Ciara at the GeekWire Summit: Entertainer and entrepreneur on music, business and having impact

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Ciara at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle on Tuesday. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

In talking about the decision to “Level Up,” both in moving outside of her comfort zone and in striking out to self-release a single by that name, Ciara said sometimes “you have to take a risk, you’ve got to do things that are uncomfortable.”

The Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, entertainer and entrepreneur looked anything but uncomfortable this week during an appearance at the GeekWire Summit where she shared some of her experiences and insights around creating music, businesses and more — some on her own and some alongside her husband, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

At times, in front of a tech and innovation-focused audience, she sounded like a startup founder plucked from their ranks.

“You’ve got to appreciate the failures in life because they build your integrity, they give you wisdom,” Ciara said. “I wouldn’t have known how to run a company if I hadn’t failed.”

As someone who has clearly harnessed the “why not you” attitude — a mantra and charitable foundation in her and her husband’s life — Ciara has sold over 23 million records and 22 million singles worldwide. She’s the founder and CEO of Beauty Marks Entertainment, a company at the vanguard of the fast-changing music industry which is positioned to tap into her passions in film, fashion, philanthropy, and technology. She also sits on the board of Seattle startup Amperity, heading up corporate social responsibility efforts and serving as an advocate and advisor on Amperity’s community initiatives.

“All it takes is one person to believe in your dream and that one person is you,” Ciara said. “The moment you believe is when opportunity begins.”

Keep reading for more quotable moments from Ciara’s appearance:

Ciara during a conversation with GeekWire Managing Editor Taylor Soper at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)
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Seattle startup is Val Kilmer’s ‘Top Gun’ wingman as it helps maneuver an interactive screening of film

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Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise in the 1986 film “Top Gun.” (SparkRise Image)

A startup with a strong Seattle presence is serving as actor Val Kilmer’s wingman for an interactive, streaming celebration of the hit movie “Top Gun” on Saturday.

SparkRise, the startup that acquired and merged with Seattle-based Flaggpole, Inc. in 2020, is a tech company that creates campaigns for social good by bringing together causes, celebrities and brands for a mix of influencer and cause marketing plus advertising. Ryan Myers is the CEO of SparkRise, which has developer, legal and marketing teams in Seattle and talent, PR and production teams in Los Angeles. He previously led Flaggpole for nine years.

Kilmer starred as Iceman alongside Tom Cruise’s Maverick in the 1986 film about Navy fighter pilots. The longtime actor, who also starred in such films as “The Doors,” “Tombstone” and “Heat,” is a SparkRise board member and investor. And he’s the subject of a new documentary called “Val” which is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Saturday’s event starts at 5 p.m. PT and is billed as a potluck movie night and celebration of “Top Gun.” SparkRise is teaming with Beem, a virtual event hosting platform, to stream a party and interactive screening of the movie from Kilmer’s HelMel Studio in Los Angeles. The night will feature notable celebrities, live music, military guests, and more. Kilmer, who is a throat cancer survivor, will participate in a virtual chat with other panelists.

The potluck event is free and the cost to attend the watch party is $8.95. Donations during the event will benefit the USO and Kilmer’s TwainMania Foundation.

SparkRise works by leveraging its relationships with celebrities and non-profits. Brands that sponsor events on a cost-per-click basis might rely on call-to-action methods for participants such as downloading a coupon or watching a 15-second promo video.

“We wanted to dramatically reshape the landscape of advertising,” Myers said, adding that the event is a “massive test” of its technology.

According to SparkRise, 13 military bases and USO centers will be live streaming the event as well as several restaurants and schools. Some pre-recorded content will be streamed, including a fighter pilot “dogfight.” Exclusive non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are also being created.

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Seattle startup is acting as Val Kilmer’s wingman for interactive screening of ‘Top Gun’ to benefit charity

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Read Time:1 Minute, 55 Second
Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise in the 1986 film “Top Gun.” (SparkRise Image)

A startup with a strong Seattle presence is serving as actor Val Kilmer’s wingman for an interactive, streaming celebration of the hit movie “Top Gun” on Saturday.

SparkRise, the startup that acquired and merged with Seattle-based Flaggpole, Inc. in 2020, is a tech company that creates campaigns for social good by bringing together causes, celebrities and brands for a mix of influencer and cause marketing plus advertising. Ryan Myers is the CEO of SparkRise, which has developer, legal and marketing teams in Seattle and talent, PR and production teams in Los Angeles. He previously led Flaggpole for nine years.

