Tech Moves: Google names ex-Cortana chief to lead G Suite; Twitch hires ex-Zynga exec as CMO

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Doug Scott. (Twitch Photo)

Amazon-owned Twitch hired Doug Scott as chief marketing officer of the live streaming platform, based out of San Francisco. Scott was formerly global marketing lead at game developer Zynga and headed up marketing for music startup Brandpage.

“Twitch is revolutionizing entertainment through its massive and highly engaged community of creators and fans,” Scott said in a statement. “I could not be more excited to join this incredible team and help to bring Twitch’s unique culture, brand, and its passionate community to new audiences and global markets.”

The appointment follows a recent rebrand from Twitch and a string of negative headlines. After losing star gamer Ninja to rival Mixer, which is owned by Microsoft, Twitch promoted pornography on Ninja’s inactive account page. Earlier this month, a shooting at a synagogue in Germany that resulted in the deaths of two people was live-streamed on Twitch.

Javier Soltero, the former head of Microsoft’s Cortana division, will lead Google’s G Suite business. Soltero will report to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian in the role, which involves overseeing products including Gmail, Google Docs and Google Drive.

“The opportunity to work with this team on products that have such a profound impact on the lives of people around the world is a real and rare privilege,” Soltero wrote on Twitter. Soltero left his role at Microsoft near the end of last year. He joined Microsoft after the tech giant bought his startup, Acompli, and later oversaw Outlook.

Google recently opened a cloud campus in Seattle, right across the street from cloud rival Amazon.

Seattle startup Algorithmia hired Erick Peirson as a senior software engineer. Peirson was formerly a lead system architect at arXiv, a repository for sharing research, and was a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University prior to that.

Peirson said on Twitter that the new position would allow him to “help to build and deploy infrastructure to power AI/ML at scale.”

Earlier this year, Algorithmia raised $25 million in new funding to build out tools that make machine learning easier to implement. Following the round, it hired algorithm engineer Field Cady, senior vice president of sales Fred Gallagher, and vice president of platform engineering Ken Toole.

Dr. M. Elizabeth ‘Betz’ Halloran. (Fred Hutch Photo)

Infectious disease researcher Dr. M. Elizabeth ‘Betz’ Halloran was elected to the National Academy of Medicine. Halloran is a scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who studies vaccines and how infectious diseases like the flu and Ebola spread.

“It’s a real honor to be recognized by your peers,” Halloran said in a statement. “It’s just thrilling to have that kind of recognition.”

Halloran joined 10 other Fred Hutch scientists who are members of the academy, including Fred Hutch president Dr. Gary Gilliland, who was elected in 2015.

Ljubomir Bradic. (Sage Bionetworks Photo)

Sage Bionetworks promoted Ljubomir Bradic to director of design. Bradic was previously the company’s senior user experience designer and started his own company, Luceo Social, which was acquired by Fexy Media.

“To be able to contribute to potentially life-changing biomedical research is an honor,” Bradic said in a statement. “Whether we do a good job or not can make a difference in people’s lives, so identifying what problems to solve and how to execute our solutions is very serious business.”

Sage is a 10-year-old nonprofit that brings researchers and data together to advance understanding of diseases. It’s leading a new heavily-funded national effort to find new drugs to fight Alzheimer’s, a disease that has stymied the efforts of big pharma for decades.

Microsoft lands another healthcare partnership, this time with Humana to take care of aging seniors

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Humana’s new digital center in Boston, called Studio H, is one of the groups that will be using Microsoft technologies. (Humana Photo)

Microsoft has signed yet another partnership with a major healthcare organization, this time with insurance giant Humana on digital health solutions for aging populations.

The deal is an opportunity for publicly-traded Humana to steel itself against the wave of retiring baby boomers who will be demanding more and more resources from the healthcare system. The companies didn’t disclose financial details of the agreement, which gives Humana access to Microsoft’s cloud and artificial intelligence resources.

“With an estimated 10,000 people joining the Medicare system daily, we have a tremendous opportunity to address the growing demands on the health care system by improving health outcomes and lowering costs,” Dr. Greg Moore, corporate vice president of health technology and alliances at Microsoft, said in a statement. Moore led Google Cloud’s healthcare efforts before jumping over to Microsoft in April.

