We’ve still got a month to go, but 2021 has been a year of progress for DC’s tech and entrepreneurship community.
All year long, we’ve seen pivots and realignments from entities all across the DMV. So far, DC tech has seen movements towards social-equity-minded goals like antiracism in the workplace and ESG efforts; a boom in fields like cybersecurity and edtech. Plus, it has already been a venture capital year like no other.
But all that success — in the wake of a pandemic, no less — isn’t achieved without some outstanding players looking to push things forward. And it seems only right to honor this year’s standouts by offering up some bragging rights. With this year’s Technical.ly Awards, we’re honoring the leaders shaping teams and communities, small (and large) business wins and the people creating the future.
We solicited nominations from members of the community earlier this fall 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 through EOD Wednesday, Dec. 8 and the winners will be announced on Dec. 15.
Here’s more on the nominees:
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?
- Ayris Scales, CEO of Walker’s Legacy Foundation: In her role at Walker’s Legacy, Scales oversees the nonprofit’s work to provide entrepreneurial, financial and professional support to boost economic prosperity in the area. Her previous accolades include serving as the chief service officer for the District, identifying resources and partnerships for social change and as the first executive director of the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, a startup to end generational poverty in DC.
- Seema Alexander, CEO of Disruptive: Alexander is the force behind Disruptive, a local accelerator for women founders and advisory firm for startups. She’s also a co-organizer and strategy lead for DC Startup Week, the annual event series for local entrepreneurs, and cofounder of the CRE Connect Summit.
- Lateefah Durant, VP of innovation for DC’s CityBridge: As the innovation VP at CityBridge, part of the CityWorks initiative, Durant works to build the tech talent pipeline in DC, particularly for young students of color and women. She helps shape tech education policy and leads a three-year apprenticeship program that places students in roles with top tech firms.
- Sammy Popat, interim director, Mixed/Augmented/Virtual Reality Innovation Center (MAVRIC), University of Maryland: Popat is the go-to guy for innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD, with hands in Startup UMD, the Terp Entrepreneurship Network and Innov8MD, among other intiatives to build the ecosystem in College Park. He was also the school’s first campus connector and is the university’s manager of the Discovery District.
- Josh Labrie, director of NOVA’s SySTEMic outreach program: At Northern Virginia Community College, Labrie heads the effort to develop an IT talent pipeline that’s expected to add hundreds of students by 2024. He also directs the SySTEMic outreach program, which looks to engage students from local schools in STEM.
Invention of the Year
What product, project or release this year is best poised to change their industry?
- Socially Determined’s Digital Landscape: With a data platform focused on the social determinants of health, the DC company launched the Digital Landscape tool to measure the presence of tech components within a community from a digital equity lens, and how that impacts a community’s health and businesses.
- Healp: Created by Elizabeth Tikoyan, Healp is a swiping-style social platform that allows users to speak with fellow patients about their medical conditions, discuss experiences and even crowdsource treatment information.
- The Opus from Words Liive Founder Sage Salvo: Building on the success of music and literature platform Words Liive, The Opus uses tech to automatically develop lesson plans using popular songs to help boost literacy in public schools.
- Code For DC’s Crash Bot project: This project, completely built by volunteers, automatically collects car crash data and compares it to DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) reports to help lower crashes with pedestrians and cyclists. The project was so successful that creators scored a meeting with DDOT.
- RubiRides: This app from the Bethesda, Maryland-based company developed a rideshare app specifically for kids to travel safely. Families are assigned regular drivers, vetted by the team, and can use the app for constant communication with the driver during the ride.
CTO of the Year
Who is leading groundbreaking technical work within their company or organization? (Note: Similar titles beyond CTO were accepted.)
- Mike Gionfriddo, CTO of Pie Insurance: As CTO, Gionfriddo led the tech side of the DC insurance firm through its multitude of 2021 achievements, including a $118M Series C and acquisition of Western Select Insurance Company.
- Olga Osaghae, interim chief information officer and head of enterprise technology services at Howard University: After 13 years at the university, Osaghae took over all IT responsibilities in July. This includes strategy, policy, budget, network ops and management of all products regarding its cloud-based system Workday. She also led the school through a cyber attack in October.
- Renee Forney, senior director of Azure hardware systems and infrastructure security at Microsoft: In her 30-year career, the Virginia technologist has held leadership roles at the US General Services Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy and Capital One. Plus, she developed a summer internship program at DHS to boost opportunities for BIPOC students and mentors students at Morehouse College, where she’s an instructor.
- Idris Mokhtarzada, cofounder and CTO, Truebill: Following a $45 million Series D raise in November, Mokhtarzada led the company’s work to expand machine learning, and add tools that let users see spending insights, create a monthly budget, track that budget from the app and view credit reports.
- Lonye Ford, CEO and cofounder of Arlo Solutions: Under the CEO title, Ford has led the tech side of DC cybersecurity firm Arlo since its founding in 2014. After seven years of quiet, bootstrapped growth, Ford saw the company through its 2,758% growth over the last three years, which landed it as the #153 spot on the Inc. 5000 list. It also received a multimillion-dollar contract with Verizon in 2021.
