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Attendees at EMP for the sold out GeekWire Awards.

Seattle’s tech community is alive and kicking.

That much was evident at the 2015 GeekWire Awards at the EMP in Seattle, where we had a blast welcoming nearly 1,000 of you for our annual celebration honoring the very best in the Pacific Northwest tech community.

awards-bishop-IMG_7222After collecting more than 25,000 votes, we had the pleasure of naming winners in 13 geeky categories representing the pillars of the tech community here in the Pacific Northwest.

Winners walked away with custom-made geeky soldier trophies to show off on their mantles, recognizing their climb up the startup charts. Check out Twitter to see some reaction from our awesome attendees.

Stay tuned for more coverage from the event — you can watch video of the program here — but without further ado, here’s a rundown of the winners in each category. A big thanks to Eric Tra for snapping the photos, and presenting sponsor Wave Business Solutions for helping to make the Awards possible.

Startup of the Year, presented by 9Mile Labs

Winner: Koru

Koru CEO Kristen Hamilton.

Recent college grads are dreadfully underemployed, yet many companies can’t find enough qualified applicants to fill key roles. That’s where Koru steps in. The Seattle company, co-founded by Onvia co-founder Kristen Hamilton, serves as a “coach and connector” for young people trying to break into the workforce.

koruawards11Since raising an $8 million series A funding round from Maveron and others earlier this year, the company has continued to sign up universities such as the University of Washington, as well as employers like LinkedIn, Zulily and Yelp.

Hamilton called the community of entrepreneurs in Seattle “remarkable” after accepting her award and explained how at Koru, “we believe in grit over grades.”

“We are working our asses off to try and transform the landscape to make sure young people have opportunity based on what they show they can do, not just on a number that gets put on them,” she said. 

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: OfferUp, Qumulo, Remitly, and Shippable.

CEO of the Year, presented by EY

Winner: Scott McFarlane of Avalara

Avalara CEO Scott McFarlane.
Avalara CEO Scott McFarlane.

Sales tax automation is not really that sexy. But under the leadership of Avalara CEO Scott McFarlane, everything just is more fun — even figuring out efficient ways to help online businesses track sales taxes across various jurisdictions.  Yes, there are the margarita and surfing parties, and then everything in that bright orange motif (even the toilet paper rolls in the Avalara bathrooms are a bright orange).

Avalara founder Rory Rawlings and CEO Scott McFarlane celebrate after McFarlane won the award for CEO of the Year.

But McFarlane, who studied economics at Claremont McKenna College, co-founding a fitness equipment company with his college roommate, is not just ripping it up at the company’s Bainbridge Island and Seattle locations. Last November, McFarlane helped orchestrate a whopping $100 million investment from private equity giant Warburg Pincus, money that has helped the 800-person company grow aggressively through acquisitions and product development.

While accepting his award on stage, McFarlane said that “Seattle is absolutely the best place to run a business.”

“I might be the luckiest person on earth,” he said. “I have great investors and great Avalarians that bleed orange every single day. This is for you guys.”

McFarlane called Avalara founder Rory Rawlings up on stage after his short speech.

“Scott, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here for reasons only you know,” Rawlings told McFarlane. “You are my friend, you are my mentor … you are the leader of this company and the leader of this industry. I love you, man.”

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Barry Crist of Chef, Carlos Guestrin of Dato, Peter Hamilton of Tune and Liz Pearce of LiquidPlanner.

Hardware/Gadget of the Year, presented by Nytec

Winner: Meld 

Meld co-founder Darren Vengroff.

Ready to upgrade your stovetop? Meld knobs, which work with existing oven ranges, are controlled by a temperature-sensing clip that sits in boiling water, oil, or any liquid in a pot on the stove. The clip, meanwhile, communicates with a recipe app. When a user starts cooking something, the app tells the clip to reach a specific temperature and the knobs then turn automatically.

meldawardsdarrenThe idea is to help people control temperature throughout the cooking process and bring some innovation to an appliance that’s largely stayed the same for decades.

Meld co-founder Darren Vengroff encouraged folks to buy a Meld device via Kickstarter “if you want to cook better at home,” and thanked his wife.

“A huge thanks to my wife Hilary who has tolerated me running a bootstrapped startup for the last 14 months,” he said on stage. “She’s heard more times than anyone should have to hear, ‘don’t worry, one more milestone, then we’ll go raise money.'” 