Kilmer starred as Iceman alongside Tom Cruise’s Maverick in the 1986 film about Navy fighter pilots. The longtime actor, who also starred in such films as “The Doors,” “Tombstone” and “Heat,” is a SparkRise board member and investor. And he’s the subject of a new documentary called “Val” which is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Saturday’s event starts at 5 p.m. PT and is billed as a potluck movie night and celebration of “Top Gun.” SparkRise is teaming with Beem, a virtual event hosting platform, to stream a party and interactive screening of the movie from Kilmer’s HelMel Studio in Los Angeles. The night will feature notable celebrities, live music, military guests, and more. Kilmer, who is a throat cancer survivor, will participate in a virtual chat with other panelists.

The potluck event is free and the cost to attend the watch party is $8.95. Donations during the event will benefit the USO and Kilmer’s TwainMania Foundation.

SparkRise works by leveraging its relationships with celebrities and non-profits. Brands that sponsor events on a cost-per-click basis might rely on call-to-action methods for participants such as downloading a coupon or watching a 15-second promo video.

“We wanted to dramatically reshape the landscape of advertising,” Myers said, adding that the event is a “massive test” of its technology.

According to SparkRise, 13 military bases and USO centers will be live streaming the event as well as several restaurants and schools. Some pre-recorded content will be streamed, including a fighter pilot “dogfight.” Exclusive non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are also being created.

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Bill Gates calls inequitable worldwide access to COVID-19 vaccines a ‘public health tragedy’

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Dr. Onyimbo Kerama, lead consultant and executive director at Motire Occupational Health and Safety Solutions In Thika, Kenya, uses a LumiraDx diagnostic instrument to test for COVID-19. (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Photo)

As people in the United States debate COVID-19 vaccine mandates, a new report from the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a reminder that many people around the world still can’t get the shot even if they want it.

“The lack of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is a public health tragedy,” says Bill Gates in a statement accompanying the release of the Gates Foundation’s annual Goalkeepers report, which has tracked the world’s progress toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for the past five years.

The latest report, released Monday night, was authored by Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates as co-chairs of the foundation. They are continuing to lead the Gates Foundation in those roles for a two-year trial period following their divorce.

COVID-19 is a central topic of the report, which cites the “unprecedented” development of multiple vaccines in less than a year, vs. the normal timeline of 10 to 15 years. At the same time, the report notes, more than 80% of COVID-19 vaccines so far have been administered in high-income and upper-middle-income countries.

“Some have secured two to three times the number of doses needed to cover their populations, in case boosters are needed for increasingly infectious variants,” write Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates in the report. “Meanwhile, less than 1% of doses have been administered in low-income countries. These inequities are a profound moral outrage—and raise the very real risk that high-income countries and communities will begin to treat COVID-19 as another epidemic of poverty: Not our problem.”

Bill Gates warned repeatedly about the risk of inequitable vaccine distribution last year as vaccines were being developed.

“We can’t put the pandemic behind us until everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to vaccines,” he said in his statement released along with the latest Goalkeepers report.

The Gates Foundation has committed about $1.7 billion to efforts to fight COVID-19 and distribute vaccines globally in the last 18 months.

An additional 30 million people fell into extreme poverty in the past year, reversing many recent gains, according to statistics cited in the report. In addition, the report underscores the impact of the pandemic on education and gender equality around the world.

Mark Suzman, the Gates Foundation CEO, told reporters in a conference call that now is the time not only to address current inequities in COVID-19 vaccines but also to prepare for the future through initiatives such as genomic surveillance that cuts across different countries.

Suzman cited the need for “global instead of national and regional infrastructures that make sure we never face this kind of crisis again.”

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Bezos Earth Fund highlights climate justice in $200M round of grants and pledges

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Justice40 Accelerator program
The Partnership for Southern Equity, one of the participants in the Justice40 Accelerator, is among the latest recipients of grants from the Bezos Earth Fund. (Partnership for Southern Equity via Twitter)

The Bezos Earth Fund today announced $203.7 million in grants and pledges aimed at advancing climate justice, supporting climate-oriented economic recovery projects and spurring innovation in pathways to decarbonization.

The pledges are part of a 10-year, $10 billion initiative backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to fund scientists, activists, non-governmental organizations and other actors who can address the challenges posed by climate change.

“This funding is just the next step in the Bezos Earth Fund’s commitment to creating catalytic change during this decisive decade,” Andrew Steer, the recently appointed president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, said in a news release. “With each grant, we are helping organizations unblock progress and create pathways to a more sustainable future.”

Today’s announcement covers $73.7 million in immediate donations to 12 organizations, as well as a pledge of another $130 million to be given out by the end of 2021 to organizations supporting the Biden administration’s Justice40 climate initiative. Justice40 is aimed at delivering at least 40% of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate in clean energy to disadvantaged communities. Here’s how the grants break down:

Advancing climate justice:

Advocating for climate action to drive economic recovery:

Advancing decarbonation:

Additional grants will go to the Earthshot Prize ($4.2 million) and to the National Geographic Society and the Campaign for Nature ($1.5 million). The grants and pledges announced today follow an initial round of $791 million in grants to 16 environmental organizations, made last November.

