2021 has been a year of continued uncertainty, change and resilience. What better way to celebrate its end than with awards for the innovators who made it go?
In 2020, the Technical.ly Awards returned to Delaware after a three-year hiatus, honoring five local innovators and organizations: Stephanie Eldridge, Markevis Gideon, Dr. Dan Young, Second Chances Farm and Zip Code Wilmington’s TECHpreneur Incubator.
We’re keeping the same digital format this year, with four categories, with an eye on celebrating Delawareans who work to make local tech and entrepreneurship communities not only successful, but also just, inclusive and fair. Your 2021 categories: Invention of the Year, Technical Leader of the Year, Culture Builder of the Year and Business of the Year.
The 2021 Technical.ly Awards winners for Delaware will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 15. But first, you need to pick those winners.
We solicited nominations from members of the community earlier this fall 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 EOD Wednesday, Dec. 8. Read more about each nominee below.
Invention of the Year
What product, project or release this year is best poised to change their industry?
- Elyte Energy hydrogen power banks — Dr. Jalaal Hayes earned his Ph.D. in applied chemistry in 2015 at the age of 22 and patented his hydrogen storage technology in 2017. The tech is used to create Elyte Energy’s hydrogen power banks that convert gas guzzlers like RVs into clean energy electric vehicles that charge themselves.
- Desikant thermoregulation apparel — The top winner in the inaugural Startup 302 competition, Desikant founder Kwaku Temeng and his team have developed apparel that regulates body temperature to reduce heat stress, particularly for surgeons and other healthcare workers who spend long hours working hard.
- Danio Wellness — Not to be confused with Danio Diary (a Delaware Innovation Award nominee for 2017’s Dev Product of the Year), Danio Wellness is the newest healthcare app from Green Line Business Group created to close the healthcare gap by making secure, accredited, user-friendly healthcare accessible. CEO Anthony Wright aims for a platform that older, low-income people with little tech knowledge can use with confidence.
- Lignolix catalytic process — Originally developed in the University of Delaware lab of Professor Thomas Epps, Lignolix cofounders Eric Gottlieb, Robert O’Dea and Christina Pellicane are taking the green technology to the commercial level. The process takes plant matter waste and converts it into renewable chemicals and cellulose.
- Lectrolyst — Dr. Greg Hutchings and Dr. Feng Jiao have found a way to capture and convert carbon dioxide greenhouse gasses — a major cause of climate change — into useful chemicals and materials, including ingredients for pharmaceuticals. It’s a solution that aims to reduce the impact of fossil fuels as we move toward carbon-neutral energy.
Technical Leader of the Year
Who is leading groundbreaking technical work within their company or organization?
- Thomas Stretch, CTO of Patient Sortal — Stretch is CTO of the Hen Hatch alumni track winner-turned-globally recognized startup, a healthcare data management system that helps patients with ongoing medical conditions work with care teams to maintain their continuum of care when transitioning from hospital (or prison) to home.
- Dr. Hannah Murnen, CTO of Compact Membrane Systems — “Hannah is an extraordinary leader, bringing a focus on people development and commercial deployment to her deep technology base,” wrote Murnen’s nominator. “She sets ambitious goals for the team, and coaches, guides, and problem solves to help the achieve more than anyone thought possible. Under her leadership, CMS’ science and product development teams open the aperture wide to invent new membranes and supporting innovations, and pair that with a relentless drive to turn those innovations into actual products.”
- Patrick Callihan, executive director, Tech Impact — Tech Impact has made an impact on Delaware for years with its the coding program ITWorks, but 2021 was the year when Callihan brought Tech Impact to Wilmington full-time, with a new Riverfront location. Since then, Tech Impact has acquired the Delaware Data Innovation Lab, partnered with Code Differently, and brought Tech Elevator to Market Street in Wilmington.
- Hattie Duplechain, program manager, Delaware Innovation Space — The Innovation Space continues to help build up powerful STEM startups in Delaware, with no signs of slowing down — especially with its new for 2021 Science Inc. accelerator. The program, which Duplechain manages, incubates science startups and helps to get them ready to be viable businesses beyond the lab.
