The Eastside’s business community is creative, vital, and well-established. But which individuals and companies are doing the most to create such a vibrant economic environment?
425 Business set out to answer that question by creating the IDEA Awards, which honor and recognize the Eastside business community’s Innovation, Distinction, Excellence, and Achievement. What follows are two dozen notable individuals and businesses that are creating the biggest impact on the Eastside’s dynamic business scene.
The winners of the 2017 IDEA Awards were selected by a panel of judges consisting of members of our editorial team and our advisory board, which is made up of several Eastside business leaders across various sectors, including finance, government, hospitality, marketing, real estate, tech, and more. Nominations were gathered via online submissions and collected from March through June.
Nominations for the 2018 IDEA Awards will be open online at 425business.com in the spring of 2018.
IDEA: Standout Startup
With the Puget Sound region’s competitive real estate market, where inventory is low and prices are high, the prospect of home ownership may seem like a pipe dream to many. Some buyers are turning to friends and family members to pool their resources, and CoBuy is here to help ease the process of jointly buying a home.
Founded in Bellevue last year (CoBuy has since relocated its office to Seattle) by mother-and-son team Pamela Hughes and Matthew Holmes, CoBuy aims to remove the guesswork out of jointly purchasing a home, and does so in a few ways.
By guiding buyers through the process, from assessing the viability of a partnership and answering questions, to matching buyers with high-quality lenders, brokers, accountants, and lawyers, CoBuy is a one-stop resource for any group of people interested in jointly purchasing a home. “For unmarried couples, family members, friends, and colleagues who want to buy and own a property together, CoBuy’s platform and network of vetted professionals are here to help ensure a smooth and protected experience for the life of your co-ownership,” Holmes said.
In addition to providing guidance and resources, CoBuy also helps buyers generate a joint ownership agreement reflecting their co-ownership arrangement, including options for exiting the agreement later down the road.
“Everybody needs somewhere to live, and our goal is to give people added flexibility when it comes to the traditional ‘rent versus buy’ decision,” Hughes said. “Co-ownership, which involves two or more adults pooling resources to purchase a home, can be an attractive third option. We make it easier for folks to buy a home with friends, family, or a loved one, and to do it intelligently.” — Margo Greenman
Finalist: RBC Signals
The demand for businesses to beam real-time data from orbiting satellites to antenna-mounted ground stations on Earth has risen alongside explosive technological growth.
RBC Signals, a Redmond company co-founded by Christopher Richins in 2015, has recognized this, landing partnership deals with the owners of nearly three dozen ground stations that stretch from Hawaii in the west to Russia and China in the east.
“We have been compared to the ‘Airbnb of the space industry,’” said Richins. “Our model is similar to that of Amazon Web Services — we have excess capacity in our network in terms of ground station availability time, which we in turn provide to our customers when they need it. This allows satellite operators to rethink what is possible for their company in space.”
Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars to build their own ground stations, satellite operators can log on to the RBC Signals platform to see which stations are available in the network, then schedule a time to retrieve information from their satellite to their servers via the selected ground station. RBC Signals charges its customers only for the service used, and pays the ground station owner for allowing the customer to briefly tap into its equipment.
The sharing economy has only recently been introduced to the space industry, according to Richins, and it is transforming the way communications are managed.
“We love helping companies revolutionize life on Earth using the insights and data from space, and do it in a way that is simple and cost-effective,” Richins said. — Todd Matthews
In recent years, many large tech companies have raised the bar when it comes to workplace perks, such as in-house cafeterias, but small- and mid-size companies don’t necessarily have the budgets (or space) to offer their employees these kind of amenities. That’s a conundrum Sandeep Phadke and Minda Brusse set out to solve three years ago when they launched Bellevue-based Airlift.
“There are so many companies that are too small for a cafe, but employees are increasingly expecting more food in the workforce,” Brusse said. “They care about what food is available, and they expect their employer to solve the problem.”
Thanks to Airlift, companies are able to provide affordable and convenient fresh-meal options to their employees. Through partnerships with local vendors, Airlift lets companies customize what type of food options they want to offer in the workplace, then — after determining what kind of configuration an office needs — Airlift brings in a kiosk and an iPad loaded with Airlift’s user-friendly technology, allowing employees to easily select what they’d like to have for lunch before checking themselves out.