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Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott give $40M to boost groups working on gender equality

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MacKenzie Scott, left, and Melinda French Gates. (Photos via Bystander Revolution and Gates Foundation)

Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott are sharing some of their immense wealth with organizations that want to empower other women, announcing Thursday that they are awarding $40 million as part of the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge.

Launched last June, the philanthropic initiative received more than 550 proposals and is aimed at improving gender equality by providing grants to organizations with ideas to expand women’s power and influence in the U.S. by 2030.

PREVIOUSLY: How Melinda French Gates has ‘transformational potential’ to boost equality in VC, tech and beyond

French Gates’ investment company Pivotal Ventures is hosting the Challenge, with support from Scott and husband Dan Jewett as well as Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

“The overwhelming response to the Challenge proves there’s no shortage of transformational ideas about how to accelerate progress for women and girls,” French Gates said in a news release. “The next step is to make sure those game-changing ideas get the support they need to become fully realized and improve people’s lives.”

The four awardees are: Building Women’s Equality through Strengthening the Care Infrastructure ($10 million); Ada Developers Academy’s Changing the Face of Tech ($10 million); Girl Inc.’s Project Accelerate: Increasing Young Women’s Power and Influence ($10 million); and The Future is Indigenous Womxn ($10 million).

Seattle-based Ada Developers Academy said the funding will allow the organization to expand across the country, adding locations in five new regions. The tuition-free software development boot camp for women and underrepresented sexual, gender and racial minorities was founded in 2013 and has a mission to diversify the tech industry.

An additional $8 million in supplemental funding was split between two other finalists working on building women’s economic and political power: FreeFrom’s A Call to Action: Holding Society Accountable for Intimate Partner Violence; and IGNITE’s Training Next Gen Women to Flex Their Political Power.

Scott, ranked No. 17 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has a net worth of $64.1 billion. The former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos most recently gave away $2.74 billion to 286 organizations focused on promoting equity, alleviating poverty and promoting education and the arts. Her total philanthropic outlay totals more than $8 billion.

“The awardees are strong teams working on the front lines and from within communities to help women build power in their lives and careers,” Scott said in a stement. “And best of all, they’re not alone. This challenge received so many bold ideas to activate new levers, remove old barriers, and push forward for gender equality. It’s exciting to see all the ways people are making a difference.”

French Gates has a net worth of $3.3 billion according to Forbes. Gender equity and women’s issues have been a focus of her work and giving at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and at Pivotal Ventures.

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Jeff Bezos donating $200M to National Air and Space Museum in historic Smithsonian gift

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Bezos and Blue Moon lander
Jeff Bezos shows off a mockup of the Blue Moon lunar lander in Washington, D.C., in May 2019. (GeekWire File Photo / Alan Boyle)

Less than a week before he’s set to blast off on the first crewed mission of his Blue Origin spaceship, Jeff Bezos is making a $200 million donation to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian announced Wednesday that the gift is the largest since its founding by James Smithson in 1846. It plans to use $70 million toward the renovation of the National Air and Space Museum and $130 million to launch a new education center at the museum called the Bezos Learning Center.

The gift is also among the largest in the Amazon founder’s philanthropic pursuits, which have included billions toward environmental causes (Bezos Earth Fund) as well as homelessness and early education (Bezos Day One Fund).

“This historic gift will help the Smithsonian achieve its goal of reaching every classroom in America by creating a world-class learning center with access and inspiration at its heart,” Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch said in a news release. “We are grateful to Jeff for his generosity and for his passion and commitment to education, innovation and technology. This donation will fuel our nation’s future leaders and innovators.”

Renovation work is seen in the the “America by Air Gallery” at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in May. (Smithsonian Photo via Flickr / Jim Preston)

The Air and Space Museum, called one of the most popular Smithsonians by The Washington Post, is preparing to reopen at the end of the month for the first time since shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Chris Browne, the museum’s acting director, told the Post that the Smithsonian hopes to create new interactive experiences and enhance technological interconnectivity across the museum and with the public at home.

“We believe the museum, in addition to celebrating incredible feats of the past, should also have a rich collection and presentation of what’s happening right now,” Brown told the newspaper.

RELATED: Blue Origin shares multimillion-dollar spaceship ticket proceeds with 19 charities 

Bezos’ gift comes at a time of intense activity around the dawn of commercial space travel. Bezos’ Blue Origin mission was among the leaders of the pack in capturing the public’s attention when he announced that he would be aboard the first suborbital flight of the company’s New Shepard rocket on July 20. Then fellow billionaire and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson stole some of the spotlight on Sunday with a ride aboard his SpaceShipTwo rocket plane.

