(Photo by Sam Markowitz)
2020, where do we even begin?
The year started with the usual plans to move about and get business done, and perhaps even setting the tone for a new decade. But that all changed three months in, with the global pandemic and, alongside it, a recession. The murder of Black men by police brought a generational call for racial justice in the summer. And this fall still has an upended election to go.
Yet in these moments we’ve seen new ideas take hold and leaders rise, offering tools to approach the world in its remade ways, and even hope amid a bleak landscape.
So let’s lift them up.
The Technical.ly Awards return this fall with a more intentional aim of reflecting this moment: More than celebrating success for success’ sake, we want to honor challenges overcome, as well as ongoing work to make local tech and entrepreneurship communities places that also challenge racism, the pandemic and the unjust status quo.
The 2020 Technical.ly Awards winners for Baltimore will be announced Friday, Oct. 9, during the BIW Innovation Celebration. Alongside a full day of virtual discussions spotlighting innovation in Baltimore, we’ll be arriving along with happy hour to unveil this year’s winners, right before trivia from Response Labs closes out the day. But first, you need to pick ’em.
We solicited nominations from members of the community over the past few weeks and curated these final nominees based on our own reporting. Now, it’s time for your vote on who deserves to be celebrated this year: Voting is open through Monday, Oct. 5. Read more about each nominee below (and refresh yourself on 2019’s nominees and winners).
Invention of the Year
What product, project or release this year is positioned to ease the effects of the coronavirus pandemic?
- CareCove — The need for PPE led to new products. Seeing how health workers on the front lines of the pandemic were forced to use plastic bags as a measure of defense from contracting COVID-19 during the breathing tube insertion process called intubation, Dr. Steven Tropello of the University of Maryland School of Medicine created a product that’s designed as a “bulletproof vest” for workers. The emergency physician and CoapTech cofounder applied startup experience to take a new approach.
- Code for Baltimore’s Bmore Responsive/Healthcare Rollcall — Building, and ultimately launching, civic tech tools must bring collaboration across technologists, government and even business. For an example, look no further than the effort to create a customer management system to help the Baltimore City Health Department with emergency response produced. The local Code for America-affiliated brigade worked with Owings Mills-based Bellese Technologies on a tool that has been used during the pandemic, and is applicable to many types of emergency response.
- emocha’s remote monitoring apps — Having long specialized in mobile technology with video that allowed asynchronous communication, Mount Vernon-based emocha Health launched new products for remote monitoring amid the pandemic. The company focused in on temp and symptom check-ins among medical staff at hospitals, as well as workers returning to offices and students returning to college. This found use locally, as the City of Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Hospital and LifeBridge Health were among the institutions that deployed the apps.
- Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard — When COVID-19 was spreading, the world looked to a map made by Johns Hopkins’ Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Launched in January by a team led by Dr. Lauren Gardner, the continuously updated dashboard became home to more than a billion interactions a day by April for those in search of publicly available data on the pandemic, and gained features to help provide more local insights along the way.
- Under Armour Sportsmask — The pandemic has produced plenty of products we didn’t know we’d be seeking when the year began, and face masks are high on that list. Even as Under Armour made PPE for local hospitals, the Baltimore-headquartered apparel company’s athletic-grade face mask shows that it changed thinking about consumer products, as well. It sold out within a day upon official launch in June, showing plenty of market buyer interest.
Impact Leader of the Year
Who has most made this community better through impact work, leadership, policymaking or other pathways?
- Jeff Cherry, founder of Conscious Venture Lab accelerator and managing general partner of SHIFT Ventures — Way back in January, the latest cohort of Conscious Venture Lab completed demo day with a diverse group of founders and calls for more companies to focus on models for impact as well as business. The message is one that Cherry has long espoused, whether as head of the Baltimore accelerator or at the Vatican. And it took on new resonance in the wake of the summer’s uprising for Black lives, when Cherry proved a strong voice for economic justice as a path to healing systemic racism.
- Delali Dzirasa, founder of downtown digital services firm Fearless and civic tech incubator Hutch, co-chair of Hack Baltimore — Voicing a passion for the contributions to the greater good that can come with building software, Dzirasa led Fearless to become one of the city’s most influential tech shops as it has grown fast since moving to Spark Baltimore. Dzirasa has also become a force for building an inclusive and civic-minded Baltimore tech community through supporting more pathways for youth into IT careers, starting more companies through the Hutch incubator and ultimately putting sustainable products into the hands of city government through Hack Baltimore. With a call to action during the protests that followed George Floyd’s death, he sounded the need for company leaders to confront racism.
