At the end of each year, the world seems to naturally slow down a bit as we ease into shorter, darker days and celebrating with loved ones. It’s a chance to look to the past, and plan for the future.
At Technical.ly, it also signals that it’s time for our annual awards. We take this opportunity to reflect on the last year of work by standouts in our communities. While we talk to folks in our communities all year long, it feels special to honor the people, companies and ideas that have shined brightest, even in moments of darkness. And 2021 has certainly had plenty of both.
The year 2020 was focused on rapid responses to health, science and societal shifts in society. As we wrap up 2021, we recognize that this year was about the longer-term change needed. This year’s nominees reflect that.
We’ll be celebrating the 2021 Technical.ly Awards on Dec. 15, but first, we need you — the tech community — to help us. We asked for suggestions in six categories earlier this fall, and the Technical.ly editorial team curated the 30 nominees below.
Follow the big orange button to vote in six categories. Voting is open through Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Here’s more on the nominees:
Invention of the Year
What product, project or release this year is best poised to change their industry?
- Hey, Auntie! — This online platform connects intergenerational Black women in Philadelphia around mentorship, and professional and life development. It was created by Well City Challenge winner Nicole Kenney to be a safe, authentic, culturally sensitive place for connection and resources “with wiser and more seasoned women.”
- Sense4Safety — This University of Pennsylvania Nursing project is a tech-supported intervention that identifies risks for patient falls in older adults. It does so with a nurse tele-coach who will guide patients in implementing evidence-based individualized plans to reduce fall risk.
- ImpactableX — This impact measurement platform is used by founders and organizations to translate their impact into economic value and build business models. It’s used by local companies like Roar for Good, Resolve Philly and Simply Good Jars.
- OIT Apprenticeship Program — The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology recently launched this apprenticeship program to train city workers from any department for life-sustaining technology jobs. The apprentices will work full time with teams at OIT on resident-facing projects, and will make $60,000 salary during both years of the program.
- ExynAI — This year, Exyn Technologies rolled out this technology that allows for autonomous robots to capture data without putting humans in dangerous, industrial environments. The innovation will improve the safety and efficiency of data capture in industries like mining, construction and industrial inspection.
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?
- Morgan Berman — As the founder of MilkCrate, Berman has used her tech skills with community projects like Glitter, a collaboration with Terrill “Ya Fav Trashman” Haigler that incentivizes Philly residents to keep their neighborhoods clean by paying them. And as the new executive director of Life Sciences Cares Philadelphia, Berman is aiming to continue combining her entrepreneurial background with her ability to measure impact in the local life sciences industry.
- J’Nelle Lawrence — As the director the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia’s Philadelphia Anchors for Growth and Equity (PAGE), Lawrence works with small businesses to help them develop their business practices and better integrate with local supply chains that have historically been occupied by major corporations.
- Sylvester Mobley — Mobley’s been on the scene in Philly for a long time, but his work in 2021 — with Coded By Kids, diversity in tech workforce strategy OnE Philadelphia Initiative and the launch of inclusive VC firm Plain Sight Capital — lands him on the list of nominees this particular year.
- Tracey Welson-Rossman — Welson-Rossman has also been a tech scene mainstay, but she launched her own startup, a chronic conditions resource Journal My Health, this year. She also helped the tech community celebrate 10 years of the Women in Tech Summit this October, with her work with nonprofit TechGirlz.
- Sulaiman Rahman — The DiverseForce CEO is behind the recently opened P4 (Public Private and Philanthropic Partnership) Hub for Advancing Racial Equity and Excellence coworking and event space in Germantown. It aims to serve Black and brown professionals across different sectors, but with similar goals, through training offered directly in the space.
CTO of the year
Who is leading groundbreaking technical work within their company or organization?
- Ricardo Signes — Signes is the CTO of growing email company Fastmail, which rolled out a new product, Masked Email, this year. Masked Email allows for the creation of new, masked email addresses for users on command, and the Philly company worked with 1Password on the project. Signes also runs the “Digital Citizens Show” podcast about being a responsible digital citizen.
- Jennifer Kurtz — Kurtz came to be CTO of Infinite Blue, the Collegeville-based SaaS company that focuses on business continuity software for businesses with extensibility through a “low-code” platform, after working her way up from software developer to the same role at King of Prussia’s Vertex.
- James Bright — Bright is a longtime startup technologist, working at RealityOnline, VerticalNet, and eMoneyAdvisors before starting his own company. Now the CTO of CampusESP, he’s building a tech team of hands-on technologists focused on deploying high-availability and high-scalability systems in the cloud.
- Shahrukh Tarapore — The CTO at Archetype Solutions Group had a winding road before joining the company earlier this year. He brings a deep knowledge of software development and R&D practices to the role, and got involved in civic culture, nonprofits and the tech ecosystem in Philly after many years working in India.