- William Coffey, CTO of WSFS — Coffey joined WSFS at the end of 2020 with balance on his mind — specifically, balance between increasingly popular all-virtual banking options with human connection, whether its a living room-like lobby or chatting with a real person via Zoom on your banking app.
Business of the Year
What promising young or growing company is tackling an interesting problem in a new way or most shaping the future of its industry?
- HXInnovations — A big winner at the inaugural Startup 302 pitch competition, the Middletown-based company founded by Von and Nicole Homer in 2019 uses AI, machine learning and computer vision technologies to help manufacturers improve footwear performance. Their innovations are especially helpful for people with injuries and disabilities. HXInnovations also gives back to the community by offering a popular footwear and STEM class as part of FAME’s summer program.
- Drone Workforce Solutions — Founded in 2015 by Theo Nix, Jr., this org offers training courses for people looking to pass the the Federal Aviation Administration drone pilot test, which can lead to high-paying jobs in the growing drone workforce. With the pandemic putting extra focus on workforce development, the company has been able to offer drone training for free to high school juniors and seniors.
- Avkin — The small healthtech company (fka SimUCare) located in a former bounce house in Newport founded by Amy Cowperthwait, Heiddy DiGregorio, Amy Bucha and Robert Tilly develops and manufactures prosthetics for educational use. That includes arms for learning to draw blood, a throat for tracheostomy training and realistic wounds, all worn by simulated participants (fka actors) to create the most realistic medical training experience possible.
- Anara Originals —This apparel company that specializes in fashion tutus for all ages and sizes may seem out of place among the tech and STEM companies, but Anara Originals has earned it’s spot for innovation and support of other entrepreneurs in Delaware’s business ecosystem. Founder Sarah Crawford is a designer who has worked with Tommy Hilfiger, DDC Lab and H&M; she’s the author of “The Playbook to Essential Style — Learn, Build and Explore Your Style” as well as a TED speaker; and she’s a member of the Original Coloure Collective, a group that formed in February of 2021 to highlight, engage and promote Black creatives and minority-owned businesses.
- UP Cycle — This UD-based startup — its founders, Sierra RyanWallick and Michelle Yatvitskiy are still undergrads — started out as a solution to an overabundance of donated used clothing during the early days of the pandemic, but it landed as a company that not only transforms fabric waste into brand new items, but also educates teens on design, manufacturing and entrepreneurship with cohorts at The Warehouse in Wilmington.
Culture Builder of the Year
What empathetic leader or organizer is making their workplace, professional group or broader community more inclusive, resilient or engaging?
- Mark Newman, CEO of Chemours — Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont, sits squarely in the 21st century under the leadership of Newman, who prioritizes social justice, even including racism and other forms of discrimination as a safety hazard. It says a lot for a company whose core value is an “obsession with safety.”
- Ayanna Khan, founder of the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce — Delaware needed more support for its growing number of Black entrepreneurs. Khan, of Middletown, made Delaware’s Black Chamber of Commerce happen.
- Garry Johnson III, founder of First Founders — The First Founders Accelerator, which focuses on underrepresented entrepreneurs, has been around for a while, but in 2021 he stepped up the impact by becoming an early adopter of the WeFunder City Partners program. Through the PhilaDelaware portal, entrepreneurs can turn to the community to crowdfund their ideas as an alternative to the less accessible VC route.
- Troy Mix, associate director at University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration — As the cohost of the First State Insights podcast and the person behind the First State Economic Development News + Notes newsletter, Mix is a culture builder with an eye on bettering not just one company, but all of the companies in Delaware.
- Atnre Alleyne, TeenSHARP and The Proximity Project — After landing a quarter of a million dollar New Castle County CARES Fund grant (and a DETV program) in 2020, launching the healthcare-facing Proximity Project cohort, leading a data project with the Delaware Data Innovation Lab, and landing another $300,000 from WSFS in September, Alleyne’s impact on Delaware and its future is only growing.