The concept has been a popular one, as made evident by the growing number of Airlift kiosks sprouting up in offices across the area, and the benefits to the employees are many.
“Good food in the workplace makes sense because it takes a worry away,” Brusse added. “This frees you up to go out to lunch when you want, (or) maybe it’s spending five extra minutes at home with your kid instead of making lunch.” — MG
IDEA: Best Office Space
You can’t blame Google employees for spending too much time at the Kirkland office working on Maps, Chrome, Android, or any of the other many products the company produces.
That’s because the list of perks for the 1,000-plus tech industry workers who occupy the campus’ four buildings and 375,000 square feet is long and inviting, with a climbing wall, dog park, indoor/outdoor exercise areas, nap cave, human-size nest, and Zen garden meant to blend productivity with relaxation.
A DIY coffee bar offers a rotating selection of Northwest-roasted beans and various brewing methods. And if the caffeine doesn’t pick you up, the trail-mix bar will give you an energy boost, as well.
Google opened its newest building on campus last year, with features including solar panels, a living wall, and an HVAC system that makes office air cleaner than the air outside.
But you don’t have to be a Google employee to enjoy the campus. The Cross Kirkland Corridor runs through the heart of it, local artists are invited to display their work on Google’s walls, and Google built a multi-use sports field for neighboring Lakeview Elementary. — TM
Work hard, play hard — that’s BitTitan’s motto. The Kirkland company, a leader in business process automation for IT service providers, has an office built for fun. Employees can kick back inside a 2,500-square-foot social hall that also serves as a game room, café, and event space. On breaks, teams battle each other at foosball and pool. A row of cereal dispensers hangs on the wall — the company goes through more than 1,000 gallons of milk a year. Also, employees have unlimited vacation days.
The design is all part of an effort to keep productivity and morale high. “Our office environment promotes these values by encouraging engagement and a sense of acceptance and individuality,” said director of marketing Jessica Raymond. BitTitan has an open floorplan to encourage camaraderie and mutual respect. CEO Geeman Yip doesn’t even have his own office.
“Since founding BitTitan, Geeman has prioritized maintaining a workplace reminiscent of his dot.com days at Microsoft — a workplace that supports both hard work and fun,” Raymond said.
The company, which launched in 2007 and now has about 215 employees (and growing; it plans to add 50-75 more by the end of 2018), has relocated its headquarters to the One Twelfth @ Twelfth building in Bellevue. It’s rumored that the new office is even more employee-focused. — Lauren Foster
Finalist: Wizards of the Coast
It’s hardly a surprise that the creators of fantasy games like Magic: The Gathering would have a really cool — albeit totally geeky — office. As guests enter Renton-based Wizards of the Coast, they are immediately greeted by a towering figure known as Mitzy the Shivan dragon and many other large and small statues, figures, and artwork from its pantheon of mythical characters.
The Wizards office has come a long way since its humble beginnings in creator Peter Adkison’s basement in 1990. Since then, Magic: The Gathering has become part of the global Hasbro family of games, leading Wizards of the Coast to grow to more than 500 employees and expand in 2005 to its current 110,000-square-foot location.
The space designed by JPC Architects and built by Foushee & Associates includes an artfully decorated lobby, full employee gym, and fantasy stylized conference rooms. Additionally, Wizards’ games are stockpiled in droves for on-the-clock game play or mentorship with the many Big Brothers Big Sisters program members that frequent the office. — Joanna Kresge
IDEA: CEO of the Year
Winner: Nick Huzar, OfferUp
Nick Huzar, CEO and co-founder of Bellevue-based OfferUp, had trouble picking just one instance that made him the proudest, but one that will always stand out was pitching OfferUp to the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Huzar said he’s looked up to the firm partners as authorities on marketplaces since he was in college.
“After we made our OfferUp pitch, Marc Andreessen, cofounder of the firm, came over, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you guys for 15 years.’” Huzar recalled. “That validation for our vision and our approach couldn’t have come from a source I respected more.”
