Overwatch Imaging’s real-time fire perimeter mapping increases safety. (Overwatch Image) , an Oregon venture that specializes in airborne imaging systems, says it has won a multimillion-dollar investment from , which focuses on aviation solutions that are specialized to suit the needs of its clients in government and the commercial sector. The Series A funding deal, announced today, builds on an existing partnership between Overwatch and Tenax, a privately held company that’s based in Mississippi. It marks the first outside investment taken in by Overwatch, which was founded in 2016. Overwatch CEO and co-founder Greg Davis said the size of the investment amounts to millions of dollars, but he declined to be more precise. The money will go toward expanding Overwatch’s production operations into a larger facility in Hood River, Ore., and accelerating development of the company’s AI software for autonomous imagery collection and analysis. In a news release, Tenax Aerospace’s president, Taran Bakker, called Overwatch “an emerging leader in artificial intelligence and autonomy in airborne imaging.” “Overwatch Imaging has developed an exciting new technology that will be very valuable to customers with special missions involving surveillance, mapping or threat detection,” Bakker said. Tenax Aerospace provides special mission aircraft and related services to customers including the Federal Aviation Administration and the departments of Defense, Justice; Agriculture and Homeland Security. The company focuses on applications that are critical to national security and the public interest, including aerial fire suppression, aerial intelligence gathering and airborne data acquisition. Tenax and Overwatch are already working together on a U.S. Forest Service project related to monitoring and fighting forest fires. That project involves the use of Overwatch’s imaging system on Tenax’s aircraft. Future projects could focus on applications such as border surveillance and maritime traffic monitoring. Davis said Tenax Aerospace emerged as the ideal partner for Overwatch Imaging’s expansion campaign during a six-month process to assess potential investors. As a result of that process, Tenax will be contributing more than money: Bakker will be joining Davis and co-founder Nick Anderson on Overwatch’s board. “We immediately shared a common vision for the future,” said Davis, who’s a veteran of . “I am excited to have Taran’s expertise and enthusiasm on our board as we grow.”
(Viome Photo) , a wellness startup from entrepreneur , has raised $25 million in funding from a crop of investors that includes Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Jain said the new cash, which brings the Seattle-area startup’s total funding to $45 million, would be used to fund research into the link between the human microbiome and chronic diseases including diabetes, autoimmune disorders and Parkinson’s, as well as cancers. Naveen Jain. (Viome Photo) “We are now doing a bunch of clinical studies with 15 or so separate diseases,” said Jain. The aim of the studies, which are looking at diseases as wide-ranging as insomnia and pancreatic cancer, is to “understand exactly what’s happening inside the human body so that we can predict, prevent and reverse chronic diseases,” he said. Viome analyzes its customers’ microbiomes through stool samples in order to make food recommendations for health or weight loss. The idea is to foster health through microbes, which make up more than half of the cells in the human body. The funding round included return investor Bold Capital as well as Physician Partners, Hambrecht Healthcare Growth Venture Fund, and Matthew Harris of Global Infrastructure Partners. Viome said the financing was part of a series B round in which the company aims to raise $100 million. “People are investing because we’re solving a massive problem,” Jain said. “[Benioff] is a very happy customer and he said, ‘I want to be part of it.'” The Salesforce CEO has shown an interest in mental health and wellness, adding meditation rooms to the Salesforce offices and investing in Thrive Global, a wellness startup founded by Arianna Huffington. A spokesperson for Benioff declined to comment when contacted by GeekWire. Jain says the company’s competitive edge lies in its RNA sequencing technology, which emerged from defense work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Viome uses machine learning algorithms with the aim of predicting the body’s response to certain foods based on the composition of an individual’s microbiome. Researchers cast doubt These claims have drawn criticism. Jonathan Eisen, a professor at UC Davis, the “Theranos of the microbiome world” on Twitter last year, referencing Elizabeth Holmes’ blood testing startup that became infamous for false claims about its technology. “My issue with Viome was overstating the state of the science,” Eisen told GeekWire. “There’s no scientific support for any of their tools.” The Viome material on Amazon is filled with completely misleading overselling snake oil – e.g. they claim they can tell you "exactly which foods to eat and which to avoid in order to support your wellness" — Jonathan Eisen (@phylogenomics) In the early 2000s, Jain for claims he made about InfoSpace, a high-flying internet business that fell to earth during the dot-com bust. Jain later went on to co-found public records firm Intelius as well as Moon Express, which aims to . (Viome Screenshot) Jain responded to the criticism by saying that Viome’s underlying technology is superior to the microbiome sequencing technology used by other companies. Eisen once served as an advisor to Viome competitor uBiome. Several startups have set out to give health insights based on an analysis of gut bacteria, including and . And the promise of the microbiome has caught the attention of investors. Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee, famous for coining the term “Unicorn” to describe billion-dollar startups, recently about the brain-gut connection and her own dietary experiments. “Changes in diet can modulate the microbiome and have an effect on health,” said Sean Gibbons, an assistant professor at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. But Gibbons said it’s too early to draw conclusions about the specific effect of individual foods on a person’s health. “For anyone to claim that there’s a general purpose algorithm that can predict health from the microbiome is sort of a sci-fi, weird claim to make this point,” he said. Prominent endorsements for Viome That’s not to say that tinkering with the microbiome doesn’t have potential. Fecal transplants, which insert gut bacteria from healthy people into sick patients, have proven to be , a bacteria that infects nearly 500,000 Americans each year. Viome has received endorsements from health and wellness celebrities like , as well as . The startup recently partnered with Helomics, a precision medicine company, to study the link between the gut microbiome and ovarian cancer. Viome from Campbell Soup earlier this year for an undisclosed sum. The company has nearly 150 employees across six locations, including its headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. and offices in San Diego, Santa Clara, Calif., New York, Bangalore and Los Alamos, N.M. Viome is Jain’s seventh venture and the first to come out of his Bellevue-based innovation factory. BlueDot looks for market opportunities for technology developed at leading research labs, with a focus on the health and energy sectors.
A Toyota concept car at CES 2017. (GeekWire File Photo) Since first launched in 1997, a lot has changed in the automotive world. The Seattle-based company has not only remained relevant but is now attracting investor attention from one of the world’s largest car companies. Airbiquity today announced a $15 million investment round from Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Tsusho Corporation (Toyota’s trading arm), and DENSO Corporation (a giant automotive parts manufacturer partly owned by Toyota). Airbiquity has been building automotive telematics technology for more than two decades. Its focus is now on Choreo, a cloud-based connected car delivery platform, and , software that lets car manufacturers continuously update in-car software technology. (Airbiquity Photo) The company supports more than eight million vehicles across more than 60 countries and 30 languages. “We are delighted to receive investment from three of the most successful corporations in the automotive industry,” , the Airbiquity CEO who joined the company in 2002, said in a statement. “This is an exciting time for our company, and we look forward to working with our new strategic partners to optimize and leverage OTAmatic for the next generation of connected vehicle.” Investment in self-driving cars and related technology could help boost Airbiquity’s value proposition. Toyota itself has been over the past several years. The market for advanced driver-assistance systems technology could reach $35 billion by 2021, according to .