies.
Such success is no stranger to Giuliani. In 1997, his company, Pacific Bioscience Laboratories (PBL), pioneered the “sonic” technology behind the Sonicare electric toothbrush (whose parent company, Optiva, has since been purchased by Phillips Oral Healthcare). Today, the same technology is being applied to the Clarisonic tool, which gently agitates the skin at very high frequencies (300 motions per second) to help loosen dirt and oil from pores twice as efficiently as manual cleansing, he says.
Giuliani, a prolific inventor who currently holds 12 patents, says cryptically that his PBL team is currently working on proprietary advances in the field of chemistry to “develop another set of consumables” to be sold with Clarisonic products. R.W. / Photo by Hayley Young
14. Consumer Products: Sarah Pierce
CEO, DenHaus Inc., Bellevue
“Being in the doghouse” has become a more pleasant experience. At least for dogs. DenHaus has created a new kind of pet home that is a long way from the unsightly crates of yore.
“Unfortunately, most crates available are plastic or wire and do not at all fit with home styles,” says DenHaus CEO Sarah Pierce. “We decided to design and build our own high quality dog crate that complements our home and which everyone in the family loves.”
The “hauses,” which cost from $400-$600, are meant to match an owner’s home decor, appearing outwardly as tables or nightstands while affording pets a multipurpose bed, crate or litterbox space. A removable door turns the Haus into an enclosed crate.
Pierce’s product lineup has grown from offering just one wooden model (the TownHaus) to include the fiberglass ZenHaus and the steel BowHaus furniture models. The products are offered in a range of colors and dimensions to accommodate most dog and cat sizes. The company now has four employees.
Pierce selected a local nonprofit manufacturer that employs disabled workers to produce the most recent BowHaus design, saving time, money and energy on shipping (older models are made in Malaysia) as well as supporting a good cause. K.V. / Photo courtesy DenHaus
15. Biosciences: Dr. Leroy Hood
President & co-founder, Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle
In the world of Northwest biomedicine, few names are more prominent than Dr. Leroy Hood. For the last nine years, this renowned molecular biologist and immunologist has built Seattle’s Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) into a global leader in genetic science, with 14 faculty members and a staff of more than 250.
Dr. Hood has won countless prestigious awards for his lifetime of innovations, most notably his invention of the automated DNA sequencer, which played a key role in mapping the human genome. Through his efforts, he has helped establish more than 14 successful biotech companies, including Amgen, Applied Microsystems, Systemix, Darwin and Rosetta Informatics.
Hood’s goal with ISB is to promote the 21st-century idea of “systems biology,” or the holistic study of organisms as integrated networks of genes, proteins and biochemical reactions, rather than a set of individual functions. Under Hood’s guidance, some of ISB’s recent accomplishments include:
A five-year collaboration with the government of Luxembourg worth $100 million, under which ISB would conduct large-scale human genetic sequencing and biomarker research.
A partnership with the Swedish Neuroscience Institute designed to improve early diagnosis and treatment of brain tumors, called glioblastomas.
A five-year, $14 million contract with the National Institutes of Health to study how the immune system interacts with dangerous pathogens, such as bird flu.
Co-development of a chip-currently in clinical trials-with the potential to detect disease before symptoms develop. Hood and his colleague, Jim Health from Caltech, are forming a company, Integrated Diagnostics, to market the invention. R.W. / Photo courtesy Institute for Systems Biology
16. Information Technology: T.A. McCann
Founder, Gist, Seattle
It’s after 10 a.m. and you have an 11 o’clock meeting with an important client you know little about. How do you get up to speed on your client in a few minutes? How do you avoid a faux pas when your online professional relationship goes face-to-face?
You can hunt through search engines, old e-mails, your own files-but that approach can take a lot of time. T.A. McCann, a former Microsoft employee, figured there must be a better way. As an entrepreneur-in-residence at Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, he developed software to collect, sift, sort and quickly spit out information on individuals drawn from e-mails, tweets, blogs, articles and other sources. Gist numbers its users in the thousands and has a waiting list of new customers. Brad Feld of the Boulder, Colo.-based Foundry Group was so impressed with the system he invested in the company.
Gist’s 14 employees are constantly adding new data sources to the system and tweaking it to collate and produce information faster and more intelligently. This includes exploring and tapping into proprietary databases. “We’re delivering new features every two weeks-sometimes big, sometimes small. … The amount of information about people is growing exponentially,” McCann says. J.S.