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists:  Amazon Echo, Moment, Microsoft HoloLens and Wiserg Harvester.

App of the Year, presented by Tune

Winner: Siren 

Siren founder Susie Lee.

There’s no shortage of dating apps on the market. But Seattle-based contemporary digital artist and entrepreneur Susie Lee is taking a different approach with Siren, a mobile app that launched last summer and seeks to empower women by allowing them to make the first move.

susieleesirenawards11Features of Siren include a “Question of the Day” designed to elicit responses that shed light on users’ personalities more effectively than filling out a profile page.

Siren founder Susie Lee told the crowd that her app was “changing the face of technology.”

“We are part of a change in technology that basically recognizes you still only have 24 hours a day and a few short years on the planet, so what are you going to do?” Lee said on stage. “Are you really going to stare at a screen for the rest of your life? Our mission is to deliver something in which people can meet each other and connect in real life. What we’re going to do is change the world one pants off at a time.” 

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Alaska Airlines, Dwellable, OfferUp and Starbucks.

Hire of the Year, presented by Xtreme Consulting

Winner: Charlie Tillinghast of Mixpo 

Samuel Tillinghast, 17-year-old son of Charlie Tillinghast.

Former boss Charlie Tillinghast returned to Seattle from London last year, taking on a more active role at Mixpo, a Seattle video advertising company where he served on the board. Then, earlier this year, liking so much of what he saw, Tillinghast stepped into the full-time CEO role, bringing years of experience in the video advertising business.

charlieawards Tillinghast“I was immediately struck by Mixpo’s culture where employees are so strongly committed to one another. I experienced a fantastic culture at that drove so much of its pre-acquisition success. I hoped I could find a great group of people whose values matched mine to lead again and Mixpo has provided that opportunity, for which I am grateful” Tillinghast said. “We have ambitious growth plans that have the tremendous advantage of a strong company culture and supportive board as a foundation.”

Founded in 2007, Mixpo is backed with more than $10 million in funding from Madrona, Yaletown Venture Partners and others. Tillinghast wasn’t able to accept his award, but his 17-year-old son Samuel appeared on stage in his place.

“He’s a bottom line sort of guy,” Samuel said of his father. “Here is he is, winning Hire of the Year, yet he’s still so cheap that I have to drive him to the bus stop every morning because he won’t buy himself a car. He should have been Bootstrapper of the Year.”

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Chee Chew hired from Google by Amazon; Richard Clarke, former White House aid, joins Context Relevant; Dr. Gary Gilliland joins the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as president; and Joanna Lord joins Porch as VP of Marketing.

Young Entrepreneur of the Year, presented by OfferUp 

Winner: Gilad Berenstein of Utrip 

Utrip CEO Gilad Berenstein.

After launching its online travel service last April, Utrip continues to grow under the direction of 27-year-old CEO Gilad Berenstein. The company is adding new users each month, and while Berenstein says revenues are small, they are starting to grow. The company raised $1.6 million last year, and now employs 11 people.


Berenstein came up with the idea for Utrip after traveling in Europe following grad school, noting that travel books just weren’t good enough to help craft his experience. The University of Washington grad wondered if a more personalized experience could be created, without the high costs of a travel agent.

Gilad called Seattle the “single best tech community in the country” in his acceptance speech and noted how travel impacted his life.

“Travel is the best thing in the world,” he said. “If I think back on my life, the most meaningful memories, the best experiences, they were all seeing new places. I hope Utrip can help more people see the world for themselves.”

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Adam Greenberg and Ryan Vogel of PureBlueTech; Aviel Ginzburg of Simply Measured; Josh Neblett of eTailz; and Adina Mangubat of Spiral Genetics.

Deal of the Year, presented by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati 

Winner: SAP buys Concur for $8.3 billion

Concur Acquisition Integration Lead Matthew Moran.

Concur co-founder Mike Hilton said that selling to SAP was a “gut-wrenching” decision. After all, deciding to sell a company that you co-founded 22 years ago is a bit “like giving up your baby.” Nonetheless, the matchup just made too much sense, especially given the huge $8.3 billion price tagfor the Bellevue-based maker of travel and entertainment expense management software.

concurawards432That represented a 20 percent premium over Concur’s previous closing stock price.