The simple peer-to-peer mobile commerce app disrupted the market for buying and selling belongings when it launched nearly seven years ago. According to Huzar, as the company has grown, one of the most important lessons he learned was hiring the right people; finding the best employees for the company is the result of being a picky employer. But having the right employees makes one of his biggest challenges — “letting things go” and delegating more — a bit easier.
In his down time, Huzar is focused on supporting the community, including the Seattle Police Department’s Beds for Kids program.
“I’ve gotten out there to deliver beds the last couple years, and the smiles on those kids’ faces reminds me what we’re all about at OfferUp: building trust and helping people get more of what they need right where they are,” he said. — Shelby Rowe Moyer
Finalist: Kimberly Harris, Puget Sound Energy
The combination of engineering and physics drew Puget Sound Energy president and CEO Kimberly Harris even further into the electrical industry after serving as outside counsel for a local electric company upon graduating from law school.
“I was hooked immediately,” she said. “I was captivated by the dedication of the individuals in the field.”
You could say Harris is deeply passionate about her career — the safety of PSE’s employees and customers keeps her up at night — and she’s incredibly proud of the gas and electric servicepeople who are first responders to emergencies. She’s also fond of two new programs, Green Direct and Solar Choice, which will help customers lower their carbon footprints. “There are many moments where I’m extremely proud of my team at PSE,” she said.
Harris said she’s certainly grown as a professional during her 18 years with the company. Some of the best lessons she’s learned are to “never stop stretching,” “surround yourself with great people,” and “celebrate success.”
In January, Harris will chair the American Gas Association, as the organization treks into its 100th anniversary and hosts the World Gas Conference. She just wrapped up a year serving as the chair of the 2017-2018 United Way of King County campaign and said, “It was an incredible opportunity to connect with so many in our community.” — SRM
Finalist: W. Craig Jelinek, Costco
Issaquah-based Costco is the world’s second-largest retailer, and the man leading the charge is 65-year-old W. Craig Jelinek — the company’s president, CEO, and director.
Jelinek was a manager at Fed-Mart and Gemco before he joined Costco in 1984. He spent decades in senior management positions within the company before he was appointed to the top position in 2010.
“If you keep the consumer and your employees and do the right thing, things have a way of working out for you,” Jelinek once told The Motley Fool, a leading online source for financial information. “You build trust with your employees, you build trust with your consumer — which is really just common sense and good business — but I think that’s probably what we learned the most. Just always do the right thing.”
Last year, Costco marked its 40th year in business, and posted sales that topped $116 billion — all while earning a reputation for offering its employees better wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities than other retail giants.
“Costco is able to offer lower prices and better values by eliminating virtually all the frills and costs historically associated with conventional wholesalers and retailers, including salespeople, fancy buildings, delivery, billing, and accounts receivable,” said Jelinek in a statement on the company’s Investor Relations website. “We run a tight operation with extremely low overhead, which enables us to pass on dramatic savings to our members.” — SRM
IDEA: Entrepreneur of the Year
Winner: Rajeev Dutt, DimensionalMechanics
With a background in science and mathematical physics, Rajeev Dutt always has had an interest in artificial intelligence. His desire to see AI integrated as a part of everyday life is what led him to co-found DimensionalMechanics, a Bellevue company that aims to make AI more accessible in the business sector.
Since launching in 2015, DimensionalMechanics has rolled out a variety of products, including off-the-shelf AI solutions that help media companies with everything from photo ranking to headline writing, as well as the company’s most recent product, NeoPulse AI Studio, which allows businesses to quickly and easily create custom AI solutions.
“It’s exciting that companies with all levels of expertise can now harness the power of AI to answer critical questions with one-click installation,” Dutt said of the platform.