The two companies will be working together on a number of technologies, including:

  • On-demand telemedicine services;
  • Personalized and predictive member care powered by voice technology and AI;
  • Microsoft Teams for communicating with members;
  • Efforts to improve medical records, such as translating records in foreign languages and including social determinants of health.

“The next step for medical records is to go beyond the collection of information to the delivery of insights,” said Dr. William Shrank, chief medical and corporate affairs officer at Humana. “Microsoft technologies offer Humana the ability to apply sophisticated analytics to our members’ records and, in turn, provide clinicians and care teams with the opportunities to make a difference in patients’ health.”

Humana’s new Boston-based digital group Studio H will be among the first groups to use Microsoft’s technology, a company spokesperson told GeekWire.

The announcement comes in the same month that Microsoft partnered with Novartis on an AI-powered drug discovery effort and with Nuance Communications on an exam room that can automate medical notes based on doctor-patient conversations. The company also has healthcare partnerships with Adaptive Biotechnologies, Providence St. Joseph Health, UCLA Health and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, among others.

Microsoft also announced today that its Azure API for FHIR — which makes it possible for healthcare organizations to manage patient data in the cloud — is available to all customers. The capability was first announced in February, along with a slew of other cloud products for hospitals.

Tech rivals like Google and Amazon are joining Microsoft in the race to modernize healthcare data. Amazon has a project to mine medical records and recently launched an on-demand primary care pilot for its Seattle employees. Google also has several hospital partnerships to spot patterns in medical records and is working on a number of efforts to diagnose diseases with artificial intelligence.

Humana last week announced a $20 million investment in Accolade, a Seattle-based company that operates a technology platform to help employees navigate healthcare. Humana last year was a rumored acquisition target of Walmart.

Testing Microsoft’s Project xCloud: New streaming service feels like a magic trick

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Gears 5, running on a Samsung Galaxy J3 smartphone via Project xCloud. (Thomas Wilde Photo)

Microsoft’s Project xCloud has gone live.

Last week, Microsoft began rolling out a public preview for its new cloud-based gaming service. Participants can play four Microsoft Studios console titles — Halo 5: Guardians, Gears 5, Sea of Thieves, and Killer Instinct — on their Android devices through Microsoft’s cloud server.

Full disclosure: I’m probably not working with the best possible conditions here. The only compatible Android device I had lying around is an old Samsung Galaxy G3 smartphone. I didn’t expect a lot going into this.

Instead, it turned out to be relatively painless. I was expecting the setup process to take most of my afternoon and involve a lot of troubleshooting. I paired a Bluetooth-enabled Xbox One controller to my phone, installed Microsoft’s xCloud streaming app, and before too much longer, I had Gears 5 — a full-length, modern console game, which is only almost two months old — running on my cheap smartphone. It feels like a magic trick.

While the service is in beta, and as such, has a lot of growing to do, it does have a handful of ongoing issues. I found both Gears 5 and Halo 5 to be playable enough despite the eyestrain-inducing size of my phone screen, but both games had real problems with control lag and refresh rate. My motions and menu options both routinely took a second or two to register, and the screen frequently had to take a second to visibly re-render the game after something had moved. Playing Gears 5 in particular, I got used to seeing a “wave” go down my screen every few seconds as I progressed through the first level.

The scenery in xCloud games looks great, but motion can be tricky. (Gears 5 screenshot)

The frame rate was solid once I found a fight to get into, and while the graphics are limited, they are still quite good. I didn’t have much of a problem fighting enemies or zeroing in on targets, besides the simple issues caused by playing on a screen that’s maybe 5 percent of the intended size.

All in all, it’s a perfectly acceptable way to play these games, although I should probably pick up a cheap Android tablet and give this another shot. I tried out xCloud on my phone mostly for the sake of being able to say I’ve done it, and now that I have, I feel reasonably confident in saying that it’s not a great idea. Gears 5 was meant for much bigger screens than this. I’m just impressed that I could run it on this old phone at all.

The current version of xCloud only includes four base games, without achievements available.

