What better way to celebrate the end of a strong year for Pittsburgh tech than with awards for the innovators who made it all happen?
We’ve had countless product launches, major public offerings, new community hubs (both online and IRL), tech office announcements and more that have made this year a pivotal one for Pittsburgh tech. In fact, this kind of continued progress could be just what’s needed to get us even higher on Startup Genome’s emerging tech hubs list next year — or perhaps outgrow the “emerging” label altogether.
But first, let’s give credit where credit’s due. The success of this year simply wouldn’t have been possible without the products, people and companies below. Help us honor them all in their wins, but also in their perseverance through the tougher times of the past year.
The 2021 Technical.ly Awards winners for Pittsburgh will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 15; details to be announced very soon. 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 Wednesday, Dec. 8. Read more about each nominee below.
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?
- Kit Mueller, RustBuilt Pittsburgh refounder and head of network — With the launch of the extremely COVID-19-safe inaugural RustBuilt Pittsburgh Conference this September, Mueller has been a pioneer of bringing the tech community together during the pandemic. In hosting events, organizing trips to neighboring communities, showing support of startups on Twitter and more, he is one of many key forces pushing the city’s tech industry to success.
- Kelauni Jasmyn, Black Tech Nation founder and CEO — As the founder of Black Tech Nation, Jasmyn has created a supportive community of Black technologists in Pittsburgh and beyond. And this year, she expanded that community into a new venture fund to support underrepresented founders.
- Nadyli Nuñez, AscenderPGH executive director — Both a coworking space and incubator for entrepreneurs, Ascender has long been a cornerstone of Pittsburgh innovation. Nuñez made sure it didn’t lose that status this year, as she carefully balanced reopening the space and launching new online engagement with members.
- Jenn Apicella, Build412 Tech president — Apicella worked hard this year to make sure Pittsburgh technologists had a place to congregate, even when that meant taking the beloved Build412 Tech happy hours online. With innovative engagement strategies and constant conversations with her community about safety measure amid the pandemic, Apicella was able to bring back in-person happy hours and increase networking among tech workers here.
- Joel Reed, Pittsburgh Robotics Network executive director — As head of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network since March 2020, a high point of Reed’s tenure so far came this summer, when he announced a slew of new members to the network, new funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and a commitment to make Pittsburgh the “robotics capital of the world.”
Invention of the Year
What product, project or release this year is best poised to change their industry?
- IAM Robotics’ Bolt — Launched in April 2021, the flagship autonomous mobile robot from this Lawrenceville-based robotics firm will make many warehouse operations more efficient through autonomy.
- Kiwibot’s delivery robots — These super cute autonomous delivery bots started showing up in Bloomfield this summer through a pilot program with the city that has since extended to a longer term partnership. COO Diego Varela told Technical.ly about the company’s plans for the invention in Pittsburgh.
- Spin Electric Scooters via Move PGH — Love them or hate them, the Spin electric scooters have been one of the most noticeable tech inventions to hit Pittsburgh this year. As part of the city’s tech-focused mobility initiative Move PGH, an early pilot of these scooters expanded over the summer in hopes of offering new last mile and short distance transportation options.
- Seegrid’s Palion Lift AMR — Shortly after being ranked as the top autonomous mobile robot provider in the United States by Interact Analysis, the company announced that it would give some customers early access to its Palion Lift AMR, a new autonomous lift truck for warehouse operations.
- Govenda’s new software products amid rebranding — Initially focused on creating new communication pathways between companies and their boards of directors, eight-year-old Govenda expanded its software products earlier this year to offer data collection for ESG goals and more remote accommodations for its platform.
CTO of the Year
Who is leading groundbreaking technical work within their company or organization?
- Tomer Borenstein, BlastPoint cofounder and CTO — As CTO of Carnegie Mellon University spinout BlastPoint, Borenstein led the company’s product development in AI and data-driven business insights to earn the startup a $750,000 seed round earlier this year.
- Brett Browning, Argo AI CTO and EVP of product development — Browning’s technical leadership prowess at Argo AI helped advance several milestones for the company this year, including plans to be the first company to put fully commercial autonomous vehicles on the road and pilot programs through new industry partnerships with Walmart and Ford.
- Jeff Campbell, Stronghold Digital Mining lead engineer — As lead engineer for the alternative energy-powered bitcoin miner, Campbell is in charge of data center operations. His success in this key role led the company to have a hugely successful IPO that put its valuation over $1 billion in the first day.
