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Chad Wittman, co-founder of Dolly, won the Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2016 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo)

From eSports to VR and robotics to home-sharing, our Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalists are on a mission to find big opportunities using the latest technology.

We have five impressive young geeks competing in this category in our annual GeekWire Awards, the Oscars of the Northwest tech community.

Our Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalists are Nick Fajt, co-founder and CEO of Against Gravity; Grant Farwell, CEO of Matcherino; Ben Gilbert, co-founder of Pioneer Square Labs; Garett Ochs, co-founder and CEO of Otto Robotics; and Yifan Zhang and Adam Stelle, co-founders of Loftium. Read more about each of them and vote for your pick in the poll below. And big thanks to Deloitte for sponsoring our Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

We’ve opened voting in several GeekWire Awards categories and we’ll continue to do so over the next 10 days, with GeekWire readers choosing their top picks. Check back on GeekWire each day to cast your ballots, and go here to vote in previously announced categories.

All of the winners will be revealed at the GeekWire Awards — presented by Wave Business — on May 4 at the Museum of Pop Culture. Tickets are selling fast, and we do expect to sell out, so make sure to go here to grab yours.


Nick Fajt (30), Co-founder and CEO of Against Gravity

Nick Fajt
Nick Fajt, CEO and co-founder of Against Gravity, a virtual reality startup in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Nick Fajt is the CEO and Co-founder of Against Gravity, a “VR social club” that connects people around the world to play virtual reality games. He’s a firm believer that VR is next computing platform. He calls it an “internet-sized opportunity.”

Investors seem to believe in his vision too. Against Gravity recently raised $5 million from Sequoia, First Round, Acequia, Vulcan, Maveron, and others.

Fajt cut his teeth in VR for five years at Microsoft where he was an executive producer and principal program manager on HoloLens. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Cornell University.

Grant Farwell (28), CEO of Matcherino

Matcherino CEO Grant Farwell. (Matcherino Photo)

Grant Farwell has watched eSports take off in the past few years and he saw a big opportunity in this new market. The result was Matcherino, a platform that allows eSports fans to raise money to see their favorite gamers duel or pay to compete against the pros.

Shortly after graduating from Techstars Seattle, Matcherino raised a $1.25 million seed round led by Madrona Venture Group.

“When many, many thousands of fans want to see certain professionals battle against each other and are willing to chip in money to make it happen, they need a technology platform to make it as easy as possible,” Farwell told GeekWire. “That is what we provide.”

Farwell graduated from Roger Williams University with a Bachelor’s degree in economics.

Ben Gilbert (27), Co-founder of Pioneer Square Labs

Pioneer Square Labs Co-founder Ben Gilbert. (Pioneer Square Labs Photo)

Ben Gilbert is a founding partner of Pioneer Square Labs, a “startup studio” that turns ideas into new companies and helps them get off the ground. But his entrepreneurial work goes further back than that.

Gilbert is the former head of the Microsoft Garage, Microsoft’s internal technology incubator, and co-founder of Madrona Venture Labs. He’s been working in tech for nearly 15 years — an impressive feat for a 27-year-old.

Gilbert graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Computer Science and Engineering, Entrepreneurship.

Garett Ochs, (27) Co-founder and CEO of Otto Robotics

Otto Robotics CEO Garett Ochs. (LinkedIn Photo)

Garett Ochs is always looking for problems that could be solved with technology — the true mark of an entrepreneur. Shortly after graduating from the University of Washington, he built a phone case with a mirrored kickstand after many unsuccessful attempts to take a group selfie at a bar with friends.

Now he’s at the helm of Otto Robotics, a startup in stealth mode that’s creating automated solutions for the restaurant industry. In January, Otto Robotics raised $1.5 million in private equity from investors like Draper Associates and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital.

Before Otto, Ochs was a mechanical engineer for Planetary Resources and Oculus. He has a Bachelor’s degree in engineering and mathematics from UW.

Yifan Zhang (28) and Adam Stelle (29) co-founders of Loftium

Loftium Co-founders Yifan Zhang and Adam Stelle. (LinkedIn Photos)

Yifan Zhang and Adam Stelle are pooling their combined startup experience to build Loftium. The startup, which is in stealth mode, promises to give home buyers “a down payment in exchange for Airbnbing an extra bedroom for 12-36 months and splitting the income with us,” according to the Loftium website.

Zhang previously co-founded fitness app Pact and e-commerce site Styleta. She has a Bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard. Stelle was the former COO at Startup Weekend, founding partner at UP Global and entrepreneur in residence at Pioneer Square Labs.  Holding a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of British Columbia, he also previously co-founded audio startup Spoke.am.

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