Cloud-based gaming in general, however, does present the issue of bandwidth. I had more issues with it in Halo 5 than anywhere else, but you end up transmitting and receiving a lot of data when you play games via xCloud, and it can easily overwhelm a WiFi connection.

xCloud runs off of Microsoft’s Azure data centers. When you fire up a game, you’re running an instance of it on one of those remote servers, which then streams to your device as what’s basically a video feed. Your device’s actual horsepower doesn’t matter, as long as you have a stable network connection and the ability to display video.

Over the course of a 15-minute session of Gears 5, playing at my home office, I used up about 522 MB of data. I didn’t have much of a problem with lag or the signal dropping out, but I was on a private connection and playing through a reasonably sedate stretch of the game’s first level. Halo 5, by comparison, took about 500 MB of bandwidth for 10 minutes of gameplay and dropped out almost immediately during the game’s first real fight.

That’s a lot less bandwidth than I’d actually expected the service to use up, but it does raise the same specter as every other cloud-based gaming service: sooner or later, it’s going to run into the problem of the American internet.

It’s certainly a cool party trick to get a modern HD game running on whatever random devices you have lying around, and the xCloud preview runs a lot better than I was expecting it would. But the entire idea of cloud-based gaming seems to be built around some kind of theoretical internet utopia. In the current post-net neutrality environment, you can already feel vultures circling across the country, waiting to slap an extra monthly fee on anyone who tries to connect to an Azure datacenter.

The first week of xCloud is planned to be part of a “phased approach,” as Microsoft brings more players aboard the service and adds more first- and third-party content. I’d be particularly interested in seeing how xCloud handles less graphically intensive games, such as deliberate retro-style throwbacks like Stardew Valley, or a couple of older titles from the archives; there are a lot of exclusives to the original Xbox that could be a lot of fun if they were made portable, like Jade Empire or Sudeki.

For now, though, Project xCloud has got a lot of potential. I’m skeptical about cloud-based gaming as a platform, but it’s a strange and audacious idea by Microsoft Studios to decouple Xbox games from the need to own an actual Xbox. The service is easy to set up, works surprisingly well, and means you could theoretically be playing top-end recent releases with as little as a cheap tablet. There’s a lot here worth keeping an eye on, particularly for game enthusiasts on a budget.

Microsoft provided a Bluetooth wireless controller for use with this article.

Microsoft makes another cloud acquisition, swoops up file migration startup Mover

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. (Microsoft Photo)

Another day, another cloud-related acquisition for Microsoft.

The tech giant has purchased Mover, an Edmonton, Canada-based cloud storage migration startup. The deal helps Microsoft bolster its Microsoft 365 file migration capabilities.

“Our goal is to help customers move to the cloud with confidence,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post. “Today, we offer several options to support cloud file migrations, including FastTrack and offerings from trusted Microsoft partners, as well as the SharePoint Migration Tool for migrating content from on-premises SharePoint sites and file shares to Microsoft 365. Mover will enhance these offerings with proven tools, plus more self-service options over time.”

Founded in 2012, Mover describes itself as “one of the fastest OneDrive and SharePoint document migrators in the world,” providing migration from more than a dozen cloud service providers into OneDrive and SharePoint.

“Security, file fidelity, and transfer accuracy are core tenets of our company and we take pride in our reputation,” Mover co-founder and CEO Eric Warnke wrote in a blog post. “Moving forward, we’ll bring our deep expertise and migration technology to serve Microsoft customers. This acquisition will ensure that customers making the move to Microsoft 365 have a seamless and cost effective experience.”

Mover had raised $1.5 million to date, according to PitchBook. The company lists 70 employees on LinkedIn.

This is Microsoft’s 12th acquisition of 2019. It made three other cloud-related acquisitions in recent months, swooping up Blue Talon in July, buying jClarity in August, and buying Movere last month.

The company’s cloud services generated as much revenue as all its other businesses combined, including mainstays like traditional software licensing and hardware, for the first time last quarter.

Microsoft spent $9.1 billion on 20 acquisitions in its 2019 fiscal year, which ended June 30, buoyed by its $7.5 billion GitHub deal. GeekWire research shows that 2019 ranks as Microsoft’s third-biggest year for acquisitions, both in the number of deals and in spending, since 2003.

