Even through this rough and unusual year, local organizations and leaders are still making the best of 2020.
It’s been three years since Technical.ly Delaware had its own awards. The last time we did, it was 2017, and they were called the Delaware Innovation Awards. Winners that year included WhyFly and Zip Code Wilmington — still familiar names, but more seasoned now.
This year, they’re called the Technical.ly Awards, and we’re honoring Delawareans in five categories: Invention of the Year, Impact Leader of the Year, Technical Leader of the Year, Culture Builder of the Year and the new Business of the Year category.
The 2020 Technical.ly Awards, which will be conduced entirely online, have a more intentional aim of reflecting this moment: We’re not just celebrating success, we’re also celebrating the people who work to make local tech and entrepreneurship communities places that also challenge racism, the pandemic and the unjust status quo.
The 2020 Technical.ly Awards winners for Delaware will be announced in an article on Friday, Dec. 18. 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 Thursday, Dec. 17. Read more about each nominee below.
Invention of the Year
What product, project or release this year is positioned to ease the damaging effects of 2020’s biggest challenges?
- PPE collaboration between makers, Printed Solid and Delaware Libraries — After Delaware Libraries closed in March, Route 9 Library makerspace coordinator Jessica Glassco kept the 3D printers running by collaborating with the Newark software startup Flynn and local maker Chris Elliot to make PPE for healthcare workers in areas with the most need. By Election Day, Newark manufacturing business Printed Solid was on board too, as they made face shields for election workers.
- TRIC Robotics — The recent winner of the Emerging Enterprise Center’s Swim with Sharks competition, this robotics company has been in the fields since the spring, where their agricultural robots treat strawberries for pests with UV light through the night. This one is more environmental, but is making a difference.
- Techpreneur Incubator — Nonprofit Zip Code Wilmington has been training people to get high-paying jobs in software development through their rigorous coding bootcamps. When the pandemic made jobs more scarce, they added a new program, where students (including ZCW grads looking for opportunities) learn entrepreneurial skills and develop their own tech businesses.
- Youpendo — Developed by two friends who were attending Goldey-Beacom College on soccer scholarships, Youpendo is all about making human connections with faraway people around the world. It launched during the pandemic last spring, and its concept of giving and receiving words of kindness, inspiration and encouragement to and from strangers took off. Today it has users from 111 countries, with new features allowing users to build relationships in safe virtual group environments.
- HensNest Mask — University of Delaware Design Studio Co-Directors Jenni Buckley and Whitney Sample worked with faculty, students and clinical partners to develop a PPE mask design that can be 3D printed quickly and easily assembled with a square of filter material, such as an HVAC filter.
Impact Leader of the Year
Who has most made this community better through impact work, leadership, policymaking or other pathways?
- Stephanie Eldridge, Code Differently — Code Differently has been making a big impact in 2020, with expanded CARES Act-funded programs helping unemployed Delawareans gain skills to pivot into tech jobs. But at its core it’s an organization where Eldridge, along with cofounder (and 2020 RealLIST Engineers honoree) Tariq Hook and their team, work toward a Delaware talent pool that includes bright young developers from under-resourced neighborhoods.
- Charles Vincent, Spur Impact — From the Millennial Summit (which had a successful 2020 as a virtual event) to the Delaware Difference Makers to the DelawareGives platform, Vincent as executive director has mobilized the nonprofit during an age of pandemic and racial reckoning.
- Renata Kowalczyk, Wilmington Alliance — Kowalczyk is a change maker, a listener and a leader who has her fingerprints on many impactful projects in Wilmington, from the Data Innovation Lab to E3 to our own Seeking Equity in Wilmington series.
- Melody Phillips, The Warehouse — The teen-focused element of REACH Riverside, is a by-teens-for-teens project. But its director of operations makes sure that the programs are enriching and engaging, and helps makes things like its new agriculture pod a reality.
- Tamara Varella, WIN Factory — The WIN Factory, the collaborative coworking space of the WIN Factory Wealth League, launched in December 2019 and has blazed through 2020 with Varella front and center, pandemic be damned. The org has been offering virtual workshops, a “camp” for entrepreneurs, and a place where Black and brown entrepreneurs can collaborate and elevate each other.
Technical Leader of the Year
Who is incorporating community-minded action into their technical leadership?
- Ryan Harrington, CompassRed/Data Innovation Lab — Data collection and analysis is more important than ever, and Harrington’s history with Open Data Delaware has shown that he knows the power of civic data. The leader of CompassRed’s data science team, he organized the first projects of The Data Innovation Lab.
