Technical.ly Awards 2022 are underwritten by Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs. This article was independently reported and not reviewed by Comcast before publication. Comcast is a Technical.ly Ecosystem Builder client.
It’s time again for the annual Technical.ly Awards where we spotlight people and companies making themselves known in the Pittsburgh region, as well as in the other markets Technical.ly covers. Whether it’s local tech leaders who are bringing people together or companies fundraising in the millions, we’re looking for your input in who deserves to take home the gold.
Categories for 2022 are Invention of the Year, Tech Community Leader of the Year, CTO of the Year, Tech Company of the Year and Culture Builder of the Year. This year, we were looking at those who are really making a difference in their communities, workplaces and local ecosystem — the companies and people that not only were inspired to make changes over the past few years, but stuck with them to build a better Pittsburgh.
We asked for nominations from community members in November and curated these final nominees based on our own reporting. Now, you get to vote on who you think deserves to take home the gold. Voting is open until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 7 and the winners will be announced Dec. 14 at noon.
Got it? Check out more on the nominees and cast your vote below.
Invention of the Year
What product, project or release this year is best poised to change its industry?
- Moonwalkers — This Kickstarter-backed product from Shift Robotics gives walking an upgrade: The shoes use tech to combine the efficiency of a car (so its founders say) with all the exercise a person would get by using their legs.
- Duolingo Math — Designed for kids and adults suffering from mathphobia, this app from the East Liberty-based company aims to turn honing your math skills into a tear-free video game.
- Moonshot Museum — This North Side-based museum launched this past fall to give visitors a chance to see Astrobotic engineers constructing lunar spacecraft. It also offers students educational programming in collaboration with other Pittsburgh science museums.
- Make It Home Safe — This app is designed to take the tension out of encounters with law enforcement by both providing information to the driver about why they’re being stopped and sharing the driver’s documentation with the officer, among other features. This year the app successfully launched a pilot program in Aliquippa and received $50,000 from AlphaLab.
- Center for Transformational Play — Although relatively new, the Carnegie Mellon University hub has plans to research the impact games have on the world, as well as build games that teach important concepts ranging from climate change to pervasive forms of bigotry.
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?
- Stefani Pashman, Allegheny Conference on Community Development — From helping to secure $62.7 million in Build Back Better Regional Challenge funding to engaging with stakeholders across the Pittsburgh region, CEO Pashman is at the helm of the economy-minded ACCD’s efforts to facilitate connections between public and private-sector leaders.
- John Lange, Academy Pittsburgh — Lange is founder and director of the city’s “most notable software engineering bootcamp and alumni community,” as a peer described it, and a go-to tech advisor for those looking to learn.
- Rich Lunak, Innovation Works — Lunak was the CEO of Innovation Works for nearly two decades before retiring this year. The exec grew the organization to one of the most active seed stage investors in the country, and helped launch three accelerators that have fostered a startup culture and grown countless companies in Pittsburgh across software, hardware and the life sciences.
- Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition — This City of Pittsburgh-led initiative is not just one person, but instead a collection of entities including the likes of the Greater Pittsburgh Digital Inclusion Alliance, Computer Reach and University of Pittsburgh. All of the dozen or so partners are seeking to ensure that every Pittsburgher has access to the digital world.
- Beth Schwanke, Pitt Cyber — Schwanke is a lawyer by trade, but she’s also the executive director of Pitt’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security. There, she leads researchers and policymakers in understanding how the internet and technology will impact the political and personal areas of daily life.
CTO of the Year
Who is leading groundbreaking technical work within their company or organization? (Similar titles beyond CTO were accepted.)
- Matthew Johnson-Roberson, Robotics Institute — A CMU grad himself, Johnson-Roberson is the director of the school’s expanding Robotics Institute, where he leads its development of new robotics technologies and thinks on the future of the local industry.
- Bobbie Johnson, PNC — As the SVP of PNC’s internal retail technology org, this longtime fintech leader’s job is to keep the banking side of the local corporate giant running. She oversees more than 330 applications in PNC’s portfolio in service of more than 10 million customers.
- Stan Waddell, Carnegie Mellon University — As the VP for information technology and chief information officer, Waddell is responsible for developing and implementing a university-wide IT strategy along with managing CMU’s computing enterprise. He also serves on the board of Meta Mesh Wireless Communities.
- Steve Kenner, Locomation — As chief product and safety officer at the local AV company — which picked up a third customer for its human-guided autonomous trucking systems this year — Kenner is getting Locomation ready for safe commercial deployment.
- Tim Mueller-Sim, Bloomfield Robotics — Mueller-Sim is cofounder and CTO for the company that creates AI tools that help farmers and scientists better understand plant growth. Recently the company has secured international partnerships and raised $4 million.
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?
- RoadRunner Recycling — From $90 million raised to an acquisition of smart metering technology company Compology, RoadRunner has spent the year expanding its mission to help businesses and governments recycle more and dispose of their waste in a sustainable manner.
- RoadBotics — This CMU spinout, recently acquired by Michelin, has used artificial intelligence to map the condition of infrastructure for 250 governments across the world.
- Gecko Robotics — Gecko, which creates software and robotic asset management software, has had a big 2022: It raised $73 million Series C in March and expanded to a new 70,000-square-foot space that includes testing and development facilities in May.
- AlgenAir — The Innovation Works-backed company that makes a natural, algae-based air purifier designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere just moved to Pittsburgh from Baltimore this spring.
- Abridge AI — This healthtech company created an app for healthcare professionals that records and condenses conversations between patients and doctors. In the fall, it raised $12.5 million for expansion efforts.
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.)
- Kendra Ross, Duolingo — As head of social impact, this Pittsburgh native and self-described creative helps the homegrown edtech company connect with the community through artistic and service-oriented activities, as well as founded internal employee organizations to support that work.
- Lindsay Powell, InnovatePGH — Amid her responsibilities as director of workforce strategies, Powell is overseeing the Build Back Better grant-funded Expanded Pathways to Entrepreneurship project with an aim to diversify the robotics field.
- Olga Pogoda, KEF Robotics — As chief operating officer, Pogoda manages the day-to-day operations and provides strategic advice for the DoD-backed drone software maker. She’s also guiding the next generation of founders as an entrepreneur-in-residence at the CMU School of Computer Science and the cofounder of KRNLS, a tech research and strategy firm.
- Theresa Richards, Girls of Steel — Richards is a teacher, roboticist, mentor and the outreach program manager for the youth robotics program that alumnae say years later provides them with a necessary peer support network in addition to a love of robots.
- Tarelle Irwin, Apprenti PGH — As the assistant director of talent development and apprenticeships at Pittsburgh Technology Council’s tech ed program, Irwin supports more pathways to jobs in the tech field. Next up: cybersecurity.
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