Here at Technical.ly, we like to close each year by highlighting people and companies making big moves in our local tech ecosystems. But with so many players involved, sometimes we need a little help to make our selections. That’s where you come in.
Enter: your 2023 Technical.ly Awards. From space technology companies to academics mentoring the next generation, it’s no surprise that we have a full slate of impressive nominees to choose from.
This year’s picks were pulled from both community member nominations and our past reporting, and curated by our team here at the Technical.ly newsroom. But now, it’s all up to you — winners are selected solely on community votes. Voting will be open through Thursday, Nov. 30, with winners announced Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Got all that? Meet the 2023 nominees below, and cast your vote for your faves!
Invention of the Year
What product, project or release this year is best poised to change its industry?
- Duolingo Music — This product’s October 2023 launch symbolizes that Duolingo is committed to helping users learn things other than languages as an edtech company. Through Duolingo Math users can learn sight-reading, playing, and listening skills that they can test by playing full-length songs. In addition to growing an understanding of music, lessons from the course can be put toward Duolingo streak and potentially help users become stronger in other subjects.
- Bright Sky App — The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually in the US. While advocates have observed that technology can be weaponized against those experiencing domestic violence, through a collaboration between the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and the Vodafone Americas Foundation, the Bright Sky App offers its users with education and resources in times of crisis. The app, to be offered in 13 countries, allows users to to identify the types and signs of domestic violence, assess the safety of their relationship or that of a friend or loved one, and access information about different forms of abuse and how to help a friend that may be affected.
- Out in Tech’s Pittsburgh chapter — Out in Tech is a national organization focused on helping LGBTQ tech workers connect and support each other in the industry. This year, Ross Greenberg and Todd Feiler established a Pittsburgh chapter that they hope would become an inclusive space for LGBTQ technologists in the Steel City.
- Tech Compass PGH — This platform for startup founders offers a centralized list of verified resources to help their businesses grow was launched by InnovatePGH after founders requested it due to not always being discern which resources would benefit them most. Now, the tool allows its users can find people, organizations and programs that could aid them in a directory and narrows their searches based on industry or resource type.
- XchangeInnovation Week — This inaugural event hosted by XchangePGH offered dozens of founder- and technologist-centered events with the long-term goal of making Pittsburgh a more inclusive ecosystem.
Tech Community Leader of the Year
Who has most made this community better through coalition building, nonprofit work, access-minded initiatives, policymaking or other pathways?
- Kevin Dowling — Dowling began the summer of 2023 by being named the Innovation Works-run Robotics Factory’s interim managing director. With years of experience in the Pittsburgh tech community as a Pittsburgh Robotics Network founding board member and scientist and senior engineer at Carnegie Mellon University, Dowling is in a good position to help the Robotics Factory succeed.
- Sherri McCleary — McCleary is the executive director of Digital Foundry at New Kensington, a smart manufacturing innovation center. Her nominator said her work is “advancing community needs with career development opportunities.” McCleary has more than 30 years of experience in business and technology apart from her role at Digital Foundry, and has launched products and partnerships across the aerospace, consumer products and energy sectors.
- Code & Supply — For the past decade, Code & Supply has been dedicated to creating a community for technologists in the city. The organization consists of thousands of members and offers services such as coworking space, conferences, and a pool of other technologists to work with and befriend (and to compare notes on compensation).
- Kelly Collier — Collier is the director of ecosystem development for life science resource hub LifeX. In her position, Collier leads the LifeX Accelerator program and maintains a birds’ eye view on how life sciences startups can achieve success in the Pittsburgh tech ecosystem. She’s also a mentor and entrepreneur-in-residence at local universities.
- Jason Griess — Griess is the ecosystem director at InnovatePGH, making him responsible for discovering ways to turn the region’s assets into strategies for economic growth inside and outside of Pittsburgh.
CTO of the Year
Who is leading groundbreaking technical work within their company or organization? (Similar titles beyond CTO were accepted.)
- Raj Rajkumar — Rajkumar is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, but when he’s not teaching, he’s occupying several positions for the university. As of this summer, he’s currently the head of Safety21, which is a consortium of partners focused on transportation safety issues at CMU. Before that Rajkumar has served as the director of four of CMU’s University Transportation Centers, the most recent one being Mobility21.