Microsoft ‘DreamWalker’ VR lets users traverse real world while immersed in virtual reality

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A new virtual reality system developed by Microsoft researchers lets users walk through the real world while fully immersed in a virtual one — using a mobile VR headset and an array of sensors to detect obstacles and adapt the digital scene to the surrounding environment as they go.

Called “DreamWalker,” the Microsoft Research prototype is one of the projects to be presented by the company in New Orleans this week at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) 2019. It’s the latest example of the company’s longstanding work in virtual and augmented reality applications.

“Provided with a real-world destination, DreamWalker finds a similar path in a pre-authored VR environment and guides the user while real walking the virtual world,” the researchers explain in their paper.

“To keep the user from colliding with objects and people in the real-world, DreamWalker’s tracking system fuses GPS locations, inside-out tracking, and RGBD frames to 1) continuously and accurately position the user in the real world, 2) sense walkable paths and obstacles in real time, and 3) represent paths through a dynamically changing scene in VR to redirect the user towards the chosen destination.”

Walking in Redmond, immersed in Manhattan: Microsoft “DreamWalker” in action. (Microsoft Photo)

They write that they demonstrated the systems versatility by “enabling users to walk three paths across the large Microsoft campus while enjoying pre-authored VR worlds, supplemented with a variety of obstacle avoidance and redirection techniques.”

In their testing, they explain, “8 participants walked across campus along a 15-minute route, experiencing a virtual Manhattan that was full of animated cars, people, and other objects.”

Researchers on the project are Stanford University PhD student Jackie Yang, who worked on the project as a Microsoft Research intern; along with Microsoft researchers Eyal OfekAndy Wilson, and Christian Holz, now an ETH Zürich professor. Here’s their full paper.

Related projects to be shown by Microsoft at the conference include a new eye-tracking technology that changes elements of a scene when the user isn’t looking, and a new haptic feedback controller that “uniquely emulates the human sense of touch,” as explained in this Microsoft post about the projects.

While these aren’t full-fledged products, Microsoft research can inform and help to inspire the direction of the broader company. Microsoft is involved in augmented reality for a variety of commercial applications through its HoloLens headset, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets created by the company’s hardware partners.

Microsoft’s new ‘Secured-core PCs’ aim to help companies protect sensitive information from hackers

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(Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft today announced a series of new, ultra-secure, Windows-powered PCs to protect customers that handle highly sensitive information from cyberattacks.

Protecting firmware, which is responsible for booting up hardware and software, is a focal point of the new “Secured-core PCs.” Firmware has become an increasingly popular target for hackers because those types of attacks are hard to spot, Microsoft said.

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro X device will be part of the program, and it is working with partners such as Dell, Dynabook, Lenovo and Panasonic on other Secured-core PCs. The program includes some previously announced devices, such as the HP Elite Dragonfly.

The devices are aimed at people who handle sensitive customer and personal data in areas like healthcare, government and finance that are frequent targets of  “nation-state attackers,” Microsoft said.

The new PCs “combine identity, operating system, hardware and firmware protection to add another layer of security underneath the operating system,” David Weston, partner director of OS security at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post. Protections are embedded deeply in the machine to prevent attacks rather than detecting them after the fact.

“These requirements enable customers to boot securely, protect the device from firmware vulnerabilities, shield the operating system from attacks, prevent unauthorized access to devices and data, and ensure that identity and domain credentials are protected,” Weston wrote.

Microsoft says firmware attacks rose 5X between 2016 and 2018. When malware attaches to a device’s firmware, Microsoft says, it can resist traditional security techniques like an operating system re-install or a hard drive replacement.

“Compromises targeting firmware can undermine mechanisms like secure boot and other security functionality … making it more difficult to identify when a system or user has been compromised,” Weston wrote.

Microsoft cited data showing the mounting cost of cyberattacks, and how much companies are investing in security. The average total cost of a data breach in 2018 was $3.86 million, up 6.4 percent over the prior year. More than $124 billion will be spent on information security around the world this year. And by 2027, worldwide spending on security awareness training for employees will exceed $10 billion.