- Pava LaPere, founder of EcoMap Technologies, cofounder of Emergence Baltimore/Innov8MD/AddVenture/Bmore Baskets — A tightly knit entrepreneurial community can help propel folks to start new ventures, and hit the milestones they need to keep going to grow businesses in Baltimore. This is at the heart of the many organizations where LaPere is on the key organizing team, whether it’s the resource discovery platform EcoMap, accelerator programs for students or college entrepreneurship nexus Innov8MD. In launching each, LaPere has brought an entrepreneurial approach, spearheading the development of infrastructure that’s needed and a willingness toward testing and iterating. The need to be adaptive to the environment has been on view this year, whether it was spinning up a summer pre-accelerator for college students called Addventure or launching a live-in accelerator that’s bringing founders to Baltimore.
- Jonathan Moore, founder, Rowdy Orb.it — Over the last few years, Moore has spearheaded initiatives that combine extending the opportunity that can come with tech skills and a focus on solutions that are developed and controlled by the community. As it quickly became apparent that the city’s already stark digital divide was being exacerbated by a pandemic that required remote learning and working, Moore quickly teamed with a rapid response group dubbed DigiBmore to address device and internet connectivity gaps. And he continued to build partnerships that resulted in community Wi-Fi in Sandtown-Winchester and Cherry Hill.
- Chrissie Powell, Baltimore site director, Byte Back — When D.C.-founded IT training org Byte Back expanded to Baltimore last year, Powell emerged as a ready voice for an inclusive tech community upon taking the role as site director and getting local classes up and running. With the digital access needs that arose in the pandemic, she has also been a leader of the 50-organization Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition, heading up the group’s digital skills and tech support efforts.
Technical Leader of the Year
Who is incorporating community-minded action into their technical leadership?
- Damini Agarwal, director of product development, Infinite Biomedical Technologies — Leading a Spark Baltimore-based company that’s among a crop of intriguing medical device companies making a base in the city, Agarwal has had a hand in the day-to-day growth and milestones of a tech company that’s developing advanced technology to help amputees. She also gives back through volunteer work that includes galvanizing the next generation of women leaders in STEM.
- Adam Bouhmad, founder, Project Waves — Long an organizing force around the belief that internet access should be a human right and a utility, Bouhmad’s community ISP Project Waves has added Wi-Fi in neighborhoods to its own network and been a partnering org on others with coalitions like DigiBmore. Whenever a new network is lighting up, Bouhmad is a familiar face, working out technical details a laptop or setting up an antenna on a roof has become a familiar facet of local grassroots efforts to spread Wi-Fi during the pandemic.
- Jason Michael Perry, CTO and VP of Engineering, Mindgrub — Leading the mobile and web engineering teams and providing technical direction inside one of the city’s largest tech agencies, Perry is just as comfortable in the community with technologists or educating students others.
- Jon Robinson, cofounder 64 Robots — The development lead of an ETC-based web agency, Robinson always has an eye on how technology can help in the community, and is willing to jump in to help. This year, that was on display as he launched FeedNurses.com, a web portal that provided local meals to frontline medical workers.
- Paige Zaleppa, product manager, CLARK — Towson University’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences is home to a student team that created a platform for cybersecurity educators. Called CLARK, it took on new importance in the pandemic, as virtual education brought a new need for the videos and learning objects it is putting in one place. Along with continuously updating the product and building the culture of a software development shop, Zaleppa is a linchpin of an effort with a mission to “code responsibly.”
Culture Builder of the Year
What empathetic leader or organizer is making their workplace or professional group more inclusive and resilient? (“Leader” doesn’t need to mean they hold a leadership title.)
- Shervonne Cherry, director of community and partnerships, Spark Baltimore — Cherry has been at the center as Spark Baltimore has grown as a hub both for the 140+ companies that are located there, as well as Baltimore tech over four years inside a building within Power Plant LIVE! In the pandemic, she took quick steps to keep the community together and create a safe space as the space reopened. A cofounder of Baltimore Women in Tech, Cherry also espouses a passion for expanding access to technology in Baltimore and is ready with a connection that can help that growth happen.
- Megan Emhoff, chief people officer, Protenus — Stepping in as the Fells Point healthcare analytics company was set to double its number of employees, Emhoff led creation of a focused strategy that brought talent in to Protenus, and the processes underlying their experience on arrival. In Baltimore, she is also among the vanguard of leaders in people operations, an approach incorporating culture and employee experience that is fast gaining prominence in offices that were once known as HR.