Startup of the Year
What promising young company is tackling an interesting problem or inspiring a brighter collective future?
- Till: The DC-founded rental payment company offers flexible payment options for renters and landlords, allowing residents to pay rent in smaller increments throughout the month. By the end of this year, it expects to reach 100,000 users and 300,000 homes and apartments on its system. It also closed a funding round this year.
- CarpeDM: Cofounders Sali Hama and Naza Shelley officially launched the dating app and matchmaker service for Black women this fall. The app is specifically designed to offer a positive dating experience for Black women, and just added a background check for additional user safety.
- HUED: Founded by Kimberly Wilson, this Maryland startup is working to improve healthcare quality for BIPOC patients, offering a directory of providers with search options for race, ethnicity and language and a digital curriculum of antiracist policies for providers. Oh, and it landed a $1.6 million funding round led by the Female Founders Fund with participation from Serena Williams‘ fund Serena Ventures.
- Gardyn: The Bethesda, Maryland startup incorporates AI into a vertical, indoor garden setup for users to grow fruits and vegetables. In total, the company raised $15 million in 2021.
- Prefect: This startup founded by DC native Jeremiah Lowin automates tasks like scheduling, monitoring and retries that put extra stress on data scientists and engineers, ultimately helping with orchestration issues. Just this year, the remote-first dataflow automation company has raised $43.5 million.
Growth Company of the Year
What growing company is shaping the future of its industry?
- Class Technologies: The Tom Brady and SoftBank-backed edtech company is built for the remote classroom, with a platform for teachers to take attendance, proctor exams and speak one-on-one with students through Zoom. Despite being less than two years old, DC-based Class from Blackboard alum Michael Chasen has raised $160 million since its launch in 2020 and is eyeing unicorn status.
- IonQ: This College Park, Maryland firm specializing in trapped ion quantum computing went public in September. The company was expected to be valued at $2 billion and raise $635 million, with an additional $132 million in outstanding warrants, after going public. In 2021, it also helped develop a quantum center at the University of Maryland and landed partnerships with GE Research, Goldman Sachs and Google.
- GetUpside: The DC retail tech company saw 60,259% growth over the last three years in the DMV, landing it the #2 spot on the 2021 Deloitte Fast 500 list and adding Uber to its partner list alongside Instacart and DoorDash. By the end of 2021, it expects to offer cashback deals with 50,000 stores across the US.
- ID.me: The identity tech company headquartered in McLean, Virginia raised not one but two $100 million rounds this year, achieving unicorn status in March. Plus, it’s added over 1,000 people to its team and reached 60 million members on its network.
- Arcadia: This DC-based renewable energy tech company, helmed by founder Kiran Bhatraju, also nabbed a $100 million megaround in September. This is on top of a $21 million Series C from December of 2020, bringing its total to $180 million since its founding in 2014. It also moved into two new markets in the US in 2021 and acquired three new companies: Real Simple Energy and Nanogrid and iSolar.
Culture Builder of the Year
What empathetic leader or organizer is making their workplace or professional group more inclusive, resilient or engaging?
- Amira El-Gawly, founder and CEO of Manifesta: El-Gawly founded Manifesta, a DC workplace culture agency for associations, professional societies, small businesses and startups focused on human-centered workplaces. She’s also a DC chapter lead of Culture First, which offers local workplace culture meetups. She founded and has led DC Startup Week’s Culture Track, gathering dozens of culture and workplace leaders for discussions on improving work environments for people and cities over the last two years.
- Tamara Rasberry, head of Rasberry Consulting: On top of her role at a national nonprofit, Rasberry founded and runs a consulting firm specializing in strategies for diversity and inclusion, with a focus on addressing mental health in the workplace. Over the last year, she has assisted companies and leaders as they sought to respond to a myriad of large social and political events like the pandemic, the Capitol insurrection and the Derek Chauvin verdict.
- Michelle O’Hara, EVP and chief human resources officer at SAIC: As the head of human resources, O’Hara oversaw all of Science Applications International Corporation‘s work to add flexible scheduling options for its 26,000 largely remote employees. After a successful policy that allowed every other Friday off, O’Hara and SAIC reevaluated to add a four-day workweek option.
- Angelica Geter, chief strategy officer of Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI): In her role as BWHI, a nonprofit with a large DC footprint, Geter oversaw the launch this year of the Workplace Equity Initiative. The workplace culture initiative centers on how removing racism in the workplace can improve the physical and mental wellbeing of Black women employees, for which Geter and her team developed tools like an evaluation index and instructions on how to connect with a mentor and negotiate salaries.
- Rachel Williams, chief diversity officer at The Motley Fool: After roles at X, the research arm of Google parent company Alphabet, as well as StubHub and Yelp, Williams joined the Alexandria, Virginia financial advisory firm this year as its first chief diversity officer. There, she heads efforts in recruiting, leadership development, employee engagement and retention. She also advises the product team as it plans to expand into diverse communities.