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These high school students spent their summer analysing the GeekWire 200. Here's what they discovered.

Clockwise from top left: Ben Epstein, Kevin Do, Dr. Sandeep Krishnamurthy, Raksha Zunnuru and Sonali Vaid.A summer of spreadsheets, researching..

title Clockwise from top left: Ben Epstein, Kevin Do, Dr. Sandeep Krishnamurthy, Raksha Zunnuru and Sonali Vaid.

A summer of spreadsheets, researching startups and wrangling data might not sound like “school’s out,” but that’s exactly what four high school students experienced over the past few months analyzing the GeekWire 200, a ranked index of Pacific Northwest startups which GeekWire has maintained since 2012.

The students were paired with UW Bothell School of Business Dean Sandeep Krishnamurthy through SparkSIP, a Seattle-area nonprofit whose mission is to connect high school students with internship opportunities at businesses, educational institutions and with industry experts.

Sonali Vaid wanted to gain insights to expand her LLC and fulfill her entrepreneurial goals. Kevin Do, a resident of California, was interested in exploring the startup ecosystem in a different region. Raksha Zunnuru wanted to work with a group that brought different perspectives to a business-related project. And Ben Epstein was ready to apply his interest in data science to discover what factors contribute to a successful business.

The group met weekly over Zoom and conducted a study of top startups in the Pacific Northwest using the April update of the GeekWire 200 rankings, as well as past years’ lists and other publicly available data.

Why did Krishnamurthy select this project for his interns?

“High school students come to data analysis and research with fresh eyes,” he said. “They are able to provide original insights and take things in a different direction.”

Derived from our broader list of more than 1,300 tech startups headquartered in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and British Columbia, the GeekWire 200 rankings are generated using a weighted algorithm that accounts for social media followings, approximate employee counts (via LinkedIn) and inbound web links.

The GeekWire 200 aims to showcase the region’s startup ecosystem and helps identify the companies that are growing quickly.

Here are some takeaways on the GeekWire 200 from Krishnamurthy’s group:

Low level of gender diversity

The study found:

  • Only seven out of the top 200 startups (or 3.5%) were founded entirely by women.
  • Of these seven startups, one was ranked in the top 50, two were ranked between 50-to-100 and four were in the bottom half of the list.
  • 28 startups (or 14%) had founding teams had at least one woman. 172 of the top 200 (or 86%) startups include no women leaders.

This data surprised all of the students, who had previously estimated 30% of startups on the list were founded by women.

“As a female aiming to enter the startup environment in the future, I was hoping I’d find a higher representation of female CEOs and founders in the industry,” said Zunnuru.

“This statistic was disappointing to see,” added Vaid. “I sincerely hope the PNW innovation ecosystem will improve its gender diversity in the coming years.”

PitchBook recently reported that all female founding teams raised less than 2% of all venture capital dollars during the first half of 2021. Companies with at least one female founder accounted for 16%.

Vast majority of founders well educated

The study found:

  • 388 out of the 429 founders have undergraduate degrees — approximately 90%.
  • 42% of the founders had graduate degrees, including 15% of founders with MBAs.
  • There was no clear correlation between education level and startup rank.

These findings changed Do’s perspective: “I initially believed that the founders of the startups at the top of the top 200 list were more educated than those at the bottom,” he said.

“As an educator, I was also impressed with the education level of the startup leaders,” Krishnamurthy noted. “The narrative about the college dropout starting a company are largely overblown and cover outlier narratives. Most startups are led by well-educated people.”

Higher ranked startups have higher investment amounts

The study found:

  • Among the top 25 ranked startups in the dataset, the mean funding amount was approximately $272 million.
  • Startups ranked 26-to-50 had a mean funding amount of approximately $95 million.
  • Going down the rankings in groups of 25, the mean funding continued to decline. Mean funding for companies ranked 176-to-200 was approximately $24 million.

This finding aligns with how employee count affects GeekWire 200 rankings, and companies that raise venture capital often grow their workforce.

The “staggering” funding amounts at the top of the list left a significant impression on the students.

“These findings have helped me realize that venture funding is highly accessible for startups in this region and I now feel more confident to pursue my goal of entrepreneurship in the PNW,” said Vaid.

Epstein also noted the impact of venture capital saying, “seeing the prominence of technology companies and the importance of funding especially shaped my view about what type of organizations are at the forefront of the ecosystem.”

Future startup founders?

The students who participated in the study came into the project with an interest in business and innovation. Now, after digging into the data, we asked each of them how this experience shaped their perception of the Pacific Northwest innovation system and their goals going forward.

Vaid: “I was under the impression that most of the innovation from startups happened in Silicon Valley while the PNW only had big multinational companies, such as Amazon and Microsoft. However, after analyzing the GeekWire 200 list, I learned that we have a robust startup ecosystem in the PNW that covers a diverse range of sectors and has delivered breakthrough innovations.”

Do: “Participating in this research has shown me that the PNW entrepreneurial ecosystem is very robust, healthy, and diverse. In the future, I hope to establish a successful startup company of my own and contribute to the innovation ecosystem of where I live.”

Zunnuru: “This experience introduced me to the other rapidly growing sectors in the PNW innovation ecosystem such as technology and aerospace and has significantly changed my goals.”

Epstein: “This project has only increased my desire to get involved in a field involving either data science or business as it has allowed me to acquire new knowledge and see my work make a difference.

See the group’s full report, methodology and additional takeaways below.

GeekWire 200: A Study of th… by GeekWire


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By: Cara Kuhlman
Title: These high schoolers spent their summer analyzing the GeekWire 200 — here’s what they found
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Published Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2021 14:30:17 +0000

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