Like most entrepreneurs, Dutt’s road to success has had its bumps. He said his biggest struggle is finding a healthy work/life balance. But he’s also learned a lot from that experience, and shares this piece of advice: “Don’t build battleships. If you undertake a massive project with no fixed end, you are setting yourself up for failure.” — MG
Finalist: Jonny Netz, Zadart Exotic Car Rentals
Opening a bootstrap business is far from easy. Such entrepreneurs are busy creating a business plan, gaining capital, searching for talent, building a client base, and bringing the product to the customer. Imagine doing all that while trying to be on time for a quiz in trigonometry. This was a reality for the founder and CEO of Zadart Exotic Car Club & Rentals, Jonny Netz, who was just 18 years old when he launched his business in 2015.
Now a sophomore at Santa Clara University majoring in marketing and psychology, Netz looks back at those first months of business and remembers how hard it was to get potential investors and customers to take him seriously.
“I tried setting up numerous deals with local businesses, hiring staff, and even closing rentals with older folks, but I would occasionally get laughed at,” he said. “It has taken two years and a strong local reputation for people to look at me and my company as professional.”
With a team of trustworthy employees to run the day-to-day business in his stead while he’s at school, and a fleet of more than 20 drool-worthy exotic cars, everyone is taking this wunderkind seriously. — JK
Finalist: Sunny Singh, Edifecs
In 1996, Sunny Singh was trying to find solutions for the “time-consuming” and “wasteful” problem of paperwork that bogged businesses down. The creation of Edifecs, a Bellevue-based data exchange and management company, was born out of the solution to digitalize and streamline information.
Edifecs has partnered with more than 500 companies internationally, including 350 healthcare customers, using the technology to keep costs down, improve healthcare delivery, and meet regulations.
The early days were a struggle, Singh said. He launched Edifecs with personal loans and some uncertainty as to how the business would fare. At times, when the company couldn’t make payroll, Singh saw the true loyalty of his employees. He said he’s proudest to see his idea come to life, and how it works with the healthcare industry. The work his team does, as well as the company’s investments and initiatives, is changing lives for the better, he said.
Singh’s most important lesson learned? “The role of a leader is to enable people to do more than they thought they were capable of, and to help them achieve more than they thought possible,” he said.
Singh also founded the nonprofit SabTera in 2013, which launched a pilot project in India with an education program for underprivileged children. And in alignment with his business ventures, Singh is committed to furthering the health industry with the creation of RoundGlass. The firm collaborates with healthcare and technology professionals to support startups and their ideas, and enables partnerships. — SRM
IDEA: Most Innovative
At the Bellevue-based office of video-gaming company Valve, there are no managers, no hierarchy, no micromanagement. Instead, each member of the staff is free to choose any project he wants to work on without answering to anyone above him with the obvious exception of the company CEO, Gabe Newell.
While some may think this is a recipe for disaster, others consider this management technique extremely innovative, and Valve’s innovation doesn’t stop there. The company has developed many groundbreaking games — such as Counter-Strike, Portal, Day of Defeat, Left 4 Dead, Dota 2, and Half-Life — and it has cemented a relationship with HTC to develop the HTC Vive, a virtual-reality headset that debuted ahead of its competitors in the VR market.
Moreover, Valve developed Steam in 2002. Steam is a computer-based video-gaming store and platform — think PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo consoles, but without the actual console. Through Steam, more than 35 million users in 237 countries, speaking more than 20 languages, have access to more than 1,800 video-game titles. Games are not just limited to Valve’s own titles; rather, many contemporary console games and games from independent studios are available for purchase and play through the service. — JK
Imagine being able to manage your chronic health condition with a video game. That’s the idea that blossomed into Litesprite — a Bellevue-based company that currently uses evidence-based treatment methods to guide players suffering with depression, anxiety, and stress toward healthier futures.
Litesprite’s first game, Sinasprite, stars a bushy-tailed, bright-eyed fox named Socks who dreams of becoming a Zen Master. Users share their problems with him, just like they would a therapist, and Socks helps them journal, practice rhythmic breathing, and meditate. The more the user plays, the closer Socks gets to his goal of becoming a Zen Master.
Sinasprite collects data on its users as they progress and reports it back to clinicians, making it what Litesprite believes is the only video game being used in clinics today. And with data sharing, medical staff can check in on patients outside of the clinic.
