2021 GeekWire Awards revealed: Big winners, surprise guests, and the best in Pacific NW tech
Some of the winners at the 2021 GeekWire Awards during their virtual acceptance speeches on Thursday. (GeekWire video screen grabs)
It’s been a tough year for people everywhere. But Thursday proved to be an inspiring day, as the 2021 GeekWire Awards returned to honor some of the leading innovators and entrepreneurs who make up the Pacific Northwest tech community.
In another virtual event — which everyone hopes will be the last of the pandemic — GeekWire recognized more than 60 finalists and honorees across 14 categories, from Startup of the Year to CEO of the Year and lots in between.
The event featured a number of celebrity cameos and entertaining moments throughout the show, with video greetings from Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm, Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks, and “The Office” actor Rainn Wilson. Singing sensation “The Drunken Tenor” also returned for a dizzying run-though of all the nominees while he hustled around Seattle and back to our livestream home base at Pacific Science Center.
Of our 16 winners and honorees, eight are women, including our three STEM Educators of the Year — a new award. And five are people of color and/or immigrant entrepreneurs.
Keep reading for all the winners, honorees and acceptance speeches from the 2021 GeekWire Awards, presented by Wave Business:
Startup of the Year, presented by West River Group
Anoop Gupta, co-founder and CEO of SeekOut, accepts the first award of the night on Thursday via video link.
Seattle-area startup SeekOut raised $65 million in March to fuel growth of its recruiting software that is like LinkedIn on steroids. It pulls information on potential hires from sites such as LinkedIn and GitHub; from research papers and patents; and other public domains. The platform has built-in diversity filters to help reduce unconscious bias; an automated messaging tool; and a search engine that understands past hiring patterns and needs based on job descriptions. The Series B round valued the company at close to $500 million. SeekOut is profitable and saw annual recurring revenue spike 10X over the past 21 months.
Acceptance speech: “Thank you so much, we are so delighted. It’s great,” co-founder and CEO Anoop Gupta said. “We are in talent acquisition. Where we are headed is, people are the most important asset any company has. How we can help companies do the best with internal and external talent — to develop, to hire, to retain, to redeploy. We are the people company.”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Common Room; Ozette; Shelf Engine; and Strike Graph.
Young Entrepreneur of the Year, presented by First Tech
Winner: Stephanie Strong, founder and CEO of Boulder Care
Stephanie Strong, founder and CEO of Boulder Care.
Stephanie Strong is the founder and CEO of Boulder Care, an app-based addiction treatment program for those suffering from opioid use disorder. An alternative to brick-and-mortar clinics, Boulder aims to provide patients support when and where they need it. The Portland-based startup is building out both a digital platform and a clinical care team. Strong previously was an associate focusing on healthcare services and technology at a New York venture capital firm. She was a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree in healthcare in 2019 and graduated from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
Acceptance speech: “Our mission is to help people through some really challenging times, through addiction and mental health,” Strong said. “All of us have been tested so much in this last year, bringing a lot of empathy and awareness to our cause, but perhaps no more than our team who have worked so hard through everything that has come from COVID-19.”
Strong told GeekWire co-founder and Awards host John Cook how she came up with the idea for Boulder.
“Seeing a lot firsthand in my work in healthcare services investing, how many barriers there are to getting treatment when we have fantastic medical models and psychosocial support that help people get well … the tremendous power of technology to help make those services more accessible so that people can live amazing lives in recovery.
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Aran Khanna; Avi Schiffmann; Kwame Boler and Claudius Mbemba; and Michael Petrochuk.
Deal of the Year – IPOs & Acquisitions, presented by Wilson Sonsini
Eugenio Pace, Auth0 founder and CEO.
Auth0, the billion-dollar Seattle-area startup that is a leader in identity authentication software, is being acquired by Okta, another leader in the space, the companies announced earlier this year. The all-stock deal valued at approximately $6.5 billion is one of the largest acquisitions of a Seattle tech company. Auth0 was co-founded in 2013 by Eugenio Pace, who formerly ran the patterns and practices group at Microsoft, and Matias Woloski, a software engineer who remains the company’s CTO. The startup raised a $120 million round in July at a $1.9 billion valuation, making it a rare Seattle unicorn.
Acceptance speech: “Thank you very much for the recognition, this is certainly a big milestone for us, but a milestone is not the destination it’s just a milestone in a long, long journey that we see in front of us,” Pace said. “We are really proud of calling the Pacific Northwest home, and really looking forward to what’s next for us.”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Accolade; Athira Pharma; Rover; and Sana Biotechnology.
Deal of the Year – Funding, presented by Wilson Sonsini
Winner: Rad Power Bikes
Rad Power Bikes CFO Mark Klebanoff.
After a pandemic year that spurred huge demand for its e-bikes, Seattle’s Rad Power Bikes raised $150 million to fuel growth. It’s the largest investment in an e-bike brand and reflects investor confidence in a global electric bike market expected to nearly double in size to $70 billion by 2027. From its humble bootstrapped roots, Rad now bills itself as the largest e-bike brand in North America.
