Tech Moves: Lighter Capital names new CEO; Amazon exec joins Uber as CTO; and more

Melissa Widner. (Lighter Capital Photo)

— Seattle-based ‘alternative VC’ firm Lighter Capital named Melissa Widner as its new CEO. She takes over from former CEO Thor Culverhouse, who replaced longtime Lighter exec BJ Lackland this past September.

Widner, a board member at Lighter, most recently served as managing partner at the venture capital arm of the National Australia Bank. She was previously a general partner at Seattle-based SeaPoint Ventures and CEO of 7Software, which was acquired by Concur. Widner, based in Sydney, Australia, joined the Lighter board in 2018.

Lighter Capital was co-founded by Andy Sack, Randall Lucas and Erik Benson in 2009. The company helps entrepreneurs raise funding without going the traditional route of venture capital. It has invested more than $200 million in 350-plus startups across the U.S., using an innovative process known as “revenue based financing” (RBF) that lets early-stage startups raise cash without giving up equity or board seats.

“I’m passionate about the company’s mission,” Widner told GeekWire via email. “Lighter is the pioneer and the leader in RBF for software-as-a-service companies.”

The firm laid off staff in April and July, reducing its workforce from approximately 80 employees to 23. The company now has 25 employees and plans to hire.

“One silver lining of COVID is that companies, including Lighter, have realized that geography and working together in an office every day isn’t necessary to serve our customers,” Widner said. “As we grow our team, we will do so without being limited by location.”

Benson added that “we are thrilled that we have an experienced fintech executive to take Lighter Capital to its next stage of global growth.”

— Uber appointed Sukumar Rathnam as its new chief technology officer. Rathnam spent almost a decade at Amazon, most recently as a vice president, and previously was a general manager and partner software architect at Microsoft. He was an executive at PeopleSoft, which was acquired by Oracle in 2005.

Long-time Uber CTO Thuan Pham stepped down earlier this year shortly before the company cut 25% of its global workforce. Uber’s Seattle engineering center remains open.

— Amazon Web Services sales leader Ernesto Chavarin joined Bellevue, Wash.-based’s board of advisors. Chavarin previously spent more than 14 years at Microsoft, most recently as a director helping drive the company’s artificial intelligence go to market strategy.

Founded in 2014, is a natural language data platform to help admissions and human resources teams review applicants. The startup currently has 17 employees, according to LinkedIn.

Virl Hill. (Microsoft Photo)

— Media executive Virl Hill was named head of worldwide business development and strategy for Microsoft’s media and entertainment group. Hill most recently led business development and strategy for Microsoft News in North America and Asia. Prior to joining Microsoft in 2013, Hill was CEO of Blade Games World, a general manager at Rhapsody and spent more than a decade at RealNetworks.

Microsoft’s media and entertainment arm includes partnerships with NBCUniversal, the NBA, and Walt Disney Studios. The Redmond, Wash., tech giant also recently hired Hanno Basse, the former 20th Century Fox Film CTO, as Microsoft Azure CTO for media and entertainment.

David Rosenthal departed from startup investment firm Wave Capital earlier this year. He is now full-time angel investing and advising while continuing to work on Acquired, podcast he started with Pioneer Square Labs co-founder Ben Gilbert. Rosenthal is also currently advising Seattle startups Mystery and a secretive new company founded by former Facebook, Dropbox, Amazon and Convoy leaders.

Rosenthal spent more than six years as a principal at Madrona Venture Group in Seattle. He left in 2017 to launch San Francisco, Calif.-based Wave Capital with former Airbnb exec Riley Newman. He is currently based in San Francisco.

— Publicly-traded Seattle tech company RealNetworks appointed Brad Donaldson as vice president of computer vision and the newest member of its SAFR facial recognition technology leadership team. Donaldson was most recently a vice president of product development at cloud-enabled camera designer AV Costar.

Since launching SAFR in 2018, RealNetworks has continued to expand the technology’s applications from schools to public health, public safety and even celebrities via the recently-launched StarSearch browser extension.

— Seattle, Wash.-based biopharmaceutical company Neoleukin Therapeutics named Martin Babler to its board of directors. Babler is currently CEO of San Francisco, Calif.-based Principia Biopharma and the former president and CEO of Talima Therapeutics. 

A University of Washington spinout, Neoleukin Therapeutics was purchased by Vancouver, B.C.-based Aquinox Pharmaceuticals last year.

John Traynor. (TensorIoT Photo)

— John Traynor, a veteran of Microsoft, C-Labs and Bsquare, has joined Irvine, Calif.-based TensorIoT as vice president and general manager of products and solutions. He will be continue to be based in the Puget Sound region and lead the company’s new Redmond, Wash., office. TensorIoT is an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner that works on IoT, edge computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning projects.

“As an AWS partner, TensorIoT views the Seattle area as a strategic market and a source of considerable IoT and cloud talent,” said Traynor. “In the coming months we expect to add about 20 people to the product team based in Redmond.”

Traynor was most recently CEO of FreePoint Technologies, which offers technology solutions for the manufacturing industry. He was previously COO at Seattle IoT startup C-Labs, which was acquired in 2017, and SVP of products for industrial IoT provider Bsquare.

— New York-based SaaS startup NLX announced Rob Meyerson, former president of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, as an advisory board member. Meyerson departed Blue Origin in 2018 and is currently CEO of Delalune Space, a management consulting firm supporting the aerospace, mobility, technology and financial industries.

— Former Microsoft partner director Gagan Gulati joined New York, N.Y.-based Behavox as its first chief product officer. Behavox is a technology company that offers a platform for managing organizations’ internal data.

Gulati was most recently a partner director of product management for data protection and governance at Microsoft. He is also an angel investor and advisor with the Alliance of Angels network.

— Vancouver, B.C.-based spending management software Procurify named Bevan van der Berg as vice president of finance. van der Berg was most recently senior director of business performance and analysis at Hootsuite.

— The Bellevue Chamber announced nine new board members including Stephen Uy, head of public policy and community engagement at Facebook, and former Washington State Gov. Gary Locke, who was appointed interim president of Bellevue College earlier this year. The board also elected ARVR Academy CEO Michael Nassirian as its new chair.

The other new appointees are:

• Karen Doherty, SVP at design firm HDR

• Matt Samwick, operating manager at Innovation Realty Partners

• Elaina Herber, president of Ascend Hospitality Group

• Melissa DeVita, deputy superintendent of finance and operations for the Bellevue School District

• Kari Magill, CEO of Rowley Properties

• Ray Collum, CEO of EastHub

• Jessica Hagan, director of sales at KING 5

— Law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP named Lawrence Ward as head of its Seattle office. Ward has been with the firm for more than 13 years and replaces Jennifer Spaith.

— Seattle-based ABC Legal named Brandon Fuller as its new chief technology officer. Fuller is also founder and CEO of Docketly, which ABC Legal acquired in 2019. ABC Legal files and serves legal documents for clients through its software and process servers.

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