Awards / Business / Communities / Startups / Awards 2021: Celebrate the best of the best in local tech leaders, companies and products

Who was victorious in six categories across each of's markets — and who was named the top overall? If you missed the announcement live on Slack, find out here.

Celebrate your wins, friends. (Gif via Giphy user Faith Holland)
And with the stroke of a key, thus concludes the 2021 Awards.

Our annual awards series honors impactful leaders, change-making companies and innovative technology products making communities better. Categories include Tech Community Leader, Invention, CTO, Startup, Growth Company and Culture Builder of the Year. Nominees were curated by the newsroom after a public call for suggestions, then voted on by the public.

We’ve hosted a version of these awards at blowout IRL events for many years, but as the pandemic continues, the winners of the 2021 awards were revealed on the Slack first. Over two hours, we dropped real-time kudos (often in the form of emojis) for our couple dozen honorees. For those in attendance, the reaction to their win followed a theme: They were blown away by their local tech community’s support, and by being nominated in the first place.

And seriously, emojis. So many emojis.

Read about the winners of each of our markets:

Though we lost in-person gatherings, we added something extra fun for 2021. In addition to the winners decided by the public,’s editors also named an overall winner in each category, picking from among the local winners.

How did we make the call? We looked across our five markets to determine who best represented each category of leaders, judging according to who we felt was poised to most shape their industry’s future, or impact their communities. When we look back on 2021, we’ll remember it was their year.

Here are your overall winners for the 2021 Awards: Invention of the Year — Danio Wellness (Delaware)

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. Tech Community Leader of the Year — UpSurge Baltimore team (Baltimore)

Among the biggest ecosystem developments of 2021 was the emergence of UpSurge, which aims to build Baltimore as a destination tech city within 10 years through the lens of equitech. It partnered with Techstars to stand up a new accelerator on that theme in Baltimore, and gathered community leaders to identify action steps through its teams initiative. Plus, its weekly happy hours at Baltimore’s Alma Cocina Latina quickly became a meeting point for folks from across the community. CTO of the Year — Jennifer Kurtz (Philly)

Kurtz is the CTO of Infinite Blue, the Collegeville, Pennsylvania-based SaaS company that focuses on business continuity software via a “low-code” platform. She worked her way up from software developer to the same role at King of Prussia’s Vertex. In her leadership toolkit: psychological safety and open communication. Startup of the Year — CarpeDM (DC)

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. Growth Company of the Year — 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. Culture Builder of the Year — Jocelyn Lai, global head of talent acquisition at Duolingo

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 how Duolingo hires for both technical skills and culture, sharing advice for how other growing companies can do the same.


And there you have it, folks — your 2021 Awards winners. Thanks to everyone who joined our “live” ceremony on Slack and helped celebrate these awesome people and companies! Join us there to see all the messages of congrats, and hey, stick around for the community.

Join the Slack
Companies: CarpeDM / Infinite Blue / UpSurge Baltimore / Duolingo / Danio Diary / /
Series: Awards

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