GeekWire Awards 2020 revealed: Big winners, celebrities and surprises power virtual event

Winners of the 2020 GeekWire Awards make their acceptance speeches on the live-streamed event.

We couldn’t get together in person, but we still found a way to celebrate the best in Pacific Northwest tech on Thursday as the GeekWire Awards went virtual.

In a livestream event that recognized everything from Startup of the Year to Next Tech Titan, GeekWire crowned winners in a dozen categories.

Winners accepted via Zoom — only two forgot to un-mute! — and special guests including Bill Gates and Seattle Sounders FC goalie Stefan Frei offered well wishes.

While the nation is going through dramatic changes, Gates said in his video message, the innovative spirit of the region he calls home hasn’t changed.

“Thanks to the work of entrepreneurs, scientists and technology leaders, the Pacific Northwest continues to be a leader in breakthroughs that improve the way we communicate, conduct business, travel and live,” Gates said. “With your tremendous skills and creativity, you all have important roles to play in building a healthier and more just world.”

Robert McPherson, aka The Drunken Tenor from Seattle Opera, performs as part of the GeekWire Awards.

If you kicked back at home and enjoyed the Awards happy-hour style, perhaps you tried to sing along with The Drunken Tenor. With thanks to Seattle Opera, Robert McPherson offered up a combination of opera and comedy that was just the mix we needed.

Not only did McPherson run through the names of every nominee in operatic fashion, he also paid tribute to our new WFH reality with an ode to video conferencing called “Opera di Zoom.”

“I’mmmmmmm sorrrrrryyyyyyy, I was on mute” is the opera lyric for our times.

And now … the winners in all 12 categories of the 2020 GeekWire Awards.

Startup of the Year, presented by BCRA

Winner: Ally

Ally founder and CEO Vetri Vellore accepts the award for Startup of the Year on the live stream.

As builders of software that helps companies track and hit their goals, Seattle startup Ally can check off a big achievement after winning Startup of the Year.

Ally’s software helps companies manage their Objectives and Key Results (OKR), a popular framework for running teams and businesses that gained traction across the industry thanks in part due to its use at Google.

Founder and CEO Vetri Vellore thanked customers who did business with the startup back in the first quarter of 2020, before adding, “Wow, Q1 feels like a long, long time ago now.”

Vellore came up with the idea for Ally after an experience at his previous startup. In 2007, he co-founded Chronus, a company that built digital tools for employee development programs. He implemented OKRs but found it cumbersome to track progress with spreadsheets and other manual methods. So Vellore built his own tool to streamline the process, which is what eventually led him to start Ally.

The company raised big funds last year and has pulled in $26 million to date while attracting a customer base that includes heavyweights like Slack, Remitly, DoorDash, Nike, LG, Smartsheet and more.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Armoire, LevelTen Energy, Syndio Solutions, Uplevel.

Young Entrepreneur of the Year, presented by ALLTech

Winner: Sara Itucas, co-founder of Legalpad

Sara Itucas, co-founder and COO of Legalpad, accepts the award for Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

After personally experiencing the bureaucracy of immigrating to the United States, Sara Itucas sought a solution for simplifying the process of obtaining skilled work visas.

That solution was Legalpad, a startup she co-founded along with Brandon Bloom that helps businesses collect, compile and submit work visa applications.

“I want to thank all of the immigrants out there who are going through it and trying to make sense of all of the changes that are happening in this new COVID world,” Itucas said in her acceptance speech. She also thanked the “No. 1 immigrant” in her life, her mom.

Itucas continues to lead product and operations at the startup, which participated in the 2018 Techstars Seattle accelerator program.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Kwame Boler & Claudius Mbemba, co-founders of NEU; Michael Petrochuk, co-founder and CTO of WellSaid Labs; Aran Khanna, co-founder and CEO of Reserved.ai; Tony Huang, co-founder and CEO of Possible Finance.

