Annika Sorenstam is getting out of professional golf, but she'll still be in Cutter & Buck. The Annika line of women's golf apparel...

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Annika Sorenstam is getting out of professional golf, but she’ll still be in Cutter & Buck.

The Annika line of women’s golf apparel is one of the Seattle sportswear company’s top sellers, so CEO Ernie Johnson has a lot riding on the visibility of Sorenstam, regarded by many as the best woman golfer ever.

News this past week that the 37-year-old Sorenstam plans to retire when the season’s LPGA Tour ends was not a shock to Johnson.

“We’ve known for sometime that starting a family was in her plans, so this didn’t come as a surprise to us,” he says. “We’re very happy for her.”

Under a multiyear contract signed in 2003, Sorenstam gets quarterly royalty checks based on sales of the Annika collection, Johnson says. In exchange, Cutter & Buck gets to use her name and image — and the exposure that goes with her appearances.

Sorenstam is “just as invested in seeing her brand succeed as we are,” says Cutter & Buck spokeswoman Meghan Graves. Sales grew in double digits this past year, she says.

Sorenstam, a native of Sweden, has won 72 events on the LPGA Tour since turning pro in 1992, scoring a record eight Rolex Player of the Year awards along the way. Tiger Woods recently called her “the greatest female golfer of all time.”

Cutter & Buck says it will continue to work closely with Sorenstam to build on the line of golf apparel.

Johnson points to Greg Norman and Arnold Palmer as examples of golfers who still carry lots of cachet long after retiring from the PGA Tour.

“It’s not like she’s going to be out of sight,” he says. “When you think about it, there are very few players out there who are recognized by their first name. When you say ‘Annika,’ it just clicks.”

Sorenstam is expected to remain active in golf through such ventures as the Annika collection and the Annika Academy in Orlando, Fla., Johnson says.

For her part, Sorenstam said in a statement that she looks forward to continuing her “wonderful” relationship with Cutter & Buck.

“The Annika collection means a lot to me, and I’m excited by the prospect of being even more involved in the growth and development of the brand in coming years,” she said.

— Amy Martinez

Startups learning to do without IPOs, say VC watcher

Late-stage startups are going through their worst period in years, as roiling public markets have delayed most initial public offerings, said Mark Heesen, National Venture Capital Association president.

There have been only a handful of initial public offerings by venture-backed companies since the year began, a sharp drop from what’s considered normal. “April had zero,” he said last week in a visit to Seattle. “We’d like to see 20 a quarter.”

Although investment in early-stage companies is thriving, delayed IPOs can dampen the entire startup climate because venture capitalists must devote more of their limited time and money to firms that otherwise would have left the nest.

The acquisition market, though, is still working well, as big technology and pharmaceutical companies still gobble up smaller players to acquire new technology.

Another bright spot is the clean-tech field, where government mandates, high energy prices and environmental and societal pressure combine to make an attractive play for entrepreneurship.

“This issue excites venture capital,” Heesen said.

Clean technology, however, has many challenges: It’s extremely expensive, very long-term, and often faces regulatory hurdles. In that sense it’s more similar to biotechnology, where success can take a decade or more, than to the software and information technology business, where entrepreneurs can expect quick turnarounds.

Another challenge is that upstarts must compete with energy juggernauts like Exxon Mobil, Shell or BP. But Heesen said that if these firms become part of the entrepreneurs’ exit strategy — by paying top dollar for promising new technology — they can help clean technology fulfill its promise.

“We have to be friends with Big Oil,” Heesen said.

— Ángel González

X Prize backers add to list of big goals

The $10 million X Prize was once just the province of deep-pocketed aerospace buffs willing to take private travel where no Lear Jet has gone before: outer space. A team backed by our own Paul Allen scored the coveted trophy in 2004.

Now the franchise, whose motto is “revolution through competition,” is expanding into other areas — clean energy, life sciences, the conquest of the moon. The foundation managing the prizes wants to entice innovation in these fields by providing a hefty paycheck and a media blitz.

Search-engine giant Google is backing a $30 million award for the first privately funded team to land on the moon a robot that can travel 500 meters and send multimedia data back home. A $10 million automotive prize funded by insurance firm Progressive seeks to create cleaner, more-efficient vehicles here on Earth.

And the Archon X Prize for Genomics seeks to accelerate the personalization of medicine by rewarding those who achieve breakthroughs in decoding the human genome cheaply.

Complete Genomics, a California company backed by local venture-capital firm OVP Venture Partners, is competing for that prize, said Bard Geesaman, executive director of life sciences at the X Prize Foundation, at the venture firm’s annual meeting last week.

Rewarding biotech efforts through prizes is difficult, because biological problems are “very messy” and have to sail through multiple regulatory hoops, Geesaman said. In addition, the money offered by the foundation is dwarfed by multibillion-dollar economic incentives dangled by big pharmaceutical companies.

But that doesn’t stop the X Prize Foundation. The organization, in Santa Monica, Calif., is thinking of adding other awards that could help developing nations by rewarding the development of efficient desalination techniques and the creation of “very cheap” shelters, Geesaman said.

— Ángel González

Comments? Send them to Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@- or 206-464-8541