As the leader in the traditional PC market, Microsoft has positioned itself as an important player in the battle against hackers. Microsoft has recently introduced additional layers of security to help people protect their own documents. It has also created tools to bolster security for political organizations and voting systems.

SAP and Microsoft team up on 3-year cloud deal, tightening relationship between tech giants

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(Bigstock Photo)

SAP and Microsoft struck a three-year partnership to help companies move their data to the cloud, a move that tightens the already close relationship between the two tech giants.

SAP disclosed the deal in its third quarter financial update Monday morning, adding that the alliance with Microsoft contributed 18 percentage points to 39 percent year-over-year growth for cloud bookings. The deal aims to solve a common customer complaint that it is challenging to move from SAP’s on-premise model to remote servers.

“Microsoft will bundle SAP cloud services into a bundle we call Embrace, and they’ll sell these directly through their field organization to their customers who will run SAP the in Azure cloud,” Jennifer Morgan, SAP co-CEO said on a call with investors Monday.

While the deal brings Microsoft and SAP closer than ever, it is not exclusive. SAP will continue to work with other top cloud providers like Amazon and Google.

“As always, choice will prevail as we recognize that many of our customers also run SAP on AWS and GCP, for example,” Morgan said. “Customers will still have benefits of the best-run SAP in their public cloud of choice.”

Last year, Microsoft, SAP and Adobe announced a partnership to take the wealth of data generated by customers and bring it together into one package running on Azure. In 2016, the two companies struck a deal to integrate software and bring SAP business databases to Azure.

The deal comes at an important time for SAP, following a major leadership change. CEO Bill McDermott stepped down earlier this month, replaced by co-CEOs Morgan and Christian Klein.

SAP has a major presence in the Seattle area. It owns experience management company Qualtrics and expense management company Concur, and it has an office of its own in the region. Between SAP itself, Concur and Qualtrics, the company will have a combined headcount of more than 5,000 in the Seattle area in a few years, following a huge new office lease for Qualtrics.

Morgan called out Qualtrics as a major contributor to SAP’s performance in the third quarter. She referred to the $8 billion deal to acquire the company as a “bold move” that has received rave reviews from customers. Qualtrics customer wins in the quarter include Dish Network, Stanley Black & Decker, U-Haul and more.

“Clearly our experience management vision powered by Qualtrics is resonating with customers as a key differentiator across all aspects of the intelligent enterprise,” Morgan said.

Overall, SAP reported nearly $7.6 billion in revenue in the quarter, up 13 percent over a year ago. SAP stock is up approximately 2 percent in early morning trading.

Diversity in tech: Company leaders talk ‘black tax,’ recruiting, retention, and impostor syndrome

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Real Talk, a speaker series from technical recruiting startup Karat, hosted an event Thursday in Seattle at Airbnb’s office. From left: Rafael Williams, Salehah Hassan, Anthony Skinner, Kenneth Massada and Rokeya Jones. (GeekWire Photo / James Thorne)

For all of the talk around bringing more diversity to tech, black and Hispanic employees remain vastly underrepresented at some of the world’s largest tech firms.

Tech leaders from Twitter, Google, Microsoft, and Airbnb took this issue head-on at an event this week at Airbnb’s Seattle office and offered advice to companies and employees. The discussion was part of a speaker series called Real Talk, which aims to foster honest conversations about diversity in tech.

Portia Kibble Smith. (Karat Photo)

The brains behind Real Talk is Portia Kibble Smith, who launched the program out of Seattle-based technical recruiting startup Karat. Smith has worked at tech companies her whole career — she was with IBM when it developed its first personal computer and with Sprint during its first cell phone launch — and knows that years of conversations around diversity haven’t moved the industry toward a solution.

“People have superficial conversations about what it means to be diverse, or what they want their company to be. And they’re not having the real talk about what does that role look like in order for it to be successful,” said Smith. “Everybody has to take part in it. It’s not just one person’s job.”

Connecting to candidates

Several speakers mentioned that employers need to show potential candidates that diversity is welcome, both through recruiting materials and the recruiters themselves.

“Retention is so important. It really starts at the beginning,” said moderator Rokeya Jones, a senior principal PM at Microsoft.

It’s equally important to make sure that candidates understand and can connect with the mission of the company.

