Management changes could be in the offing at the nation’s largest foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle.
At a recent press briefing in its offices on South Lake Union, foundation co-chair Bill Gates Sr. said he is beginning to think of retirement from the foundation’s activities. New top managers will soon be hired with the idea of training them to eventually take the reins, he said. And those replacements will not be named Gates: Senior reports that neither Bill nor Melinda plans to take on full-time duties at the foundation.
Besides hiring a person or two to relieve Bill Sr., the foundation expects to retain its lean-and-mean operational style. Right now, fewer than 35 people are involved in program activities at the foundation, not counting workers who are installing computers in libraries around the country.
The three basic areas of giving — global health, education and libraries — each have about 10 staffers, said foundation co-chair Patty Stonesifer said. An office for Pacific Northwest-focused giving gets along with two people.
Stonesifer said the three primary giving areas might grow to 12 or 14 people per department, but that’s about it. The foundation will continue to rely on experts “on the ground” around the world for help in identifying programs the foundation would like to assist.
The foundation is adding a few more people to answer the mail, which arrives in staggering volumes. The health program alone receives 300 requests a month, said program head Gordon Perkin.
Ironically, the growing avalanche of requests will meet with decreasing success in future. Stonesifer reported that the majority of the foundation’s giving at this point is proactive, as the Gateses crystallize their vision of how they want the foundation to spend its $1.1 billion a year in grants. Translation: they mostly think up their own giving ideas, or request specific proposals from agencies.
Stonesifer said the focus is on creating innovative programs, such as the recently announced initiative for low-cost housing in Seattle, that might be successfully copied by others.
Along those lines, expect more education-oriented grants to be announced this week, as children head back to school. Another focus of increased giving for the future: tackling AIDS in Africa.
DigiMine.com digging for some big bucks
DigiMine.com, the Kirkland-based data mining company, is expected to announce a second round of private financing this week. Founded last February by three former Microsoft executives, digiMine.com has collected at least $20 million in financing and will use the money to hire more workers and develop its software, sources say.
The company is the brainchild of Usama Fayyad, who created and led Microsoft Research’s Data Mining and Exploration Group before he leaving to form digiMine.
DigiMine.com is developing software that will help companies sift through huge volumes of information. The company plans to operate as a service that can cull data from company Web sites and provide detailed information for a fee. The company raised $5 million in venture capital in April.
Starbucks could go double tall at downtown location
Like engineers packing more and more circuits onto a semiconductor chip, the folks at Starbucks Coffee Co. keep shrinking the distance separating two Starbucks stores.
The coffee retailer is now looking at leasing a second location in Seattle’s Wells Fargo Building — just a one-floor escalator ride up from an existing location in the same building.
Would that set a new density record for Starbucks outlets? Not necessarily. Local Starbucks marketing manager Audrey Lincoff says downtown’s City Centre shopping development also has two stores, as well as an espresso cart. Elsewhere in downtown Seattle it’s generally not more than a couple blocks between the company’s espresso outlets, and in Vancouver, B.C., there’s a spot on trendy Robson Street where two Starbucks straddle the intersection on opposite corners.
Lincoff says each spot is apt to draw different customers, depending on the local geography.
She adds that an internal Starbucks video once poked fun at the closeness of some Starbucks outlets, describing the distance between them in terms of ventis — the height of the largest coffee drink served at its stores.
There’s definitely a “high level of interest” in the Wells Fargo space, although no deal is in hand, Lincoff says. Wells Fargo is shrinking its sprawling and mostly empty bank branch on the Third Avenue side of what was formerly known as the First Interstate Building, and blueprints on the wall show Starbucks taking part of the resulting space. In addition to the outlet downstairs, the company also has store another on the adjacent block to the north, and still another two blocks up the hill.
Art and the human genome
The impact of biotechnology will be considered from an unusual perspective in a project being organized by the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery.
The Seattle gallery is organizing a full-scale exploration of the Human Genome project for 2002. The Henry Art Gallery and several collaborating partners will bring together artists, scientists, biotechnology industry members, ethicists and historians to examine how genetic research findings affect our understanding of human life and identity.
The exhibit is expected to tour nationally.