Concur was already a powerhouse, with 23,000 customers, 4,200 employees and a $700 million annual revenue run rate when SAP came knocking. With SAP’s backing, Concur plans to keep growing. “We have always been focused on making solutions for real customer problems, and with SAP we have a great opportunity to advance that mission,” said Concur CEO Steve Singh in a press release at the time of the deal.

Concur Acquisition Integration Lead Matthew Moran accepted the award on stage, noting that his tenure at the company is “fairly low so I won’t be paying for any tabs tonight, even though this was a big deal.”

“The founders of Concur about 25 years ago I think were just like everybody in this audience,” Moran added. “If you guys work hard and surround yourself with people that are talented and innovative in the Seattle community, you can also hopefully get $8.3 billion for your company.”

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Churchill Downs buys Seattle game maker Big Fish for $885 million; Seattle biotech Juno Therapeutics raises $280 million in its IPO; King Digital buys Seattle startup Z2 for up to $150 million; SAP buys Concur for $8.3 billion; and Seattle’s Zillow buys San Francisco-based Trulia for $2.5 billion.

Bootstrapper of the Year, presented by Merriman 

Winner: Brown Paper Tickets

BrownPaperTickets founder William S. Jordan (left) and CEO Steve Butcher.

Celebrating its 15th year in business, Brown Paper Tickets has never taken a dime of venture capital money, taking a different path from heavily-funded online ticketing rivals such as 9-year-old Eventbrite. Under the direction of CEO Steve Butcher and founder William S. Jordan, the Seattle company has ranked as high as the third largest ticket company in the world by the trade publication Ticket News.

brownpapertickets121Brown Paper Tickets helped transform the ticketing business, and it continues to innovate launching services such as the ability to help event organizers collect donations online without charging a service fee. The profitable company, which employs 85, has helped thousands of event planners sell about 20 million tickets worldwide.

Butcher opened up his blazer while accepting the award on stage and showed off a t-shirt that read “FVC,” short for “forget venture capital.”

“Go on your own as long as you can,” Butcher said. “It’s a lot more fun.” 

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists:  BitTitan, BrandVerity, Cloak and MedBridge.

Geek of the Year, presented by WAVE Broadband 

Winner: Malorie Catchpole and Jennifer Muhm, buddingSTEM

BuddingSTEM founders Jennifer Muhm and Malorie Catchpole.

Malorie Catchpole and Jennifer Muhm are the team behind buddingSTEM, an apparel startup that makes shirts, leggings, dresses and other clothing featuring astronauts, spaceships, dinosaurs and other science-minded characters and designs for girls.

buddingstemawards12Catchpole and Muhm raised more than $70,000 on Kickstarter in April, eclipsing their goal with the help of a wave of national media, inspired by the idea of giving young girls an opportunity to move beyond the “princess” stereotype.

“This is really for our daughters, and also for all your daughters,” Muhm told the crowd while accepting the award. “We want them to know that if they want to be astronauts, if they want to be scientists, if they want to be coders, that they can. If they want to be Princess Lea, they can.”

“So many girls are told at age 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 that this is just not for them,” Catchpole added. “And we are trying to change that.”

Read this GeekWire interview with Muhm and Catchpole about the goals and inspiration for the project. See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Jonathan Bricker, a behavioral scientist at the Fred Hutch who led breakthrough studies on the effectiveness of smoking cessation apps; David Harris of the Technology Access Foundation and the co-organizer of Hack the Central District; Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder and Seattle Seahawks owner helped to finance the battle against Ebola, and funded the new Allen Institute for Cell Science, his latest research effort; and Cliff Schmidt, the founder of Literacy Bridge, developer of a portable audio computer designed to help educate people in developing countries.

Newcomer of the Year, presented by First Tech Federal Credit Union 

Winner: Cambia Grove

Nicole Bell, executive director at Cambia Grove.

Cambia Health Solutions, the parent company of Regence and other health-care companies, opened the new 9,000-square-foot “Cambia Grove” health care innovation center in downtown Seattle in March — aiming to connect startups and entrepreneurs with leaders in health care, business and government, with the goal of finding new approaches to some of the biggest challenges in the industry.


