Baltimore, these are your nominees for the 2021 Awards

Baltimore, these are your nominees for the 2021 Awards

The Awards are back, recognizing the leaders who have shaped Baltimore’s technology and entrepreneurship community this year, and set it up for success going forward.

There are leaders spearheading a fresh wave of collaborative ecosystem building, as well as new companies and products helping us to navigate a moment that continues to see societal shifts. Here’s your chance to honor them.

Winners for Baltimore will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 15

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?

  • UpSurge Baltimore team: 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 Alma Cocina Latina quickly became a meeting point for folks from across the community.
  • Project Waves team: With the need to close the digital divide at the top of the agenda like never before, the team at community internet service provider Project Waves has grown quickly. Led by now-permanent executive director Samantha Musgrave, the org is building partnerships for big projects, including bringing internet to an entire apartment building in Johnston Square. The org is also a leading voice for digital equity, and equitable growth of tech resources in a city where 96,000 households still lack access to wireline internet.
  • Maryland Momentum Fund team: The University System of Maryland’s venture fund is a community builder by design, as it funds and provides resources for companies from across the dozen universities under its umbrella. The collaborative spirit at the heart of this is embodied by the work of its leaders. Managing Director Claire Broido Johnson is a connector willing to take the reins and spearhead initiatives like the new BlueTechMD. And in discussing a new partnership, it’s not long before USM Venture Development Director Lindsay Ryan’s name comes up. They’re not only building a fund, but also an ecosystem.
  • Baltimore Tracks steering committee: While a clarion call came from 2020, the work to build a more diverse tech industry is a long-term effort. The coalition Baltimore Tracks emerged to carry out this work, gathering the city’s growth companies to make diversity, equity and inclusion commitments, organizing a job fair and compiling data. At the heart of this work has been the steering committee, which includes EcoMap Technologies COO (and former Protenus chief of staff) Sherrod Davis, SmartLogic Chief of Staff Michael Castagnola, b.well D&I Business Partner James Fillyaw, Mindgrub Account Director Meredith Bennet, FlaveApp cofounder Derek Battle and Mindstand CEO Michael Ogunsanya.
  • Early Charm Ventures team: Led by executive officers Ken Malone and Kelli Booth, Pigtown-based venture studio Early Charm Ventures moves naturally among the region’s academic institutions, government labs and entrepreneurs to spin up new startups built around cutting-edge academic research in areas like drug design, custom materials, blue economy and engineered products. Alongside this, the studio is working to build the ecosystem, whether by helping to gather CEOs for learning, partnering with firms like Conscious Venture Lab, Innovators of Progress and Innovation Works to expand ventures and solve problems, mentoring companies or expanding Early Charm’s own production space in the city. Look closely at partnerships among the academic, government and entrepreneurial community that have formed over the last year, and it’s likely that Early Charm is involved.

Invention of the Year

What product, project or release this year is best poised to change its industry?

  • CelcyA combination oven and freezer with AI for ordering, the tagline of this Sykesville-based company is “stop cooking.” Formerly called SueChef, the autonomous kitchen appliance stores meals, and cooks them on-demand. It’s powered by AI. The founding team includes Max Wieder, Edward Holzinger and Clayton James.
  • Curie DxAmong many compelling healthcare-focused innovations developed at Johns Hopkins, this stands out as a promising tool that times with the ongoing shift to telehealth. Dr. Therese Canares built on a research collaboration with Mathias Unberath to develop a mobile application that uses AI and a phone’s camera to diagnose common diseases.
  • CyDeploy: Baltimore’s heralded cybersecurity talent is never far from an awards conversation, and the startup formed entrepreneur Tina Williams-Koroma has stood out for funding awards and pitch competitions this year. Designed to create a replica of a company’s system, the product is aiming to help companies address a key issue that leads to attacks: making security updates. The UMBC-affiliated company was among the startups taking part in the Maryland New Venture Fellowship for Cybersecurity pairing entrepreneurs and researchers, and won the initiative’s pitch competition.
  • Link Labs AirFinder OnSite: The AirTag has made asset-tracking a familiar consumer concept. Here’s one for industry from a Johns Hopkins spinout. Developed by Annapolis-based LinkLabs, AirFinder Onsite is an Internet of Things tool that’s designed to help industrial users track equipment, supplies and other assets in a warehouse or other facility. The technology includes Bluetooth Low Energy and phase ranging, boasting a battery life of up to seven years.
  • Novel MicrodevicesA prime example of how innovators in Baltimore are using technology to solve tough problems in medicine, the Inner Harbor company founded by Andrea Pais and Rohan Pais is developing tests for STDs, such as a strain of gonorrhea that is resistant to antibiotics. In one of the most-high profile awards of the year, the company attracted $13.8 million in funding from global nonprofit Carb-X.