The fresh cash will be used to help expand its global footprint, which includes three showrooms and 11 service stations. The company, headquartered in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, also plans to double its 325-person headcount this year.
Acceptance speech: “At Rad Power Bikes, we’re all about getting people out of cars and onto bikes and that’s what this fundraising is all about,” said Rad CFO Mark Klebanoff. “It’s good to accelerate our business, to get our collective mobility carbon footprint down.”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: 98point6; DefinedCrowd; Qumulo; and Rec Room.
Innovation of the Year, presented by Wave Business
Vikram Iyer of the University of Washington.
A PhD student at the University of Washington in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering’s Networks and Mobile Systems Lab, Vikram Iyer is using tiny tech to solve big problems. Iyer has previously attached a small wireless camera to the back of a beetle and developed tiny sensors that can be dropped from moths. His efforts around tracking technology helped inform the search for an invasive “murder hornet” nest in Northwest Washington state last fall.
Acceptance speech: “Part of what I worked on here was this platform that allows you to track all kinds of small animals,” Iyer said. “It could be really useful for studying things like birds and many other species that people haven’t been able to do much research on so far. I also think that there’s a lot of applications going forward with this same sort of technology for really small robots as well. I’m excited about possibilities in the future for both of those.”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Group14 Technologies; Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington; LevelTen Energy; CoreStack
Health Innovation of the Year, presented by Premera Blue Cross
Winner: Adaptive Biotechnologies
Lance Baldo, chief medical officer at Adaptive Biotechnologies.
Adaptive Biotechnologies developed a first-of-its kind diagnostic tool called T-Detect COVID. The technology surveys a person’s T-cells to determine if they’ve had COVID-19, which is a more accurate way to get an answer than using antibodies for detecting past infections.
Acceptance speech: “Thank you for acknowledging Adaptive and all the great work that we’ve done here and all the other finalists for all the great innovations being brought forward in the midst of a pandemic,” said Lance Baldo, chief medical officer at Adaptive. “To our partner Microsoft for going on this journey with us, we knew that it was possible that T cells could tell us something about COVID, but we weren’t sure, and luckily that hypothesis was correct.
“The pandemic put technology and innovation under so much pressure that the innovation that we’ve developed here is going to just play forward to the future when we think about how we’re going to figure out how to better diagnose and treat disease. As bad as the pandemic been, it’s absolute an absolute accelerant for innovation. We’re just excited to see where this goes.”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Impel NeuroPharma; Optimize.health; Proprio; and TwinStrand Biosciences.
UX Design of the Year, presented by Blink UX
A Pioneer Square Labs spinout, Joon provides teletherapy for teens and young adults via a mobile app. In addition to therapy sessions, the startup offers interactive mental healthcare tools for users and resources for parents and guardians. Awards judges called the product UX “simple, trust-building and affirming for pandemic-weary teenage users” and said Joon “gives them daily tools to use along with one-on-one therapy sessions.
Acceptance speech: (Design director Joon Shin was not in the Awards Zoom due to a GeekWire technical error, but sent along this note.) “Thank you so much! I’d first like to say, I love that GeekWire has a dedicated award for design. It’s such a crucial part of a company’s success and I’m glad that it’s getting the recognition it deserves.
“Secondly, I know people at Joon are tuned in right now so shout out to everyone at Joon Care. Most of our design is a collaborative effort, and I think it says something about the people at Joon whenever we do get recognized for it.
“And lastly, I’ve seen Joon Care evolve from the very beginning – at PSL and now as part of the core team. I’m excited to see how our society is becoming more aware of adolescent mental health, and how people are recognizing the need for a unique approach to support the developing minds. And I’m just so happy to be part of this effort. Most importantly, seeing that our work really is helping our clients through data is such a great feeling. We’re still very young and there’s so much more to come. So stay tuned for more awesome work from Joon Care. And thank you again so much!”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Boundless; Qumulo: Qumulo Core; Tagboard: Tagboard Producer; and Voodle.
STEM Educator of the Year, presented by DreamBox Learning
Honorees: Lauren Bricker, Cathi Rodgveller, and Kim Williams.
GeekWire has highlighted and endless number of tireless educators over the years who are nurturing the next generation of geeks. This year, we were excited to announce a new award to recognize a select group of the Pacific Northwest’s top teachers. The inaugural cohort is an impressive collection of educators who are inspiring young minds to achieve more in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. They come from universities, public schools and nonprofits, and are working with kids from elementary school into college and supporting fellow teachers as well. The honorees are:
Lauren Bricker, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington.
Cathi Rodgveller, CEO and founder of IGNITE Worldwide.
Kim Williams, science department head, science club faculty advisor at Cougar Mountain Middle School.
Geeks Give Back Award, presented by BECU
Winner: Female Founders Alliance
Female Founders Alliance founder Leslie Feinzaig.