- Rob Nicholson, Delaware Department of Technology and Information — Those immersed in New Castle County’s innovation ecosystem may not be as familiar with Nicholson as some of the others on this list. Based deep in Sussex County, he developed DDTI’s Innovation Program. When you see downstate stories on Technical.ly Delaware, there’s a good chance they were pitched by Nicholson, who keeps us aware that tech happens below the Canal.
- Markevis Gideon, NERDiT NOW — A former Hen Hatch winner who made it, along with partners Jake Voorhees and Jonathan Hoxter, all the way to an episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” Gideon runs a digital device repair shop in First State Shopping Center in Newport, and is perhaps best known for his work through the nonprofit NERDiT Foundation, where he and a small team have worked through the pandemic to give away hundreds of refurnished laptops to kids in need.
- Dr. Eric Kmiec, ChristianaCare — CRISPR gene editing is one of the most complex and, sometimes, scary-sounding technologies out there. Dr. Kmiec, founder and director of the Gene Editing Institute (GEI) at ChristianaCare makes it make sense — and gives hope for people diagnosed with cancer and sickle cell, two conditions the GEI focuses on, as well as the issue of equity in bioscience.
- Dr. Peggy Scherle, Prelude Therapeutics — Scherle is the chief scientific officer at the Wilmington-based biopharmaceutical company that raised a $50 million Series C this summer leading up to a successful IPO. She joined in 2018 to play a leadership role in Prelude’s cancer treatment drug development after spending 16 years at another Delaware biopharma company, Incyte.
Business of the Year
What promising young or growing company is inspiring a brighter collective future?
- Marlette Funding — The makers of the popular Best Egg personal lending app are growing and keeping it in (North) Wilmington, with a brand new anchor space at Concord Plaza, where they’ll have room for up to 400 new jobs as the company grows.
- Futures First Gaming — This small startup is bringing something exciting to Delaware in a way we haven’t seen before: esports. So far, they’ve established an esports team in one school and a camp at The Warehouse, and they organize esports competitions. Most important, the trio of founders understands that gaming isn’t just kids stuff — it can be workforce development that can lead to a variety of types of jobs, and their programming reflects that.
- Second Chances Farm — An urban, indoor, hydroponic farm that employe returning citizens after incarceration, Ajit George’s Second Chances Farm is an ambitious startup located in the Riverside neighborhood that faced disaster when local restaurants locked down just ahead its first day of produce delivery. It also made a quick pivot to home delivery.
- Anura — You might have seen the ads online: The cyber fraud-fighting B2B company is based in Middletown, where it’s been thriving and helping companies navigate pandemic pivots to ecommerce with a minimal number of false clicks on their online advertising.
- Carvertise — Carvertise is one of Delaware’s most successful growth companies, starting as a UD startup called PenguinAds and now a thriving nationwide company with big-time clients. They’re also the ones behind the masked New Castle County vehicles you may have seen on the road.
Culture Builder of the Year
What empathetic leader or organizer is making their workplace or professional group more inclusive and resilient? (“Leader” doesn’t need to mean they hold a leadership title.)
- Scott Malfitano, CSC — CSC Station, the business services company’s downtown office location-slash-coworking space near the train station, met its goal to complete most of its renovations and have businesses — including CompassRed and Social Contract — move in by late October. (It formally opened on Nov. 1.) It’s a new kind of space for CSC, and VP Malfitano is hands on in building the new company culture.
- Sharon Kelly Hake, Great Dames — Great Dames has been empowering and uplifting women in Delaware and the region for years with mentoring, events and networking. With everything now digital, the nonprofit has increased it reach and keeps its now-virtual community continually engaged.
- Rob Herrera, The Mill — With its now two locations in downtown Wilmington and near Concord Plaza, The Mill continues to grow and adapt to the pandemic, showing that coworking spaces can survive if you put your mind to it. Herrera is behind several Wilmington projects, including Girard Craft & Cork, and continues to be one of the city’s biggest boosters.
- Dr. Dan Young, Goldey-Beacom College Doctor of Business Administration Program — Dr. Young has made a goal to increase the number of doctors of color at Goldey-Beacom and across Delaware. He’s also a supporter of building up cultural organizations, such as Black fraternities and sororities, in schools like Goldey-Beacom with a substantial number of students of color but little for students to connect with culturally. He is also the new license holder of TEDxWilmington.
- Wendy Scott, Blue Blaze & Associates — Scott is principal, chief strategy officer of Blue Blaze, a Delaware marketing firm that holds the distinction of being entirely led by women and members of the LGBTQ community. Her commitment goes beyond the workplace: She is also an organizer, along with NEWS4Women founder Carol Arnott-Robbins, of the Conversations with Women series, quarterly panels that highlight women in the community who make a difference.