- Heidi Norman, City of Pittsburgh Department of Innovation and Performance acting director and CIO — As leader of this tech-minded city department, Norman has helped Pittsburgh stay productive through remote work, focusing on improving accessibility to networks and devices for all in need. Her role will be key next year, too, as Pittsburgh shifts to Mayor-Elect Ed Gainey’s administration on the tide of the recently approved infrastructure bill with historic allocations for broadband.
- Ameesh Kapoor, 412 Food Rescue head of engineering — As head of engineering for the surplus food delivery nonprofit, Kapoor leads technical innovation for the Food Rescue Hero app, which connects the organization’s volunteers to those in need of the food it transports.
Startup of the Year
What promising young company is tackling an interesting problem in a new way or inspiring a brighter collective future?
- Meta Mesh Wireless Communications — This startup is really a nonprofit with an entrepreneurial spirit. But we’re including Meta Mesh because of the whirlwind success it’s had this year in expanding the expertise on its board, launching its Every1online program and finalizing plans for expansion next year.
- Meter Feeder — Though Meter Feeder’s been around since 2015, the parking payment app startup only launched its services in Pittsburgh this year. CEO and cofounder Jim Gibbs — who was also recognized as a recipient for Google for Startups’ 2021 Black Founders Fund — told Technical.ly that he hopes will become the main parking payment solution for Pittsburgh and other cities.
- Cognition Therapeutics — Small but mighty, this life sciences startup launched a $40 million IPO this fall in the hopes of earning funding for Phase II clinical trials for its central nervous system disease therapies.
- ALung Technologies — Though this life sciences startup has been on the scene as a University of Pittsburgh spinout since 1997, it only recently achieved De Novo FDA clearance for its signature product, the Hemolung RAS. ALung is also a portfolio company of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse.
- Bloomfield Robotics — With a grant from NASA, a prestigious agricultural tech award, new funding and planned hires, this AI-driven farming robotics startup is making Pittsburgh home to new applications of tech.
Growth Company of the Year
What growing company is most shaping the future of its industry?
- Duolingo — With one of the biggest IPOs out of Pittsburgh in recent history, plans for product expansion, new hires and newfound TikTok fame, Duolingo was undoubtedly one of the biggest names in Pittsburgh tech this year. Plus, it just announced a new office expansion, strengthening its local presence even more.
- Aurora — This autonomous vehicle company made headlines this year with its public offering through a SPAC deal in November. Before that, the company also announced several new industry partnerships and product plans to woo investors, putting it at the forefront of the local self-driving industry.
- CivicScience — The market intelligence company announced one of the biggest deals out of Pittsburgh this year with a $15 million investment for an advertising tech company, Rulo. CEO John Dick told Technical.ly that the new company will be headquartered out of Pittsburgh and will hire much of its technical talent out of here.
- RE2 Robotics — With product launches and new defense contracts, RE2 has advanced its technology this year that will have later applications in several industries, including aviation, medicine, energy and material handling. With all of this news, the company is also actively growing its team in Pittsburgh.
- Idelic — With a $20 million Series B round earlier this year, this trucking analytics firm has expanded both its engineering teams and its sales and marketing operations as it continues to advance its flagship trucking and driver data platform.
Culture Builder of the Year
What empathetic leader or organizer is making their workplace or professional group more inclusive, resilient or engaging?
- Lisa Masciantonio, Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute chief workforce officer— In her role for the ARM Institute, Masciantonio builds the culture for the organization and beyond through curation of education and economic development efforts in robotics.
- Jean Lange, Kiavi senior technical program manager — RealLIST Engineer Lange is known in Pittsburgh tech for her coding prowess, but at her most recent role at Kiavi (formerly LendingHome) she’s had a hand in hiring and training of younger employees, or anyone who needs her help.
- George Cook, Honeycomb Credit cofounder and CEO — Though not a people ops or talent manager, Cook’s leadership of this fintech startup has helped define a new way that the tech industry can support small businesses and entrepreneurs, giving all aspiring founders access to crowd-sourced funding.
- Jennifer Milligan, Ansys global leader of human resources — As head of HR at Ansys, Milligan played no small part in the engineering simulation software company’s ranking on Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators list.
- Jocelyn Lai, Duolingo global head of talent acquisition — Duolingo is well known for its company culture (just check out its shockingly low attrition rate on the S-1 form it submitted for its IPO), and Lai is a big part of that. Last month, she told Technical.ly how Duolingo hires for both technical skills and culture, sharing advice for how other growing companies can do the same.
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.