- Jasmine Kwasa — Kwasa is the chief technology officer for Precision Neuro, which is developing neurotech to make medicine more inclusive. Last December, the company won first place in the 2022 UpPrize Social Innovation Challenge and the corresponding $150,000. At the time, Kwasa said the money would be used to fund the company’s journey toward gaining FDA clearance, which would allow it to operate in hospitals. In June 2023, Kwasa became a Fulbright US Scholar.
- Eric Amoroso — Amoroso is the cofounder of KEF Robotics, a Larimer-based drone software maker. Prior to that, he worked at Astrobotic for three years as a research engineer, and at Aerotech as a hardware engineer.
- Brett Browning — Browning is the cofounder and CTO of Stack AV, the high-profile Pittsburgh-based autonomous trucking company that emerged from stealth mode this September with backing from SoftBank. Before launching Stach AV, Browning acted as a technology exec for autonomous vehicle company Argo AI for six years.
- Mona Diab — In summer 2023, Diab moved to Pittsburgh to become the director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute. Diab is an expert on Arabic natural language processing, multilingual processing and computational social sciences. Additionally, she is passionate about developing a “responsible thinking” framework for generative AI use.
Tech Company of the Year
What promising startup or growth-stage company is tackling an interesting problem, shaping its industry or inspiring a brighter collective future?
- Free Market Health — This company is behind a streamlined marketplace platform for the specialty pharmacy industry. Free Market has tripled its customers and closed a $20 million Series B raise in November, with hiring to come.
- Kloopify — This startup is developing a platform that gives industry purchasers the data they need to understand how shipping, distribution and other supply chain dynamics affect their companies’ emissions. In 2023, Kloopify was selected as Startup of the Year by the inaugural Pittsburgh Startup Community Awards in addition to securing $1.5 million in seed funding in February.
- Astrobotic — This North Side company is developing affordable space robotics technology and planetary missions. Throughout 2023, the company has secured a $34.6 million NASA Tipping Point partnership, announced its first successful flight campaign for the Xodiac rocket in partnership with the University of Central Florida, and participated in the launch of Pittsburgh’s Space and Defense Innovation District. After an initial delay, the company is expecting its Peregrine Lunar Lander to launch on Dec. 24.
- Imagine Pharma — This Oakland-based biotech company develops therapies and treatments for diseases with fewer available medical options and is currently focusing on commercialization opportunities related to its products.
- BlastPoint — This AI-driven company provides big data solutions that help companies optimize revenue growth. After an initial seed raise of $5.25 million this past summer, CEO Alison Alvarez recently announced it had exceeded $8 million in seed funding total.
Culture Builder of the Year
What empathetic leader or organizer is making their workplace or professional group more inclusive, resilient or engaging? (“Leader” doesn’t need to mean they hold a leadership title.)
- Sue Wingert — Wingert is the VP of HR for sustainable waste management company RoadRunner (2022’s Tech Company of the Year winner). Through the years, she’s been responsible for designing and implementing HR solutions that support the business goals for the company. Wingert has been praised for her commitment to helping companies and organizations establish boundaries and policies that create positive work environments.
- Jameel Bennett and Michelle Roque Alvarez — Bennett and Roque Alvarez are the cofounders of Duolingo’s BLAC ERG and LatinX ERG, respectively. According to their nominator, Bennett and Alvarez have worked hard to ensure that Duolingo is a welcoming and inclusive space for its unrepresented employees. Additionally, Bennett and Alvarez coordinate events, advocate for tech workers of color inside and outside of Duolingo, and act as liaisons between employees to determine ways to make the company more equitable.
- Sara Kissell Vieira — As Schell Games’ learning and development specialist, Kissell Vieira is responsible for running the game developer’s apprenticeship program. Over the past year, Vieira has led the program in trying to remove barriers for people who want to enter the notoriously competitive games industry.
- Kelley Benson — Benson is the VP of HR and inclusion for state-backed, early-stage funder Innovation Works. Throughout her career, Benson has been responsible for helping companies develop best practices for talent acquisition and has advised Innovation Works’ companies on to design inclusive teams and get out ahead of potential vulnerabilities.
- Pop District — This 2022-launched arts center’s paid Warhol Academy connects tech trainees with paid professional opportunities. The goal: Help future Andy Warhols stay in Pittsburgh. Within the Pop District, participants have the opportunity to build their portfolios through its social media and documentary fellowships. The org also offers students between the ages of 15 and 18 the chance to learn about art and activism by working with nonprofits.
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