Deal of the Year: IPO and Acquisitions, presented by WSGR

Winner: Tableau acquired by Salesforce for $15.7 billion

Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky accepts the award for Deal of the Year: IPO and Acquisitions.

In a major shakeup of the Seattle tech scene, Salesforce placed a big bet on data visualization and business intelligence when it acquired Tableau for $15.7 billion.

Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky, sporting a “Data Rockstar” T-shirt, noted the shared values of Tableau and Salesforce and their relentless focus on customers.

“None of us could have predicted how the past year was going to go and the challenging times we’re facing,” Selipsky said. “It’s more important than ever to put data and compassion at the front of all the decisions that we’re making.”

Tableau had been on a roll prior to the acquisition, shifting its data visualization software to a subscription service under the leadership of Selipsky, an ex-Amazon Web Services executive. Tableau remains independent as part of the deal, which effectively establishes Seattle as Salesforce’s second headquarters.

Prior to the deal, Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff had long sought to make the Seattle area a strategic part of the business. GeekWire previously reported that the combined companies would have more than 3,100 employees in the Seattle region and collectively occupy north of 650,000 square feet of office space.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists are: Adaptive Biotechnologies prices IPO at $20 per share; Assurance acquired by Prudential for $2.35 billion; Xevo acquired by Lear for $320 million; Xnor AI acquired by Apple.

Deal of the Year: Funding, presented by WSGR

Winner: Auth0

Auth0 CEO Eugenio Pace accepts the Award for Deal of the Year: Funding.

Maybe unicorns aren’t so elusive after all.

Auth0, the Bellevue, Wash.-based startup that helps developers build identity authentication capabilities into their applications, reached that status last year with a massive $103 million round. The Series E investment, led by Sapphire Ventures, brought Auth0’s total funding to more than $210 million.

“We started Auth0 seven years ago. Sometimes it feels like seven minutes and sometimes it feels like 70 years,” CEO Eugenio Pace said. “But it’s been a great journey.”

Auth0 combines existing login and identity verification options into a few lines of code that developers can quickly add to their applications. Its platform includes services including single sign-on, two-factor authentication, password-free login capabilities and the ability to detect password breaches.

The company was also a finalist for Next Tech Titan this year and Pace was a finalist for Big Tech CEO of the Year in 2019. Auth0 just raised an additional $120 million in a round led by Salesforce Ventures.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Amperity, Outreach, Remitly, Vacasa.

Innovation of the Year, presented by Wave Business Solutions

Winner: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s vapor detection technology

Senior scientist Robert Ewing of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory accepts the Award for Innovation of the Year on the GeekWire Awards live stream.

Add Innovation of the Year to the list of awards being collected by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s broad network of government-funded research institutions across the country, PNNL’s research on national security and energy is worthy of recognition. Last October, the organization won three R&D 100 Awards — recognizing top innovations for 56 years — bringing its lifetime total to 111 victories.

PNNL’s VaporID project aims to advance detection of nuclear explosions and malware. The group also built a device that can identify hints of narcotics and explosives in the air.

“Research and development is always exciting for me,” PNNL senior scientist Richard Ewing said. “This is a discovery we were able to make on really detecting extremely low levels of explosive and drug vapors. The National Lab’s a great place — we have a lot of opportunities and equipment to work with.”

Based in Richland, Wash., PNNL hopes its Seattle office can be an effective recruiting tool and that the facility rivals the city’s more high-profile research institutions.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Atomo Coffee’s beanless brew; the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence’s Aristo software; MagniX’s all-electric motor for airplanes; Rebellyous Food’s plant-based nuggets.

Health Innovation of the Year, presented by Premera

Winner: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Dr. Matthias Stephan, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, accepts the award for Health Innovation of the Year.

At a time when its work is taking on some of the most pressing and complex problems in health sciences, it might be tough to focus on just one innovation from Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Fred Hutch was recognized for how researchers have demonstrated the effectiveness of a new method for getting immune cells to fight solid tumors — by spreading them like jam onto ultra-thin sheets of metal mesh, and then laying the mesh onto the tumors.