CTO of the Year

Who is leading groundbreaking technical work within their company or organization? 

  • Todd Carter, City of Baltimore: Carter is Baltimore City’s chief information and chief digital officer, leading the Baltimore City Office of Information & Technology. He assumed an interim role in the City’s top tech post on an interim role in 2019, and later was appointed to the full-time position. He’s earned praise from the City Council and has served as a key leader as the City undertakes modernization efforts under Mayor Brandon Scott.
  • Matthew Lim, Techslice: The managing partner at software product development company Techslice, Lim leads a company bringing new products to the medical field alongside innovators. He’s a leader on a team emerged as a community force this year, highlighted by a demo day to connect companies and investors.
  • Kenyatta Powers Rucker, Maryland Department of Human Services: Powers is CIO of the state department that serves as the key health and human services provider. A leader of the team that manages the department’s Office of Technology for Human Services, Powers is also a willing mentor who founded Taste of Technology, which is designed to expose women and underrepresented youth to career opportunities in IT. The story she shared at a 2019 Baltimore Womxn in Tech event about her journey rising up through the department over 16 years has stuck with us ever since.
  • Joseph Spurrier, Kion: It has been a momentous year for Fulton-based cloud enablement company Kion, as it raised a $9.5 million Series A and rebranded from The company’s growth is coming as cloud technology is becoming more of a cornerstone in a company’s technology infrastructure. In his role as cofounder and CTO, Spurrier is a leading voice on the front lines of this new wave.
  • Brian Strom, Elevate: Talk to Strom, and you’ll quickly get a big-picture understanding of how software and startups develop. The cofounder of Hunt Valley-based ConnectYourCare, Strom emerged this year as cofounder of Elevate, a company applying fintech tools to consumer directed benefits. He’s a Baltimore-based leader of a distributed team making moves in a national market.

Startup of the Year

What promising young company is tackling an interesting problem in a new way or inspiring a brighter collective future?

  • The Black Brain Trust: Angel St. Jean is building a company that aims to bring an equity score to for-profit businesses. It’s a tool that can put metrics behind DEI efforts, and it is gaining momentum. After completing ETC’s AccelerateBaltimore program, the company received funding from Fearless and Harbor Bank of Maryland CDC.
  • Insightin Health: Kicking off the year with a $12 million Series A, the digital health company founded by Enam Noor is among the vanguard of digital health companies. It is also building a base in the city as it grows a South Baltimore office at a time when many companies are thinking in remote terms.
  • Live Chair HealthFounded by Andrew Suggs, the startup bringing health resources to barbershops and salons has gained momentum in 2021 since being named to’s RealLIST Startups 2021, including participating in the 1501 Health accelerator from LifeBridge Health and CareFirst.
  • RelavoAmong a wave of startups being built by Johns Hopkins students who are now based in the city after graduation, Relavo stands out as it makes marked progress on development of its medical device, called PeritoneX, that aims to minimize the risk of infection in home dialysis. After winning $500,000 from the $500,000 from the Kidney X Innovation accelerator in 2020, the company has built through Baltimore resources such as downtown’s Maryland Development Center.
  • Truvelop: Founded by Lisa First-Willis, the RealLIST Startups 2020 company created an app that’s helping companies engage employees, whether working remotely or in the field. Providing feedback, tracking goals and helping managers as they work to help employees, it’s the kind of solution that speaks to a moment when remote work has picked up, and The Great Resignation has underscored the importance of engaging employees. A $200,000 investment from TEDCO earlier this year is helping it to move forward.