The response to Litesprite has been profound. It is the first video game to win a U.S. Surgeon General Award. It’s also been recognized by the U.S. Army, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Livestrong Foundation. But perhaps even more impressive — its effect on users.
“The response has been very strong, particularly with the Medicaid population, which is a very difficult-to-motivate population,” said founder and CEO Swatee Surve. “We’ve had patients where, three weeks after using (Sinasprite), they say it’s life-changing and their inspiration every morning. They feel better using it.” — LF
Noah Soltes is a businessman who’s made a career out of coming up with good ideas and capitalizing on them. But he’s more than an entrepreneur — he’s an innovator. This was made evident last year when he launched his latest company, Paincakes — a first-of-its-kind cold pack that adheres to skin using patented technology, no straps necessary.
The idea for Paincakes came to Soltes shortly after his own cold pack mishap. While icing an injured bicep, Soltes lost hold of the cold pack he was using and dropped it on his foot, breaking one of his toes. After the incident, he thought to himself there had to be a better way. Not more than a few weeks after the incident, Soltes had started on the first prototype of what would become Paincakes.
Manufactured in Renton, Soltes said Paincakes is the only cold pack of its kind available on the market. “As a patented product, there are no direct competitors for this technology. As a result, retailers can finally add a unique SKU to a category that truly solves a problem,” he said.
Launching a product like Paincakes requires a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears, something that in Stolte’s case is both figurative and literal. But for the Paincakes founder, each challenge is just another part of the process.
“After you’ve innovated, the journey begins.” — MG
IDEA: Best Marketing Campaign
Winner: The Bellevue Collection’s Snowflake Lane
Every year from late November to Christmas Eve, Bellevue Way is transformed into the most magical street in the city. Snowflake Lane’s nightly evening performance features toy soldier drummers, live music, enchanting performers, and a never-ending snowfall illuminated by glittering lights. Envisioned by Kemper Freeman 14 years ago, this extravagant and heartwarming community event has grown into one of the Northwest’s most memorable holiday celebrations.
The founder and CEO of Kemper Development Company, Freeman paired his business’ marketing department with Greg Thompson Productions and Displaymakers to create Snowflake Lane. Today, a large in-house marketing team drives the annual celebration’s marketing strategy, but the real success comes from the support provided by many team partnerships and passionate team members, all of whom work hard to create this one-of-a-kind experience.
Though nominated for its marketing campaign, Kemper Development Company emphasizes that this event is about community-building rather than money-making. The ability to bring magic to multiple generations of people from all around the Northwest is what Snowflake Lane aims to do, and with all of the dedication that goes into creating and marketing the event, it is successful in doing so year after year. — Zoe C. Branch
Finalist: Bellevue Club “Day Versus Night” Ad
The Bellevue Club, which seamlessly merges athletic facilities with social opportunities, is a unique space where members can thrive, relax, and connect. Its recent advertisingcampaign, which featured a variety of community members, was generated and selected by the company’s communications team.
Advertisements for the campaign show members of all ages and backgrounds performing one role by day — supermom, student, negotiator, trendsetter — and another by night — yogi, all-star, master swimmer, tennis pro. Two photographers were brought on board to bring the concept to life with original and eye-catching images.
This marketing campaign’s success can be measured in the Bellevue Club’s steady increase in membership and community awareness since the ad’s launch in 2016. These benefits can in large part be attributed to the ad’s ability to creatively showcase the wide variety of social and athletic programs offered by the club through visually appealing images. Equally important to the campaign’s success was the relatability and familiarity of the featured community members, whose presence in the ads made it easier for viewers to imagine themselves and their families as a part of the club. — ZCB
Finalist: Heritage Bank “What’s Your Heritage” Campaign
Heritage Bank’s “What’s Your Heritage” marketing campaign focused on celebrating the diverse experiences of the bank’s customers and employees in order to illustrate how differences are the foundation of a strong and reliable bank. The marketing strategy, which highlighted the positions and hobbies of community members affiliated with the bank, reinforced the company’s belief that “By working together, we’re more than a community bank; we’re a community of banks.”
Advertisements, which included print ads, TV commercials, Pandora radio spots, and digital ads, were successful both in rallying current employees around a central objective of togetherness and in attracting new employees and customers with similar values.