17. Marketing/Advertising: Ben Straley and Pete Parsons
CEO and chief technology officer, Meteor Solutions, Seattle
You put an ad on the internet. How effective is it?
There’s the website where the advertisement sits. Then there are all types of links to it. And links to those links. And so on, an online advertising version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”
The trick is tracking your advertisements through all those links to see if they end up where they do you the most good. And which social media-Twitter, Facebook, blogs, websites, YouTube-are the best spots to put those ads?
In December 2008, Ben Straley of Reach Machines and Pete Parsons of Fyreball and a handful of others merged their fledgling companies to create Meteor Solutions to develop software to tackle that tracking conundrum. The company now has about 20 employees.
“The software is being passed along from site to site, enabling customers to see how many visits to a website display [your] ads. Is it being shared and passed along?” Straley says.
The hard-and-fast maxims of online advertising are yet to be figured out, such as at what point linking becomes ineffective, but Meteor Solutions is working to clear up that uncertainty, Straley says.
Meteor Solutions’ clients include Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, Sony Pictures and Disney. J.S. / Photo by Hayley Young
18. Information Technology: Scott Roza
CEO, Skytap, Seattle
If the concept of “cloud computing”-the virtualization of hosted services via the internet-is the hottest sector of IT today, then Scott Roza could be considered one of the hippest computer geeks in Seattle. His company, Skytap, provides self-service “virtual data centers on demand,” Roza says, primarily for the laboratory market. “It’s really an intersection of the software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service models,” he explains, helping labs reduce their often enormous IT and overhead costs.
After serving in the U.S. Navy as a submarine officer, Roza turned his eyes toward the cloud-computing stratosphere, working at data storage firm ADIC and later with Sunny Gupta at iConclude (see page 33). Following iConclude’s sale to Opsware, which was later purchased by Hewlett Packard, Roza joined Skytap (formerly Illumita) in 2008 and helped raise a total of $13 million to date in venture capital.
Working in a virtualization market that may be worth $10 billion over the next decade, Roza says Skytap’s revenues for 2009 should grow by 450 to 500 percent from last year, serving 65 clients. In August, Skytap became the first platform to offer cloud testing for the upcoming Windows 7, the much-awaited update to Microsoft’s operating system. R.W.
19. Energy: Dave Curry
CEO, Demand Energy Networks, Spokane
After a successful career at one high-tech startup in eastern Washington, Dave Curry didn’t wait long to get involved in another. The former CEO of World Wide Packets, which developed last-mile broadband and was acquired by international network specialist Ciena, Curry has thrown his money and leadership capabilities into Demand Energy Networks, which has developed a system to store energy in batteries, then restore it to the power grid when it is needed without the use of inverters or similar devices. Curry and other executives believe they are tapping a vein of opportunity with this smart-grid-friendly technology. The company has a prototype of its technology operating at Spokane-based utility Avista Corp. and expects to have prototypes at 10 utilities within five months. L.P.
20. Education: Sunil Garg
Student, University of Washington, Seattle
Sunil Garg and his classmates in the University of Washington’s capstone computer science course had a unique idea for their final project: attack the shortage of computers in developing countries by allowing students to share computers. They never dreamed the software, which allows up to four children to share one computer using different 10-key numeric keypads, might actually make its way into third world classrooms.
Garg and his research team felt that Microsoft software many students currently use, which uses a mouse as the primary input device for multiple students on a single computer, was too restrictive. “Our initial aim with MultiLearn was to study whether or not keyboard input was intuitive and effective for this context (since many students we’re working with are using computers for the first time), which we have found to be true,” Garg says. “After that finding, we have been working on exploring how best to use this setup for educational gain by writing learning games and applications on top of our technology.”
Garg and his group have traveled to India to test the technology and visit with students in schools all over the country. He hopes to start deploying the program as soon as proper evaluations and alterations can be made. T.S.