Kenneth Massada, a senior solutions engineer at Google, recalled a time when a recruiter sent him a Baltimore Ravens jersey during the recruitment process. But it wasn’t the jersey of his hometown team that caught his interest — it was an email asking him to work at the company because he could help increase access for disabled people.

“My sister, who is a surgeon, comes to me and she says something along the lines of, ‘I went to work and I saved a life.’ I can’t come back home and tell that story,” said Massada. “The best recruiting is when someone understands the human aspect of what their company provides.”

Rethinking recruitment

To find computer engineers who will succeed at a company, Anthony Skinner said that his company,, has done away with the high-pressure “whiteboard tests” that are common throughout the tech industry. Instead, he lets candidates pick their own coding tests.

“You get to pick your homework. You bring it into us, and we just review your code and talk to you. So it’s just a hangout,” said Skinner, chief of engineering and product at “It’s really not about trying to weed you out and see if you’re a fit. It’s what’s your passionate and how passionate are you.”

Salehah Hassan, a technical recruiting manager at Airbnb, emphasized the importance of building relationships with candidates.

“If you do reach out to a candidate, it’s not about, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you about a position,’”he said. “It could be, ‘Hey, let’s grab a coffee and learn more about what you’re interested in.’”

Overcoming impostor syndrome

Reaching diverse groups often means putting in additional effort, said Rafael Williams, a technical recruiting programs manager at Twitter. Williams said that when he recruited college students, many kids felt like an impostor, and it was often necessary to have “that extra push and that extra level of love and empathy for them to really get them in the door.”

Even people of color who have worked in tech for years can still feel like an impostor, Williams said. To retain candidates, companies should be more empathetic to what employees need to do their best work.

“You’ve all heard the quote: diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being invited to dance,” Williams said. “But it goes further than that. It’s being asked to dance how you want to dance. … That’s the retention piece.”

Shouldering the “black tax” and finding support

The speakers also talked about the “black tax,” which is the idea that people of color have to work harder than their peers for the same results. Sometimes, this can come in the form of extra responsibilities like speaking at events or participating in the recruitment of diverse candidates.

Jones said this could sometimes be viewed as a privilege since it can let diverse employees fill important gaps at the company. But the added work is also a tax — requiring employees to spend more time doing extra work outside of their normal responsibilities.

Several speakers echoed the need to find communities and advocates within an organization.

In his first management role, Williams went through a period when he doubted his ability to do the job. “I tapped into every person in my network, and they helped guide me through it,” he said.

Jones talked about how climbing the corporate ladder is easier with a core group who can give support. “I’ve found it strategically important to have a friend in HR, a friend in benefits … and number one, you need a friend on your boss’ staff,” she said.

Tech Moves: Microsoft’s M12 director departs; Nordstrom loses accounting chief to another retailer

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Lisa Nelson (Microsoft Photo).

Lisa Nelson is leaving her role as managing director of M12, the corporate venture arm of Microsoft. Nelson is a 14-year Microsoft veteran who helped to launch the company’s Female Founders Competition two years ago.

Microsoft on Thursday announced that the Female Founders Competition will be returning with help from Melinda Gates and Silicon Valley venture capital fund Mayfield. The competition will award $6 million to four female-founded companies.

“I’m thrilled to launch our 2nd comp. It’s bigger & bolder!” Nelson wrote on LinkedIn. “As I look ahead & start bringing new ideas to life beyond Microsoft, I’m rooting for this year’s applicants & female founders everywhere. Real progress happens when we dream big, lock arms & push forward together.”

M12, previously known as Microsoft Ventures, launched in 2016. The VC arm generally invests in early-stage B2B startups that are working on their Series A or Series B rounds, with investments ranging from $2 million to $10 million. There are nearly 80 startups in its portfolio.

Nelson held a number of jobs at Microsoft, including head of external reporting, director of investor relations, chief of staff to the CFO, and COO of business development. She’s an investor in companies including Pixvana, Zipwhip, and others startups. Nelson also sits on the board of directors for the Technology Alliance.

Kelley Hall. (LinkedIn Photo)

Nordstrom’s chief accounting officer Kelley Hall resigned from her position to join an unnamed retailer as chief financial officer, a new public filing reveals. Nordstrom CFO Anne Bramman will fill Hall’s old role until a successor is found.