“The Smithsonian plays a vital role in igniting the imaginations of our future builders and dreamers,” Bezos said in a statement. “Every child is born with great potential, and it’s inspiration that unlocks that potential. My love affair with science, invention and space did that for me, and I hope this gift does that for others.”

According to the Smithsonian, Bezos has a long history of supporting the institution. He was a founding donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and has previously contributed to the National Air and Space Museum. He was awarded a Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Technology in 2016.

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Bill and Melinda French Gates to take two years after divorce to assess partnership at foundation

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Bill and Melinda Gates at the University of Washington in 2017. (GeekWire File Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will still be led by its namesakes after their divorce, but the foundation announced Wednesday a two-year trial period to see how effectively the pair can work together.

If they can’t, French Gates would resign from the foundation as co-chair and trustee. She would receive personal resources from Gates for her philanthropic work, but this money would not come from the foundation’s endowment.

The pair also said today it contributed an additional $15 billion to the foundation’s endowment, marking their largest contribution since 2000. This brings the total amount of money endowed to $65 billion.

The new money will be used to fight poverty, disease and inequity around the world.

“Our vision for the foundation has grown over time, but it has always been focused on addressing inequity and expanding opportunity for the world’s poorest people,” Gates said in a statement. “These new resources and the evolution of the foundation’s governance will sustain this ambitious mission and vital work for years to come.”

Questions have been swirling about the future of the Seattle-based Gates Foundation, which employs more than 1,700 people and has issued close to $55 billion in grants since launching more than 20 years ago.

Since the couple’s divorce announcement in May, both Gates and French Gates made clear they would remain long-term partners and co-chairs of the foundation. They are the remaining trustees following the departure of Warren Buffett last month.

Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said in a note to staff Wednesday that the foundation would expand its number of trustees. The appointees will be finalized by January.

“These governance changes bring more diverse perspectives and experience to the foundation’s leadership,” French Gates said in a statement. “I believe deeply in the foundation’s mission and remain fully committed as co-chair to its work.”

The foundation said it expects the new appointees to “enhance the diversity, experience, and expertise of the foundation’s leadership and continue to uphold a culture of integrity.” Suzman and Connie Collingsworth, chief legal officer, will oversee the appointments.

The foundation previously announced it will commit $2.1 billion to increasing gender equity, GeekWire reported last month. The cash, which was one of the largest single donations in the foundation’s history, was part of the Gender Equity Forum convened by UN Women.

French Gates has a history of promoting gender equity. GeekWire reported shortly after the split that she could use her platform in Pivotal Ventures, founded in 2015, to support female-focused venture capital and philanthropic efforts.

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Gates Foundation commits $2.1B to advance gender equality and ‘deliver real change’

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Wednesday that it was committing $2.1 billion toward advancing global gender equality over the next five years, marking one of the largest single donations in the Seattle-based organization’s more than 20 years.

The pledge was made as part of the Generation Equality Forum convened by UN Women, taking place in Paris this week.

According to a news release, the goal is to advance women’s economic empowerment ($650 million over five years); strengthen women and girls’ health and family planning ($1.4 billion over five years); and accelerate women’s leadership ($100 million over five years). All of those efforts have long been championed by Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda French Gates.

“The world has been fighting for gender equality for decades, but progress has been slow. Now is the chance to reignite a movement and deliver real change,” French Gates said in a statement. “The beauty of our fight for gender equality is that every human being will gain from it. We must seize this moment to build a better, more equal future.”

 

Foundation CEO Mark Suzman told The Wall Street Journal that while French Gates is the “primary face and voice” of the foundation’s gender-equality work, “Bill is very deeply engaged as well” and that both approved the new spending.

“We simply cannot meet so many of our other goals, from poverty reduction to financial inclusion to agricultural development to maternal child health, without taking a much more explicit focus on gender,” Suzman told the Journal.

“Prioritizing gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to fighting poverty and preventable disease,” Bill Gates said in a statement Wednesday.

The equity commitment comes in the wake of the Gateses’ divorce announcement in May and questions surrounding the future leadership of the Gates Foundation. Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett announced last week that he was resigning as a trustee and questions have been swirling about the the foundation, which has an endowment worth nearly $50 billion and has issued close to $55 billion in grants since launching in 2000.

Suzman said in an email to employees after Buffett’s announcement that the departure does raise questions about the foundation’s governance.

“As I have mentioned previously, I have been actively discussing with him, Bill, and Melinda approaches to strengthen our governance to provide long-term stability and sustainability for the foundation’s governance and decision-making in light of the recent announcement of Bill and Melinda’s divorce. I plan to share additional information in July,” Suzman said.

Among other causes, including polio eradication, the Gates Foundation previously committed $1.75 billion in response to the coronavirus pandemic, to accelerate development and equitable distribution of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

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