- Ravindar Gujral — Gujral came to the CTO role at management software company WizeHive from the nonprofit space at Benefits Data Trust. Culture has been top of mind while growing the company’s tech team from a dozen to 30 over the past year, the CTO told Technical.ly in May: “It’s been important to see each other as humans who do work.”
Startup of the Year
What promising young company is tackling an interesting problem or inspiring a brighter collective future?
- LifeBrand — This social media startup uses AI and machine learning technology to scrub the platforms of a social media user for potentially harmful posts. This year, it’s adding more than 20 people to its small but growing team and is raising a Series A.
- Reflect — SaaS startup Reflect, which makes a tool that automates website and web application testing, raised $1.8 million in seed funding earlier this year after wrapping up time in prominent accelerator Y Combinator’s summer 2020 cohort.
- Seshie — The company is an alum of Comcast NBCUniversal’s LIFT Labs Accelerator powered by Techstars, and is a marketplace of live learning and development workshops for teams. Cofounder Kofi Frimpong will join this year’s cohort of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund.
- Mainfactor — Formed by a second-time founder and born and bread Philadelphian, this 16-person ecommerce startup raised $69 million in a mix of seed equity capital this year with plans to expand in Philly. They’ll be looking for an office for some hybrid work next year.
- NextMv — Philadelphia is solidifying itself as a home for analytics companies, including the promising NextMv. While it’s a remote company, its Philly founders and employee base are quickly growing after the company closed an $8 million Series A earlier this year. CEO Carolyn Mooney wrote earlier this year about why she found it important to hire a head of people early on.
Growth Company of the Year
What larger and faster-growing company is shaping the future of its industry?
- Sporttrade — The Drexel student-founded fintech company’s financial exchange — think Robinhood or a Nasdaq for sports — allows live trades in its app during any sports game. The business capitalizes on the more widespread legalization of sports betting and recently raised a $36 million round.
- Tendo — Sibling duo Jennifer and Dan Goldsmith are the cofounders of cloud-based healthcare software company Tendo, which raised a $69 million since its launch last year. The platform allows the clunkier parts of healthcare — like scheduling appointments, data input, checking in at the front desk and managing communication — to all exist in one place, and create processes that are accomplished more seamlessly.
- Piano — While companies throughout the pandemic have been going more remote, Piano’s recent $88 million raise will actually add positions to the company’s local HQ. The company’s end-to-end SaaS platform helps media companies and brands design unique content experiences to drive subscriptions and advertising revenue, as well as increase customer lifetime value.
- Zero Eyes — This AI-as-defense company had about 50 employees a few months ago and is on track to be about 65 by the end of the year, after raising a $21 million Series A. It uses artificial intelligence to predict potential threats with a goal of preventing mass shooter situations from escalating, and has its technology installed across 17 different states and will continue expanding.
- EverWash — The car wash industry-focused subscription management software platform made an acquisition this year, of real-time vehicle analytics, and machine learning platform omniX Labs. The deal will bring 30 employees to the company’s already 50-person team. Earlier this year, the company also raised $5 million.
Culture Builder of the Year
What empathetic leader or organizer is making their workplace or professional group more inclusive, resilient or engaging?
- Jamie Calabria — Crossbeam’s talent and culture manager joined last year, and has since been responsible for much of the company’s hiring. Their nominator said Calabria’s “superpower” is authenticity, and that diversity and inclusion is at the center of their work in recruiting, which has influenced the company. Calabria is also active in the wider tech community, as a leader in Philadelphia’s Out in Tech chapter.
- Natalie Nagele — As the CEO of Wildbit, Nagele has pulled some strong culture moves this year, highlighting the future of remote work. In addition to sticking to the four-day work week first piloted a few years ago, the company now operates with a “location-agnostic” pay structure, meaning employees will be paid consistently regardless of where they live.
- Aurora Archer — Founder and CEO of the Bellatrix Group, Archer’s work centers on using tech to drive consumer-focused health and wellness products. She’s a long-time advisor to Philly Startup Leaders and co-host of “The Opt-In” podcast centering conversations about race, collective learning and reeducation.
- Leora Eisenstadt — Eisenstadt is new director of Temple University’s Center for Ethics, Diversity and Workplace Culture. The Center is a home for research, programming, conferences and projects relating to innovation that focuses on DEI, ethical decision making, and the creation of healthy workplace cultures while students are learning to be the business leaders of the future.
- Justin Roberts — Roberts is the director of optimization and innovation and DEI lead at Kepler’s Philadelphia office and recently helped Kepler become one of the first 15 companies nationally to achieve the Black Equity at Work Certification, joining companies like Nike, Deloitte, PNC and BlackRock. He leads biweekly all hands meeting with employees worldwide on rotating DEI topics and provides staffing and retention analysis on diversity.