Prior to Nordstrom, Hall was CFO at Nike and held finance leadership roles at Starbucks.

The Seattle retailer has experienced plenty of executive shake-ups this year. Last month, Nordstrom promoted Ken Worzel to chief operating officer in a newly created role. And earlier this year, a pair of Nordstrom technology executives left the company around the time that the company was reorganizing its digital division.

Chris Picardo. (Madrona Photo)

Chris Picardo left Madrona Venture Group to become the head of WONE, an activewear company based in Los Angeles. Picardo was a senior associate at Madrona and served as a board observer of prominent startups like Crowd Cow, Shyft, Knock, and Amperity.

“Chris was a highly valued part of the Madrona team and was impactful in many ways,” said Tim Porter, managing director at Madrona. “He was particularly helpful and insightful with our investments in consumer and e-commerce companies. This combination made the Wone CEO role a great opportunity and fit for him. We are thrilled when our team members go on to big roles starting our joining innovative Pacific NW companies.”

Portland-based digital marketing agency Logical Position hired Adam Jones as director of business development. Jones is the former head of U.S. business development at Google and previously held account leadership roles at Symantec and EMC.

“I was lucky enough to be Logical Position’s very first Partner Manager at Google back in 2013 and watched them take off like a rocket ship. There is such a bright future ahead for this company and I want to be a part of it,” Jones wrote on LinkedIn.

Brian Walker. (Bloomreach Photo)

Bloomreach, a San Francisco-based platform for e-commerce companies, tapped Brian Walker as its new chief strategy officer. Walker was most recently CSO at Amplience and has also held senior roles at Amazon, Expedia, Forrester and SAP. He will be based in the Seattle area.

“It is amazing how much my experiences in the early days of eCommerce in Seattle now resonate with what we are doing today,” Walker said in an email statement. “That goes all the way back to when I was a part of the team who launched in the late ’90s, as well as when I worked to bring other businesses onto the Amazon platform or rebuild the platform at Expedia to scale and transform how travel is sold. All of this comes together with the personalized, contextualized commerce and customer experiences we are driving at Bloomreach for some of the largest businesses in the world.”

The company also announced that Scott Pace joined Bloomreach in the Pacific Northwest as head of analyst relations.

Here’s why Microsoft just invested $1.5M in a North Dakota high-tech farm project

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(Grand Farm Image)

Microsoft is headed to the farm.

The Redmond, Wash. tech giant today announced a $1.5 million investment in Grand Farm, a project in North Dakota designed to spur innovation around farming and agriculture. Microsoft will provide its technology such as FarmBeats, as well as its own employees that will help with Grand Farm initiatives, which include creating a fully autonomous farm by 2025.

Here are more details from a Microsoft blog post:

Over the next three years, the Grand Farm strives to provide workers with digital skills to maximize their employability; create high-skilled jobs regionally and globally; support start-up businesses; act as a convenor to drive ag innovation and thought leadership; and bring new businesses to the region through a world-class venture capital program

Our ambition is to partner Microsoft technology, technologists, and data scientists with North Dakota farmers and entrepreneurs to build a world-class leading ag innovation center that showcases the “farm of the future.”

Agriculture is a $5 trillion industry, but less than 20 percent of acreage is managed by digital technology, according to Accenture. There are a number of companies — including Seattle startups Pollen Systems or Maka Autonomous Robots, and industry giants such as John Deere — trying to build tech for farmers.

Microsoft President Brad Smith and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum appeared at the Grand Farm on Thursday to announce the company’s investment, which comes from TechSpark, a civic program it created in 2017 intended to boost economic opportunities in rural areas and small communities.

Earlier this year Microsoft awarded a $100,000 TechSpark grant to support Airtonomy, a startup that’s partnering with the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation to blaze a trail for drone applications in North Dakota’s “Silidrone Valley.”

Other TechSpark projects include Microsoft’s work in Wisconsin, where it is partnering with the Green Bay Packers on an innovation hub called TitletownTech, and in its home state of Washington, where it is aiming to spur economic opportunity and job creating in rural counties.