“It’s a technology at the interface of immunology and chemical engineering, and it’s a great time. Five years ago it wouldn’t have been possible, the materials wouldn’t have been available,” said senior study author Matthias Stephan, a faculty member in the Fred Hutch Clinical Research Division. “It’s prime time for immunotherapy.”

In December, Stephan said the findings take a significant step toward making cell therapies effective against solid tumors by showing that a thin metal mesh loaded with T cells engineered to fight ovarian cancer cleared tumors in 70% of treated mice.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Athira Pharma, Blaze Bioscience, Sana Biotechnology, Sound Life Sciences.

UX Design of the Year, presented by Blink UX

Winner: Skilljar

Skilljar VP of Marketing Aashish Dhamdhere, accepts the award for UX Design of the Year on behalf of the company.

Founded by Amazon vets Sandi Lin and Jason Stewart, Skilljar provides the back-end technology and software that lets companies build cloud-based training and onboarding programs for their own users.

“Our mission at Skilljar is to help individuals and organizations turn innovation into impact to education,” said Skilljar VP of Marketing Aashish Dhamdhere. “The past five months have only served to reinforce this mission for us.”

In its pitch in the category, Skilljar said that the success of its product depends on the learner’s ability to find what they need to learn, learn it, and successfully solve their problem.

Judges responded, saying that “Skilljar has turned a complex curriculum experience into a guided or flexible model based on user needs.”

Skilljar raised $16 million in 2018.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: 98point6, Karat, Spruce Up, Tagboard.

Geeks Give Back, presented by BECU

Winner: Year Up

Fred Krug, managing director of Year Up, accepts the Geeks Give Back award on behalf of the organization.

Stand up for Year Up, this year’s Geeks Give Back winner, an Awards category that recognizes an organization that is making the community a better place.

Founded in Boston in 2000, the nonprofit training program launched in the Puget Sound region in 2011 with a mission to “close the opportunity divide.” The national initiative helps lower-income students take technology courses tuition-free and connects them with internships. Students also receive “wraparound” support including career skill development and social services.

Fred Krug, managing director of Year Up, thanked the corporate partners, area colleges and mentors who make Year Up’s work possible.

“Of the 1,200+ Year Up Puget Sound alumni who are kicking butt during this time who are continuing to work and continuing to grow their careers and move forward in the community and representing the Year Up brand, I want to say thank you,” Krug said. “They keep showing that even if opportunity isn’t distributed equally, yet, talent most definitely is.”

A strength of the Year Up program is its ties with industry partners including Amazon, Expeditors, Smartsheet, Salesforce, Microsoft, and Expedia. According to Year Up, 90 percent of graduates have jobs or enroll in additional education programs within four months of finishing the program.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Fledge, Future for Us, Unloop, UW Center for an Informed Public.

Hardware/Gadget of the Year, presented by First Tech Federal Credit Union

Winner: Ventec Life Systems

Ventec Chief Strategy Officer Chris Brooks accepts the award for Hardware/Gadget of the Year.

There are gadgets, and then there are life-saving gadgets.

As the COVID-19 outbreak began hitting, Bothell, Wash.-based Ventec’s portable ventilator was sorely needed at hospitals across the country. A deal with General Motors to increase production is on target to deliver the 30,000 ventilators by the end of August, the companies say.

Ventec’s portable life-support system called VOCSN combines ventilation, oxygen, cough assistance, suction and nebulization (medication delivery) services in one suitcase-sized device. A patient using the device as a ventilator doesn’t have to switch to a different machine to clear their lungs of fluid or take breathable medication, which Ventec says makes the device easier to use and also lowers the risk of complications like infections.

“The honor goes to the team here who’s been working around the clock,” said Chris Brooks, chief strategy officer at Ventec. “Our mission here at Ventec is to make lives better for patients and their caregivers who need ventilators and a lot of other equipment. … It’s been a very busy year. Our team has not been working from home.”