21. Education: Ben Slivka & Lou Gray
Chairman and CEO, DreamBox Learning, Bellevue
When Lou Gray realized that the best way to really get through to kindergartners through second graders is to provide a personalized learning experience for them, his partner, former Microsoft employee Ben Slivka, knew that they were onto something: making learning fun. Gray and Slivka co-founded DreamBox Learning, an online math learning game that allows kids to engage in educational adventures that move at their own individual pace. By assigning each student a personal login number, teachers and parents are able to monitor a child’s growth by gaining access to progress reports for each student. Every milestone throughout the game is captured on paper. This way, teachers can pinpoint exactly what the student has already mastered, as well as areas to improve upon. Meanwhile, DreamBox Learning employs 18 full-time workers, and students are now using the software in all 50 states and 40 countries. “It’s about empowerment with knowledge,” Gray says. T.S. / Photo by Hayley Young
22. Entertainment: Ben Huh
Founder and chief cheezburger, Pet Holdings Inc., Seattle
When the first image of a cheeseburger-obsessed cat appeared in cyberspace in January 2007 accompanied by a silly caption, no one could have imagined the wild success this peculiar form of entertainment would achieve. Nobody, that is, except Ben Huh, who acquired the website, created a company called Pet Holdings and gave himself the official title “Chief Cheezburger.” Huh has since created a network of silly sites that continue to pull in millions of viewers per day, helping to foster a cultural phenomenon and even spawn a musical.
Along with the grammar-challenged caption cats at I Can Has Cheezburger?, Huh’s empire includes FAIL Blog, which pokes fun at real-life pictures of everyday misfortunes and ill-fated actions; Engrish Funny, which features comically misspelled English on signs and clothing around the world, and GraphJam, which offers humorous statements and statistics via pie charts and the like. Supported by ads and featuring user-generated content, Pet Holdings has been steadily earning every quarter since its launch.
“There’s no way on the planet this should actually work,” Huh recently told Time magazine when it featured the company. “But it’s working.” K.V. / Photo by Rick Dahms
23. Entertainment: Jordan Weisman
CEO and founder, Smith & Tinker, Bellevue
Kids playing Smith & Tinker’s Nanovor can physically connect their separate games and combat each other face-to-face.
Bellevue-based toy company Smith & Tinker made headlines in August when it released Nanovor, the unique hybrid gaming platform that mixes the online digital world with the real one. Aimed at seven- to 12-year-old boys, the game lets kids collect their own Nanovor monsters. The company is a pioneer in merging the best of a game studio, entertainment shop and toy company, bringing the element of human contact back into the realm of digital games.
A former creative director for Microsoft’s entertainment business unit, founder and chief executive Jordan Weisman understands the changing dynamics of online game play for the emerging generation of children growing up surrounded by the internet. Weisman says that because the toy industry is losing kids at a younger and younger age, the company added a real-life component where players can battle their monsters by linking together pocket-size devices. This August, Smith & Tinker closed a $29 million venture capital round. T.S. / Image courtesy Smith & Tinker
24. Serial Innovator: Jeremy Jaech
CEO, Verdiem, Seattle
Jeremy Jaech is a serial entrepreneur with a magic touch. He co-founded Aldus, which was sold to Adobe, then Visio, which was acquired by Microsoft, and most recently Trumba. When he took over as CEO of Verdiem in November 2008, the company had already been around for seven years, but had trouble making headway. Verdiem’s management software helps companies save energy by regulating their computers’ power consumption.
Under Jaech, Verdiem won over major customers like Fidelity and the city governments of Seattle and Chicago, extending its reach to 1 million desktops at client companies. The company says it saves $30 to $60 per PC per year for its clients while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It offers two products-Surveyor, an advanced application with automated management and Edison, a free version that includes only monitoring features.
Jaech says the company, which continues to improve on its software, has a great future. “We’re just getting started here,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities to expand.” K.V. and J.S. / Photo by Hayley Young
25. Energy: Edmund O. Schweitzer III
Founder, Schweitzer Engineering Labs (SEL), Pullman
Edmund O. Schweitzer III, his family’s third generation in name and trade, has been developing next-generation power-grid technology for more than 25 years. The industry points to his innovations as an example of smart-grid technology, but the term wasn’t commonplace in the early 1980s when Schweitzer first developed digital protective relays to minimize power failures and the damage they cause to power systems. With a large corporate campus in the small college town of Pullman, Schweitzer Engineering Labs employs about 2,000 people worldwide. Beyond the United States, the company has customers in 122 countries, 28 international offices and a manufacturing plant in Mexico. L.P.
Top 25 Innovators & Entrepreneurs Board of Advisers
Michael Butler, CEO, Cascadia Capital
Greg Gottesman, managing director, Madrona Venture Group
Ed Lazowska, Bill and Melinda Gates Chair, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, UW
Gary Tomlinson, executive director, Seed IP
Ken Myer, CEO, Washington Technology Industry Association
Rebecca Lovell, executive director, Northwest Entrepreneur Network
Len Jessup, director, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, WSU
Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Kim Zentz, executive director, SIRTI