It’s been a transformative year for tech in the First State. Delaware now plays a part in two major tech hubs, the MidAtlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub and the Greater Philadelphia Region Precision Medicine Tech Hub. We’ve seen more local startup accelerators, the opening of the Fintech Hub Building on the STAR Campus, and growth in both newer and older technology companies.
Our annual awards are a virtual celebration where we honor the year’s top innovators, community connectors and more in Delaware. As always, we were looking at people, companies and inventions that are making a difference in local communities, workplaces and the local ecosystem.
We asked for nominations from community members earlier this month and curated the final nominees based on our own reporting. Now, you get to vote on who you think deserves to win. Voting is open through Thursday, Nov. 30 and the winners will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Now here they are, this year’s nominees. Go vote for your favorites!
Invention of the Year
What product, project or release this year is best poised to change their industry?
- Toivoa — Telemedicine is accessible for people with different disabilities, right? The founder of Rauha learned through experience that they are not, making it difficult to access mental health treatment online. Rauha is designed for disabilities and includes a social community for users in similar situations to connect.
- Rush Roto — Originally designed to make taking ecommerce-worthy photos faster and easier, Rush Roto is an AI-powered app that can turn a simple photograph into a professional piece of marketing.
- NESTER — Wilmington-based NESTER makes the first tool that helps homebuyers and homeowners plan and budget for home maintenance and repair costs, helping people forecast these expenses and understand them before making such a large investment.
- Moksha — This Wilmington-based app for inspiration offers encouraging words sent to you as phone messages when you need them.
- Needle Wielders — It’s not an app. It’s not (digital) tech at all, but a new innovation in an old craft that has grown in popularity: sewing. This is a true invention, pitched during the finals of the 2023 Swim with the Sharks competition, for people who want to take a break from tech with their hobby.
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?
- Ryan Harrington and Hec Maldonado-Reis, directors, Data Innovation Lab — The technologists lead Tech Impact’s Data Innovation Lab, where they leverage data and technology for social good. Through partnerships with local government, foundations and nonprofits, the Data Lab has led and contributed to projects including tracing COVID-19 through wastewater, optimizing rental assistance funding in the state, and visualizing Delaware’s healthcare workforce shortage.
- Roddy Flynn, executive director, Delaware Broadband Office — Flynn is the first leader of a new department at DTI, the Delaware Broadband Office, focused on closing the digital divide using nearly $120 million in federal funding. He’s worked hard to bring diverse voices to the table — his office has had 20 town halls in eight months, and he’s personally conducted over 80 meetings and public presentations to get input on barriers to full digital equity.
- Zakiyyah Ali, executive director, Tech Council of Delaware — It’s hard to believe that the Tech Council had its official launch in March 2023. Already it’s had a big impact and has brought people throughout Delaware’s tech ecosystem together, has made partnerships, launched programs and led discussions. Zakiyyah Ali doesn’t work alone, but she is the woman leading the organization.
- Darren Stephenson, program director, gBETA director (Bronze Valley) — Having the Birmingham-based Bronze Valley launch a gBETA accelerator in Wilmington was big news in 2023, and the first cohort was a success. Stephenson made that happen, and at its demo day, the startup founders didn’t hold back on praise for his work.
- Dora Cheatham, executive director, Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance — Cheatham’s leadership has helped put Delaware on the map in 2023 as a technology and science hub, thanks to her work with the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub, which is slated to bring up to $750 million to the area. DESCA was also a co-recipient of a $3.2 million NIH grant.
CTO of the Year
Who is leading groundbreaking technical work within their company or organization? (Similar titles beyond CTO will be accepted.)
- Francis Johnson, CTO, Tech Impact — Johnson oversees the delivery of all technology infrastructure projects, cybersecurity, compliance and support services for Tech Impact. He leads a team of engineers and analysts who support the work of thousands of nonprofit staff and volunteers across hundreds of organizations nationally and is described as “passionate about helping nonprofits build their technology and operational capacity to serve more constituents and communities in an efficient and secure manner.”