Developed with the help of Hydrogen Advertising, a marketing firm based in Seattle, Heritage Bank’s campaign offered a unique opportunity to showcase the diversity of the company’s employees and customers. Heritage Bank credits the campaign’s success to the fact that it was an authentic celebration of real people who came together to represent the bank’s values, and in doing so helped to strengthen a genuine sense of community. — ZCB
IDEA: Legacy Business of the Year
Winner: Lil’ Jon Restaurant
Lil’ Jon Restaurant’s legacy was built on delicious comfort food. For a half-century, hungry crowds have stopped at this Eastgate diner to pile into vinyl booths or perch themselves at a long counter to pore over laminated menus and savor family brunches of pancakes, French toast, and omelets on the weekends; a BLT with fries during a work-week lunch break; or a plate crowded with pot roast, mashed potatoes, and vegetables for dinner.
“The (restaurant) industry seems to always be searching for the newest, most innovative ways to serve and prepare food,” said Jay Sjolander, who co-owns the business with his wife, Gina. “But our goal is to be consistent, maintain originality, and build relationships with customers and staff.”
Chain restaurants can dress themselves in the cloak of a neighborhood diner, but Lil’ Jon is the real deal and has been a family business since Jay’s uncle, Jon, founded it in 1967. Jay began busing tables there in 1977, at age 15. Gina joined him at the diner when she married Jay in 1987, and the couple took ownership of Lil’ Jon in 1992. Their three children — Parker, Connor, and Danielle — have worked at the diner, too, with Parker, 27, poised to take over the family business when Jay and Gina retire.
The food-service industry may be notorious for its low wages and high turnover, but that isn’t the case at Lil’ Jon, where more than half of its staff of 47 employees have worked for a decade or more.
A fire in 2013 nearly destroyed the business, but the Sjolanders rebuilt — and business is stronger than ever.
“The sense of community is what is the most important to our family,” said Jay. “We are a family of loyal customers, dedicated and hardworking staff that take ownership in their work, and a third generation to carry on!” — TM
Finalist: Kemper Development Company
What would downtown Bellevue look like without the Freeman family?
The Bellevue Collection — a roughly 54-acre expanse of inviting retail, restaurant, hotel, residential, and office spaces located in the heart of downtown Bellevue and owned by Kemper Development Company, can trace its early history back more than 70 years to a former strawberry field. That’s where Kemper Freeman Sr. and his father, Miller, opened the Bellevue Shopping Square, a place that today seems like a comparatively quaint collection of 20 stores that served the Eastside’s then-sparse population of 25,000 residents.
Today, Kemper Development’s downtown footprint has grown into The Bellevue Collection (Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place, and Lincoln Square) — well over one-million square feet of retail, dining, hotel, entertainment, and office space.
Today, 76-year-old Kemper Freeman Jr., chairman and CEO of Kemper Development Company, is the third generation of Freemans to lead the family business. — TM
The trucking company that would eventually be called PACCAR initially hit the road in 1905. Founded by Seattleite William Pigott Sr., the company originally was called Seattle Car Mfg. Co. and was created to make railway and logging equipment until Pigott merged with Portland-based Twohy Brothers to become the Pacific Car and Foundry Company, which was later shorted to its current moniker, PACCAR.
Today, the trucking giant is based in Bellevue with a plant in Renton, and it is at the forefront of design, production, and distribution of light-, medium-, and heavy-duty truck parts for Kenworth, Peterbilt, and DAF trucks. Moreover, with the exception of a brief 10-year gap — which began when Pigott sold control of the company in 1924 and his son, Paul, acquired major interest in the company in 1934 — and another gap in the 1960s, PACCAR has just kept on trucking under family leadership.
When current CEO Ronald Armstrong was named in 2011, it marked the first time that a member of the founder’s family wasn’t in the driver’s seat since the 1960s. However, family descendant and former CEO Mark Pigott still serves on PACCAR’s board as the executive chairman, and his younger brother John also maintains a seat, keeping the legacy alive. — JK
IDEA: Most Philanthropic
Microsoft’s business innovations have, of course, shifted the way people live and work today. But the Redmond-based company has altered the globe in another way, too: by giving back. Even if you put aside the fact that its founder, Bill Gates, now spends his time giving away his fortune, Microsoft continues to shine as a company dedicated to those in need.