- Jessica Garrett, director of community and culture, Allovue — Inside the Remington edfintech company, Garrett is a champion of building inclusive culture, and that was evident in her approach to building remote work processes even before the pandemic. She has also worked on initiatives including adding a lactation room, a gender-neutral bathroom, and signs for “Women and Non-Binary” and “Men and Non-Binary” on each bathroom at the company’s Remington space, per a nomination. Garrett is also a leader of joy at the company, like little acknowledgments during tough times, and even the occasional surprise pie delivery at home.
- Joey Price, founder, JumpStart:HR — Leading a Spark Baltimore-based company that is working on HR functions with small businesses and startups, Price plays an influential role in the operations of fledgling companies. But he’s not only operating behind the scenes, as he’s shown a willingness to share what works in a way that always engages us. This year, he has been a voice on remote work and leadership in the midst of 2020.
- Josh Russakis, director, Venture for America Baltimore — Russakis leads one of the most active markets in the country for this fellowship program that places recent grads to become startup leaders and entrepreneurs. In that work, he’s worked with a generation of knowledge workers to the city that help to grow the city’s entrepreneurial ventures, many of whom have gone on to lead their own. And it’s work that hasn’t stopped in 2020.
Startup of the Year
What promising young company (under 50 employees) is inspiring a brighter collective future?
- BurnAlong — We’ve followed the Pikesville-based fitness and wellness platform as it built a base in corporate wellness and grew a team with a mission to help people achieve health goals. This year, its technology that allows folks in different spaces to work out together took on new meaning, and it raised an additional $4 million amid an uptick in interest.
- Cerebro Capital — The Mount Vernon-based fintech startup is one we’ve watched since meeting CEO Matthew Bjonerud learning about the company’s approach to using data to help companies find financing. This year, the company proved able to close a funding round in a pandemic to help its own growth, then launched tools and content to help small and medium-sized businesses seeking help through the government-backed loan programs that spun up in the economic downturn. It’s the kind of response to the circumstances that startups are built to make.
- ClearMask — Founded in 2017 by a team out of Johns Hopkins to bring a transparent face mask that could help deaf and hard of hearing people in medical settings, the startup has found lot of uptick in the pandemic as a world where everyone is wearing a mask saw the benefits of being able to see facial expressions and movements. ClearMask earned FDA clearance in 2020, and has since seen distribution across the country, including to Apple employees, U.K. healthcare workers and more.
- InferCabulary — The edtech company started the year with traction arising from a pitch competition win in Boston and new investment round to grow the web-based visual vocabulary tool. With the product that has added features and the rigor that comes from cofounders who are speech language pathologists, the company continued to gain usage and add team members amid a shift to remote learning.
- Sonavi Labs — Heading into 2020 after closing a $1 million seed round — and becoming one of the few startups led by Black women to do so — Sonavi Labs continued both recognition in 2020 with a pitch win at Arab Health and recent FDA clearance for the hardware portion of its AI-powered digital stethoscope device.
Growth Company of the Year
What growing tech company (50 to 1,000 employees) is using its success to help people better weather the 2020 storm?
- Audacious Inquiry — The 15-year-old company has long been an influential voice in health IT, playing a role in not just developing the new tools but also the standards and policy that shapes the field. The pandemic brought a new level of attention on sharing data between different healthcare parties and tech adoption more generally, so it makes sense that the company stepped up to open up APIs and adapt its tools for the response.
- b.well Connected Health — A $16 million Series B and new data sharing standards from the federal government already had the company offering a “digital front door” for healthcare info moving from startup into growth mode. With more digital health adoption in the pandemic, b.well saw an uptick in signing on clients, doubled its team and made key new leadership hires to cement that position at the next phase.
- Facet Wealth — After a splashy public arrival with a $33 million funding round in 2018, Facet has continued to ramp up its tech enabled personal financial planning business and grew to more than 100 emplyoees. After a key industry recognition from NerdWallet to start the year, it reported an uptick in demand, as well as new services.
- Hungry Harvest — The ugly produce delivery company has long been of interest with steady expansion in Baltimore and cities beyond, as it built a business with a mission to fight food waste and hunger. This year, it doubled the size of its team and its Series A round as food delivery at home was trending up.
- Huntress Labs — Founded by former National Security Agency cybersecurity operators, this Ellicott City-based company turned heads with an $18 million funding round from San Francisco-based Forgepoint Capital earlier this year. But it’s worth remembering that it was work over four-and-a-half years to build a product that reached 16,000 small and medium-sized businesses that propelled it to get there.
P.S. We officially announced the launch of the 2020 RealLIST Engineers program last week. Submit a nomination for an impressive technologist by Oct. 15.
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