Seattle’s Female Founders Alliance is an organization founded by Leslie Feinzaig in 2017 that supports women and non-binary entrepreneurs. Its Ready, Set, Raise accelerator draws startups from around the nation, and each year FFA hosts its annual Champions Awards to celebrate women leaders. The alliance has its own “curated” networking group specifically for founders and a private FFA Investors Circle for venture capital funds and angel investors supporting the community.
Acceptance speech: “Thank you to my team, our advisors, investors, all of the amazing women that are a part of our community. I want to say that even though this is the Geeks Give Back award, and normally it goes to a nonprofit, that women founders are not a charitable cause, we are an investable opportunity,” Feinzaig said. “We get 2% of all venture capital. We return 63% higher ROI and twice as much revenue for every dollar you invest in us.
“Eight years ago, Jane Park won CEO of the Year and she got on stage and she said that she was looking for product managers and she said her email, and I emailed her and I got a job. That was my first startup job. So I’m going to say that we are hiring and so is every company in our community, [email protected] Reach out to me, I want to hear from you.”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Ada Developers Academy; Game to Grow; Geeking Out Kids of Color (GOKiC); and iUrban Teen.
Hardware/Gadget of the Year, presented by ALLTech
Derek Richardson, founder and CEO of Deako.
Seattle-based Deako’s “plug and play” light switches allow homebuilders and homeowners to easily swap in high-tech, remotely controlled lighting. Its technology works off a home’s existing wiring and lets homebuilders market their projects as smart homes, without a lot of upfront cost. “Our core value proposition is we make it super simple for homeowners to personalize their home lighting in really cool and powerful ways,” said COO Wes Nicol.
Acceptance speech: “We’re honored to be recognized with this award,” Deako founder and CEO Derek Richardson said. “We’re still just growing and expanding. We just did our Series B funding. So we’re just really scaling the company now in a large way, hiring and expanding our product lines.”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Aerovel; Echodyne; MagniX; and Picnic.
Next Tech Titan, presented by BCRA
Sudheer Koneru, Zenoti CEO.
Zenoti reeled in a $160 million Series D round to join the Seattle startup ecosystem’s list of elusive unicorns and supercharge its enterprise software product, which is used by more than 12,000 spas, salons, and other wellness businesses across the globe. The Bellevue, Wash-based company joins an elite group startups valued at more than $1 billion, including six — Convoy, Auth0, Outreach, Qumulo, Remitly, Icertis — that reached “unicorn” status over the past two years.
Acceptance speech: “Thanks a lot for the recognition and the award,” said Zenoti CEO Sudheer Koneru. “We are in the business of helping the beauty industry and the wellness industry. We think this is a beautiful industry because it helps people feel good, it’s not just about looking good. We love the space and industry and we think it serves a big purpose in people’s lives.”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Ally.io; Highspot; Icertis; and Remitly.
Workplace of the Year, presented by JLL
Remitly CEO Matt Oppenheimer.
After a year in which the definition of “workplace” became especially fluid, our understanding of what makes for a great place to work shifted as radically as the physical spaces we’ve inhabited during the pandemic. Remitly added additional holidays to the calendar to give employees one long weekend per month until its anticipated return-to-office date, to promote self-care and wellness. To assist with the transition to working from home, all of Remitly’s corporate employees received a $500 stipend to help with costs associated with getting their home office set up, childcare costs, homeschooling, and more.
Acceptance speech: “I just want to say a huge thanks on behalf of team Remitly for this recognition. This award specifically just puts a huge, huge smile on my face,” CEO Matt Oppenheimer said. “Everyone at this event today has obviously been impacted by the ongoing pandemic and it has really transformed the way we work, the way we learn, and even family dynamics for so many of us. So it’s no small task for employers to navigate the right approach to supporting employees during this incredibly important time with so much change and uncertainty. … I feel super lucky to work in this community where people matter, where employees are stepping up and just completely inspiring ways.
“I just want to say a huge thanks to the Remitly team for being really just open and direct about your experiences over the last year, and letting us know really how we can support you, so thanks specifically to our HR team for all of the empathetic partnership across the entire company over the last year.”
See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Lions + Tigers; Omnidian; Hiya; and Blink UX.
Startup CEO of the Year
Winner: Alessya Visnjic, co-founder & CEO of WhyLabs
Alessya Visnjic, co-founder and CEO of WhyLabs.
WhyLabs spun out Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence last fall and raised $4 million for its AI data monitoring platform. The startup is led by CEO Alessya Visnjic, a University of Washington grad who spent eight years at Amazon helping the tech giant develop its machine learning infrastructure. She said she left the tech giant in 2017 “with a vision to enable every enterprise to operate AI reliably.”
Acceptance speech: “I am so delighted and honored to be considered and nominated. And I’m absolutely in disbelief to be winning,” Visnjic said. “WhyLabs wouldn’t be possible without the amazing WhyLabs team, my incredible family and we’re excited at WhyLabs to continue building tools that make AI more robust and responsible.”