The idea is to break down the silos between startups coming into healthcare for the first time and established players in the market.

“This is an opportunity for tech folks to get involved in healthcare,” Nicole Bell, executive director at Cambia Grove, said on stage tonight. “It’s an industry that is 20 percent of GDP and it’s not sustainable. You guys can lean in and make a huge difference here and bring about some real change and solutions.”

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Alibaba, Dropbox, Galvanize and SpaceX.

Geekiest Office Space, presented by Knoll 

Winner: Synapse

Synapse President Redwood Stevens.

Synapse is all about the people. In its community gathering space, each employee has a voice and an opportunity to share information and ask any questions.

“Thank you for recognizing that the geekiest office space is all about culture,” Synapse President Redwood Stevens said while accepting the award on stage. “At Synapse, the No.1 thing we talk about everyday is how we are about people first. We are about collaboration, amazing ideas, lots of curiosity, and respect for our people.”

Employees at Synapse engage both at their desks and in 10,000 square feet of working labs where they are given any tools they need to complete their projects. In addition to team lunches, happy hours and bagel breakfasts, healthy competition is a critical part of their culture as interdisciplinary engineers must work together to build Synapse hardware. Employees engage in teambuilding through competitions like WITHeR CUP (Winter in the Harder Rain Commute Ultimate Party), gaining glory through biking to work in the dark Seattle winter.


Bike storage and showers are a given and special storage cabinets have been designed with ventilation to hasten drying of wet outer layers. All team members are encouraged to design and host events within their first six months, the most recent of which was an office mini golf challenge with putting greens made entirely of found objects. One green featured a synthetic and cold version of snow! There’s also a climbing wall and the remains of a halfpipe from the early start up days.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Edifecs, Moz, Bungie and Limeade.

Innovation of the Year, presented by Fresh Consulting 

Winner: INRIX for BMW i3

INRIX Chief Marketing Officer Steve Banfield.

Developed by Kirkland-based traffic technology company INRIX, this is billed as the world’s first intermodal navigation system in a vehicle. First deployed in the all-electric BMW i3, the system includes an EV Range Finder that tells driver their range capacity and helps them find nearby charging stations.

inrixawards121But more than that, it integrates public transit data, working in conjunction with traffic information to inform drivers when it would be faster to take public transportation — then gives them turn-by-turn directions to the bus stop or train station.

“We celebrated our 10-year anniversary in Seattle last month,” INRIX Chief Marketing Officer Steve Banfield said on stage. “After 10 years, to still be innovating and doing great things with partners like BMW, building new navigation systems, taking our big data and using it to make cars smarter, cities smarter, and everyone safer and able to move around, is just so exciting.”

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Kymeta, mobile satellite broadband; Spaceflight Industries, ridesharing for rockets; Omni Processor from Janicki Bioenergy, turning human waste into drinking water; and Ossia, long-distance charging technology.

Next Tech Titan, presented by Kibble & Prentice

Winner: Cyanogen

Cyanogen founder Steve Kondik.

Fresh off an $80 million financing round from last month — which included participation from Twitter Ventures, Qualcomm and others — Cyanogen continues to ramp up development of its customizable and secure Android operating system.

cyanogenawards11The company was founded in 2013 by Seattle software developer Steve Kondik, who actually started kicking around the idea as an open source project known as CyanogenMod in 2009. Ranked #19 on the GeekWire 200, Cyanogen employs 80 people across offices in Seattle and Palo Alto, Calif.

Total funding now stands at $110 million, with Cyanogen late last month inking a key partnership with Microsoft. That deal, along with with Cyanogen’s recent alliances with handset makers, could pose a serious challenge to Google’s mobile efforts. Kondik, who previously worked for Samsung in Bellevue, recently told GeekWire that Cyanogen is trying to create an “Open Android” approach.

Kondik said it was “pretty unreal” to win the award on Thursday.

“I hope by this time next year all of you are carrying one of our phones,” he noted.

See this post for more background on this category. Other finalists: Apptio, Chef, Redfin and Porch.

A big thanks to Bootstrapper Studios, our video partner for this event, for their work on all of these videos.

Editor’s note: Tickets are now on sale for GeekWire Sounders Day, a blow-out rooftop tailgate party before the Sounders-Rapids match on Saturday, July 18th. Get your tickets here

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