Recent projects include Microsoft Philanthropies donating more than $1.2 billion in cloud services to more than 90,000 nonprofits and university researchers; delivering connectivity to remote schools, health clinics, and community centers in 11 countries; and helping bring computer science education to 348 U.S. high schools. It also provided more than $30 million in technology and cash donations to organizations serving refugees and displaced people. For example, Microsoft partnered with Mercy Corps to bring psychosocial programs, including art therapy and digital skills training, to 10,000 refugee youth in Greece and Turkey.
The company also is committed to having an impact at home in Washington. Its employee volunteer program is one of the largest anywhere. In 2016, Microsoft employees donated $72 million (including Microsoft’s match) to 4,120 Washington state nonprofits.
“It’s our privilege to support a number of nonprofits in the Seattle region, and on the Eastside, that focus on education, the arts, and on our region’s quality of life,” said Mary Snapp, corporate vice president of Microsoft Philanthropies. She added that Microsoft Philanthropies has provided cash and technology to organizations on the Eastside such as Youth Eastside Services, Village Theatre, Kirkland Performance Center, YMCA, and YWCA. — LF
It’s not easy to sum up Concur’s philanthropic effort because it’s so vast. The business travel-management company has more than 7,000 employees across the globe — from Mexico to Japan — who are given 32 hours of paid volunteer time annually. How they choose to give back is up to them, as long as the organization is a legally recognized charity.
“We know that by empowering employees to use these hours for volunteer work, not only are they serving their communities’ needs in general, but they also are developing themselves as leaders,” the company said in a statement to 425 Business last year.
Concur also has proved itself as a huge advocate of STEM education. In 2015, it started a five-year project with Bellevue Schools Foundation to bring STEM programs to 17 public schools. Concur also sponsored STEM teaching labs in remote villages in India.
“Think Global, Act Local” was a focal point at this year’s Fusion conference (the company’s annual client conference) in Chicago. The company partnered with Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Cares to improve school facilities for local kids. Plus, with the environment top of mind, all Fusion events are run on 100 percent renewable energy.
Last April, Gov. Jay Inslee honored Concur with the 2017 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award for its employee-based programs that partner with United Way to help improve the area’s homeless problems and supports students, and families in need. — LF
Finalist: MOD Pizza
MOD Pizza isn’t your typical chain restaurant. Founded in 2008 by husband-and-wife team Scott and Ally Svenson, the Bellevue-based company always has put people first and profit second. “We like to say MOD is a business with the heart of a nonprofit,” Ally Svenson said.
Since the company’s founding, MOD Pizza has donated more than $1 million to charitable causes in the communities where it operates. “This year alone, we have donated to 70+ charities across the U.S.,” Svenson said. “Additionally, throughout the year, each of our over 260 stores gives back in their communities through fundraisers, donations, and volunteer opportunities, which has resulted in more than 1,000 of these events so far this year.”
However, the company’s annual Spreading MODness Week, Svenson said, is its biggest philanthropic success. During Thanksgiving week, which also is MOD’s birthday week, MOD donates $1 from every pizza sold to support its communities. “By partnering with so many impactful charities at the local level, our MOD Squads (employees) feel their impact — every pizza they make is making a difference,” Svenson said.
In addition to giving back to the community, MOD, which provides jobs for more than 5,500 employees, also prides itself in providing employment opportunities to often-overlooked individuals, such as disengaged youth, people with disabilities, and the formerly incarcerated, Svenson said.
“We believe that by offering stable jobs and benefits to these populations, we are helping to stabilize our communities,” Svenson said. As a rapidly growing company, we can provide opportunities for growth and development.”
By putting people at the heart of MOD’s mission, Svenson said the company has taken a nontraditional approach to its success. “We want to engage and inspire as many people as possible, proving that together we can build a wildly successful business by putting people first.” — MG