Professional Development
Awards / Business / Career development / Communities / HR

Pittsburgh, meet the winners of your inaugural Awards

From Startup to Invention to Tech Community Leader of the Year, you told us via a public vote that these honorees should be celebrated for their work in 2021.

Duolingo's company mascot in Times Square after the IPO. (Courtesy photo)
For all the challenges of the last year, Pittsburgh has also seen a lot of successes, especially in the local tech industry.

So to cap off our first half-year of full-time coverage here, we want to celebrate the people and companies innovating and changing what it means to be a technologist or founder in Pittsburgh. From public offerings to new product launches to the return of in-person community events, there’s a lot to be excited about in this city.

Enter: the inaugural Awards in Pittsburgh.

After soliciting nominations from members of the community and curating final nominees based on reporting here over the past six months, we held a public vote for a week to determine the winners. (Here’s a list of all the nominees across the six categories.) We announced the winners live on our public community Slack earlier today — be sure to join that here and see all of the congratulations.

Now for the fun. Here are the winners, as voted by you:

Tech Community Leader of the Year — Nadyli Nuñez

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Nadyli Nuñez has helped to ensure Ascender‘s community and entrepreneurs remain connected with the rest of the tech industry here and beyond, even as they had to go virtual. But in 2021, Nuñez also worked with the rest of the Ascender team to reopen the coworking space and adjust safety measures based on feedback from the community.

Throughout the past year and a half, she’s also worked to make Ascender a model of what remote or distanced innovation can look like, with a mix of in-person and online events as well as the launch of newsletters and collaborations like a recent one with Chloe Capital that give entrepreneurs more change to access business resources. Because of all of that, Nuñez has become an essential voice in Pittsburgh tech, often speaking on panels for discussions on how to support young startups in these times.

Invention of the Year — Kiwibot’s delivery robots

Though Kiwibot isn’t based out of Pittsburgh, the autonomous vehicle delivery robot company decided to launch a pilot program of its cute sidewalk bots in collaboration with the City of Pittsburgh this summer. That first launch went so well that the city later announced an expansion of the program.

As Pittsburgh gears up to be an international headquarter of autonomous vehicle commercial launches in the next couple of years, the introduction of the Kiwibots in Bloomfield are a friendly way of normalizing the disruptive tech. So next time you’re craving a 12-inch pizza delivery, consider enlisting a Kiwibot for help.

CTO of the Year — Ameesh Kapoor

412 Food Rescue, the nonprofit where Ameesh Kapoor is the lead engineer, focuses on fighting food waste and insecurity. But to do that, the innovative organization uses an app to leverage an impressive number of volunteers to assist in last mile pickups and deliveries of food for those who need it.

Beyond using tech as a way of building a charitable community, the Food Rescue App produced by Kapoor and his engineering team at the nonprofit can track data on hunger impact of its volunteers and the environmental output of their transportation. The end-to-end software behind the app is a great example of how nonprofits of the future can use tech to achieve their missions.

Startup of the Year — Meter Feeder

Meter Feeder is by far one of Pittsburgh’s favorite startups, thanks in no small part to the determination and geniality of its cofounder and CEO Jim Gibbs. Though the parking payment solution startup was launched in 2015, Meter Feeder only recently brought its app to Pittsburgh’s parking systems. But beyond the Steel City, Meter Feeder continues to grow, and has plans to find ways of using its app to help city governments, residents and even autonomous vehicle fleets down the road.

But beyond the tech itself, Meter Feeder’s growth model and the determination of its team are what really put this startup on the map. Gibbs is always happy to share the stories behind both his successes and his failures, and is one of the biggest supporters of all things Pittsburgh tech. His growing company is a model of Pittsburgh’s evolving startup culture.

Growth Company of the Year — Duolingo

In an overwhelming vote, readers chose Duolingo as Pittsburgh’s top growth company in 2021. That comes as no surprise given the language learning company’s major IPO this summer, in addition to a Pittsburgh location expansion, new hires, new product features and more. Plus, its newfound TikTok fame will likely increase popularity of the app with younger users.

More than that though, Duolingo’s story is one that Pittsburgh is immeasurably proud of. As a homegrown company that became one of the most memorable unicorns of the past 10 years before going public, founders all over the world are looking to Duolingo as a model of how to grow a tech firm outside of Silicon Valley.

Culture Builder of the Year — Jocelyn Lai

As successful as Duolingo has been in terms of revenue and user growth, the company also has a reputation for having one of the best workplace cultures in Pittsburgh tech. That’s confirmed by a shockingly low employee attrition rate Duolingo shared in its initial S-1 filing to go public this summer.

A health workplace culture is the result of many factors, but a big one comes from hiring processes. Leading that department for Duolingo is Global Head of Talent Acquisition Jocelyn Lai. spoke to Lai last month about how the company approaches hiring to ensure that new employees fit the mission-driven, fun and innovative culture.

Surprise:’s overall Growth Company of the Year is Duolingo, and the overall Culture Builder of the Year is Jocelyn Lai

In addition to the winners decided by the public,’s editors also named an overall winner in each category, picking from among the local winners. And the winner of this year’s overall Growth Company of the Year and Culture Builder of the Year are none other than Duolingo and Jocelyn Lai.

How did we make the call? We looked across our five markets to determine who best represented each category of leaders, judging according to who we felt was poised to most shape their industry’s future, or impact their communities. When we look back on 2021, we’ll remember it was their year.

Congrats to all the winners and honorees!


Thanks to everyone who joined our “live” ceremony on Slack and helped celebrate these awesome people and companies! Join us there to see all the messages of congrats, and hey, stick around for the community.

Join the Slack Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Ascender / Meter Feeder / Duolingo
Series: Awards

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