- Eric Kmiec, CSO, CorriXR — Kmiec is also executive director of ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute, but with ChristianaCare spinout CorriXR, he’s developing breakthrough cancer treatments using gene editing. Their first clinical trials are expected to start in early 2025.
- Ashlee Cooper, president and curriculum developer, Droneversity — Droneversity was founded in 2021 with a mission to make becoming a certified drone pilot accessible. Cooper, whose background is in microbiology and STEM education, is also the Delaware drone soccer commissioner, after bringing drone soccer to the state as one of Droneversity’s programs.
- Lenzie Davis, CEO, SIVAD — The lifesaving tests developed by the family-run New Castle company SIVAD and its partners help fight sickle cell disease in Nigeria and screen drugs for fentanyl here in Delaware. As a Black-owned business, SIVAD is a leader in supplier diversity.
- Greg Lane, CIO, State of Delaware — Lane succeeded Jason Clarke as CIO of the Delaware Department of Technology and Information (DTI) this summer after serving as chief technology officer for DTI since 2017. Projects include evolving state IT and services and expanding broadband.
Tech Company of the Year
What promising startup or growth-stage company is tackling an interesting problem, shaping its industry or inspiring a brighter collective future?
- Compact Membrane Systems — Newport-based CMS manufactures tech that aims to change the world by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases given off by chemical manufacturing plants by 95% while also economically boosting production. The company raised $16.5 million in an oversubscribed Series A this summer.
- Agilent Technologies — This global analytical instrumentation development and manufacturing company has been in Delaware for decades, but this year it made a $7 million move to expand and upgrade its Little Falls office and lab campus. The company’s HBCU mentorship program, which started in 2022, retained 100% of its non-graduated participants this year.
- TAPP Network — Through a series of collaborations with the Delaware government, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services and the City of Wilmington, this growth-stage company “has brought about transformative changes that have left a lasting mark. By leveraging technology to facilitate economic growth, attracting businesses, and creating opportunities for residents.”
- Infra AI — This DC-to-Wilmington transplant uses AI technology and 360-degree cameras collect data around transportation assets and uses it to manage them more efficiently. Their first client? The City of Wilmington.
- Rotulu — Camden-based Rotulu makes an app that manages student incidents in schools so that educators and administrators can track the data and the effectiveness of action taken. The company was awarded with a STEM Class EDGE Grant in February.
Culture Builder of the Year
What empathetic leader or organizer is making their workplace or professional group more inclusive, resilient or engaging? (“Leader” doesn’t need to mean they hold a leadership title.)
- Anupama (“Ann”) Rajaram, senior transformation lead, Citibank — As co-chair of Citi Women’s Network, Rajaram spearheaded multiple efforts to promote women in leadership roles at Citibank, and she and her core committee group organized professional development and volunteer events to increase member engagement while giving back to the communities they serve, including this year’s Citi Global Volunteer Day. Rajaram also regularly mentors junior women professionals at work and outside.
- Shanais Hilliard, diversity and belonging program leader, CSC — Hilliard is described as passionate, innovative and resilient, inspiring all through her actions while helping to create brave and safe spaces for employees to grow together.
- Allison Taylor Levine, president, Local Journalism Initiative — Levine isn’t shaping the culture of one newsroom, she’s taking the reins to ensure that journalism in Delaware overall is strong, collaborative and challenging. She has recently pivoted to a full time role at the Delaware Journalism Initiative, which she founded, and its newest project, Spotlight Delaware. (Full disclosure, Technical.ly is part of the Delaware Journalism Collaborative.)
- Erica Crell, manager of innovation, Delaware Prosperity Partnership — Crell is one of Delaware’s biggest advocates for the state’s growing pool of diverse businesses, including through her work with Startup302 for underrepresented entrepreneurs. Crell became a member of StartOut, an organization focused on empowering LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, earlier this year.
- Mark Feinmore, senior VP and support services executive, Bank of America — Since 1999, Delaware-based executive Feinmore has been a leader for BOA’s Support Services, which employs over 300 neurodiverse associates to fulfill a variety of jobs for the company. He is also a board chairperson for Disability:IN Delaware.
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