Growth Company of the Year

What growing company is most shaping the future of its industry?

  • Apkudo: Many of the top smartphone names send phones to a device lab in Southeast Baltimore. That’s part of the operation in which Apkudo manages and optimizes supply chains that underlie the mobile devices that are central to our lives. Quietly building over a decade, the company raised $14 million in Series B investment funding late last year with designs on international growth.
  • b.well Connected Health: The pandemic has sped up tech adoption in healthcare, and b.well Connected Health is right in the midst of the wave, with a platform that serves as the “digital front door” for access to data, appointments, health history info and more. With a team that has tripled and a $32M Series B raised this year, it is looking to keep growing.
  • Dragos: A unicorn from the Baltimore area remains a rare sighting, and Hanover-based Dragos offered one such moment this fall when it crossed the billion-dollar valuation mark with a $200 million Series D round, which followed last year’s $110 million Series C. With cybersecurity for critical infrastructure and industrial control systems, the company is an example of local cyber talent building commercial companies that are being used worldwide.
  • Gliknik: One of the stalwarts of the University of Maryland BioPark, the biopharmaceutical company is advancing three treatments for cancer and autoimmune disease, backed by an $11.5 million Series C earlier this year. It’s a leader among the companies that developed treatments inside the city’s medical institutions, and grown an economic base that creates jobs.
  • Leap: The Columbia-based home services software company has standout numbers, as it posted 756% growth over three years to make this year’s Inc. 5000. It is also considering culture as it grows, as CEO Patrick Fingles has been thoughtful about the importance of communication and honesty.

Culture Builder of the Year

What empathetic leader or organizer is making their workplace or professional group more inclusive, resilient or engaging? 

  • Stephanie Baggage, senior manager of people development, Fearless: Downtown digital services agency Fearless continues to grow quickly, but it’s equally known for centering people and the culture even as it gains more prominent work and influence. Earlier this year, Baggage articulated how that plays out as she told us about how the company’s culture was built, from passion coaches working alongside team members to open dialogue. It offered a reminder that strong workplaces consider the whole person, not just the teammate at work.
  • Nakeia L. Drummond, founder, The WELL: The founder of NLD Strategic, an equity-centered management consulting and design firm, Drummond is working to bring Black women entrepreneurs together and help them grow. She’s doing this work through the Women’s Entrepreneur Leadership Lab, which marked a homecoming this fall and is expanding with chapters nationally, as well.
  • Joe Mechlinski, CEO, SHIFT: Leading a consulting firm that has worked with companies on workplace culture and engagement, the social entrepreneur and author has been a leading voice as we work to make sense of a time of shifts in how we work, and society-shaking events that influence our relationships to teammates. With an acquisition, SHIFT is now carrying out this work through a software platform called Latch. It’s applying the tools of social networks inside companies.
  • Kim Paradise, chief of staff, Mindgrub: A leader inside the Locust Point-based tech agency, Paradise coordinates across departments to bring major initiatives to life for the team, such as Wellness Week and Games for Good. As chair of the agency’s charitable giving committee, she’s a key conduit for how a growing tech team works in the community in Baltimore.
  • Anthony Vaughan, cofounder, E1B2 CollectiveBuilding the E1B2 Collective, Vaughan has become a leading voice on how we work, and growing inclusive teams from the start. That’s at the intersection of talent, workplace culture and employee experience that makes up the emerging field of people operations. Find him speaking, hosting podcasts and working inside companies to create impact.
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