Ventec was founded in 2013 by CEO Doug DeVries, a ventilation technology expert who was inspired to create VOCSN after his father was diagnosed with ALS. The company raised a $20 million investment round in January and employs more than 100 people.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Joylux, Picnic, RealWear, TerraClear.

Next Tech Titan, presented by Slalom

Winner: Outreach

Outreach Chief Marketing Officer Margaret Arakawa accepts the award for Next Tech Titan on behalf of the company on the GeekWire Awards live stream.

We spotted another unicorn. With a $114 million funding round that pushed its valuation into vaunted $1 billion territory, Outreach is poised for even bigger things.

The sales engagement platform helps businesses engage prospects more efficiently and effectively — and close more deals.

Outreach CEO Manny Medina said last year that the new round of funding would support the startup’s “best-in-class machine learning capabilities and take them to the next level.”

“No matter we’re doubling revenue and we’re growing headcount, we have grit and resilience, we’re empathetic in these incredibly hard times, we have optimism and we rise to the occasion, celebrate and encourage diversity and stand up for all the right things,” said Margaret Arakawa, chief marketing officer at Outreach. “We hope to continue to do that while we are small as well as when we grow big.”

Outreach recently raised an additional $50 million this past June.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Auth0, ExtraHop, Icertis, Zipwhip.

Startup CEO of the Year, presented by JLL

Winner: Kristina Bergman, CEO of Integris

Kristina Bergman, Integris co-founder and CEO, winner of Startup CEO of the Year.

With its software that helps companies manage personal information data and meet compliance mandates, Integris has attracted customers interested in privacy. And it also attracted a buyer.

CEO Kristina Bergman, previously a principal at Ignition Partners and a manager at Microsoft, co-founded Integris in 2016.

“Obviously you can’t be the Startup CEO of the Year without the ‘Startup Team of the Year,’” Bergman said. “A huge thank you to the Integris team for solving a really huge problem, to help keep all of our data private.”

A lot has changed since Bergman was nominated and named a finalist in this category. OneTrust, an Atlanta-based privacy software company valued at nearly $3 billion, acquired Integris in June.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Tushar Garg, CEO of Flyhomes; Diego Oppenheimer, CEO of Algorithmia; Xiao Wang, CEO of Boundless; Yifan Zhang, CEO of Loftium.

Big Tech CEO of the Year, presented by EY

Winner: Matt Oppenheimer, CEO of Remitly

Remitly CEO Matt Oppenheimer accepts the award for Big Tech CEO of the Year.

Third time’s a charm for Matt Oppenheimer!

Previously nominated twice for CEO of the Year honors, the Remitly leader and co-founder is finally take home the prize.

Oppenheimer also thanked his team, saying the award could be called the “Big Tech Team Award.”

“We’re able to accomplish our vision, we’re able to serve over 3 million customers,” Oppenheimer said. “While I’m frequently the face of Remitly, which is a privilege, it’s obviously truly, truly a team effort.”

Oppenheimer co-founded Remitly in 2011 to transform the $600 billion global remittance industry. His company is certainly well on its way. Remitly, ranked No. 4 on the GeekWire 200, helped customers spend more than $6 billion in 2018.

Remitly has raised nearly $300 million and grown to more than 1,000 employees.

“As we like to say internally a lot, ‘We’re just getting started,’” Oppenheimer said.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Dan Lewis, CEO of Convoy; Karl Siebrecht, CEO of Flexe; Raj Singh, CEO of Accolade; Yvonne Wassenaar, CEO of Puppet.

A big thanks to our longtime awards presenting partner, Wave Business, for supporting this fun community event. Also, thanks to gold and category sponsors: BECUBCRABlink UXEYJLLPremeraSlalomWSGR and First Tech Federal Credit Union. And to our supporting sponsors Bader MartinFlyhomesMozFunkoKiller Visual Strategies and Tagboard.

While the virtual event was free to attend, we encourage you to consider a donation to our non-profit partner, Technology Access Foundation.

Here’s a sampling of reaction from the community.

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