Meet 30 of Chicago's Top Tech Influencers (and 2016 Timmy Award Finalists)
Posted by TechInMotion
On August 25, Tech in Motion is proud to present the 2nd Annual Chicago Timmy Awards, which will be held at 1871 Merchandise Mart. Hosted by Tech in Motion, the “Timmys” take place every year in tech hubs across North America, with the goal of acknowledging local companies and individuals that strive to create the best places for technology professionals to work. After the votes are in, the finalists in each city come together for one celebratory evening where the winners are crowned as the best (1) tech startup, (2) technology manager, and (3) technology work culture. Here are the 30 finalists in Chicago that you need to know.
Best Tech Manager
Adam Grueling, VP, Engineering NCSA Athletic Recruiting
“Improving business through team member growth”
Adam quickly identifies individuals who've shown informal leadership in the capacity of their position and puts them in a place where those talents can be better utilized. The need to maintain and improve existing business often competes with the need to innovate and find new ways to serve clients. He has achieved incredibly impressive results and managed his relatively small team in a high-pressure organization.
Adam and team developed NCSA University, an e-learning platform that allows student athletes to receive and take short interactive lessons on their recruiting. The lessons are scheduled specifically to each athlete based on their sport, place in high school, and tenure as an NCSA client. It has allowed student athletes to stay engaged in important content throughout their recruiting journey which increases their chance of realizing their dream of playing in college.
Ayo Jimoh, CTO, Opternative
“Give respect, get respect”
Every member of Ayo's Product and Engineering team was hired not only for the position list on the Opternative Careers page, but also for the position he sees them growing into at Opternative and beyond. He meets with every single member of his team weekly or bi-weekly for a one-on-one session focused on two-way feedback, professional development, and career growth. His desire is for every intern to become a full-time team member, every junior to become senior, and everyone with management desires to attain a VP, Director, or even Executive position.
In the past year, the Opternative Product and Engineering team launched the world's first online eye exam that delivers a valid prescription signed by a board-certified Ophthalmologist. Not only did the team launch such an innovative service, it was accomplished while adhering to all regulatory bodies and legislation ranging from HIPAA/HITECH to a clinical trial and adherence to any FDA requirements.
Bob Hannon, VP Technology, UpRight Law
“4-tier approach to employee career paths”
Bob believes that learning and development is an integral part of anyone’s career growth. Bob pushes not only his team, but every UpRight-er to strive for excellence, whether that means learning a new trade in the classroom, getting certified to continue to scale the network, or teaching others a better way to complete everyday tech tasks. Bob created a 4-tier approach towards career pathing for his team. Each tier challenges team members to stretch their tech muscles. A few of the milestones along their career path journey include: successful ability to create functionality entirely in code, building an end to end functioning application from scratch, complete solution design accountability for project ROI, peer mentoring, team education and development, and development of knowledge assets.
Fees are often a barrier to legal services for those most in need, and most law firms have no system for helping clients overcome that obstacle. UpRight offers flexible payment plans with automatic debits, which goes a long way toward solving the problem.
Dan Rumney, Director Product Engineering, Jellyvision
“Building an atmosphere of mutual trust”
Dan cares a great deal about his team’s well-being and professional growth. He has been Jellyvision’s director of product engineering for 16 months, and in that time, he’s launched three programs to help pave the way for tech career growth at Jellyvision. He started the scrum program to help ease Jellyvision’s engineers into Agile software development, and he promoted three employees as scrum masters to help manage the shift and support the developers. He also piloted Jellyvision’s first engineering apprenticeship program, where they hired four junior software developers fresh out of Dev Bootcamp to a three-month apprenticeship to help them hone their coding skills in a professional environment. The program was so successful, they hired three of the apprentices on full time, helping to launch their engineering careers. And finally, Dan started a brand new scholarship program at Jellyvision to help non-technical employees move into engineering roles. The scholarship program started when an employee on Jellyvision’s production team approached him for advice about how to make the move to become a developer, and he decided to have Jellyvision spot the cost of her Dev Bootcamp tuition and offer her a full time role on the product engineering team after she finished the program.
Jellyvision creates interactive software solutions that use powerful algorithms and serious tech to help people make difficult decisions about complicated topics, like choosing a health insurance plan, saving for retirement, managing finances, and navigating a career.
Dhruv Saxena, CEO, ShipBob
“Empowering team members through decision making”
Culture is a set of values which allow middle managers in a company to make decisions in-line with the values and the ethos of the company. Dhruv rarely makes decisions for other teams. He delegates decision making to the individual teams and encourages them to use him for feedback and review. This allows individual teams to move fast and think through the company mission and values as they make decisions, thus really owning their decisions from beginning to end. This creates a lot of pride in the work and allows teams to move quickly and put in their best to their work every single day.
Shipbob provides a complete back end logistics tool for small to medium sized e-commerce businesses. In less than two years, more than 500 businesses across the country are using the Shipbob online dashboard to manage hundreds of thousands of e-commerce transactions.
Francois Toubul, VP, Technology SIM Partners
“Learn and discover”
Francois fosters an agile team environment, both in product development and personal development. Weekly individual meetings with his 15 team members allows him to coach his team throughout their projects and gain feedback that accelerates development and improves SIM Partners’ Velocity platform. His one-on-one coaching and openness to new technologies and ideas encourages personal development and technical development that keep the team up to speed with the latest market trends, and fosters internal collaboration. He works with each member of his team to set goals: a new technology or personal skill they wish to learn, a way to promote themselves within the company (both in the long term and short term), and a way they could improve something they recently worked on. These goals are designed to benefit the company’s Velocity technology, but also build skillsets that each of his team members will benefit from in their careers in the long-term.
SIM Partners’ local marketing automation technology, Velocity, maximizes digital marketing results for enterprise brands at a local level. In 2015 and 2016, SIM Partners’ launched innovations to its technology including Velocity Wallet, Velocity Insights, Velocity Location Data Management, and Velocity Health which was led by Francois, the Vice President of Technology.
Linwood Ma, CTO and Founder, dough, Inc.
“Fostering a deep love of learning”
Linwood (Woody) Ma is fond of hiring new talent who have made the leap from other careers into technology. Linwood finds it effective to first identify what interests junior hires have, and then pair him or her with a more senior developer to help uncover their skills and reducing the occasional solitary nature of writing code. Ma describes himself as a “tinkerer” and a “maker” who has a budding obsession with woodworking and furniture design. As a fountain of creativity and curiosity about how things work, Ma's energy fosters a deep love of learning for the whole team.
dough.com uses tech to change how trading and financial services are displayed and explained to millennials. The simple, visual approach allows them to learn a complex industry and other websites are taking notice by using the platform as a benchmark.
Luke Anderson, Director, Content Platforms, Breakthrough Technologies
“Cultivating a balance between trust and professionalism”
Luke's encourages his team of developers to get certified in their specialty – over half are certified at the highest level possible, and all but one have at least one certification. He also makes it a priority to budget for the entire team – even contractors – to attend the annual North American DrupalCon, with no constraints on how they spend their time. They are encouraged to seek out peers and mentors, attend conference sessions and round-tables, and contribute to the open source community. This brings back lots of learning, encouragement, and cross-pollination to keep them at the top of their game. In the past year, Luke has also encouraged a few of his developers to work outside his department’s primary emphasis and take on projects that require them to leverage their coding skills in other languages and frameworks.
Founded in 1998 by three Chicago-based senior software engineers, Breakthrough Technologies, LLC serves clients by creating innovative web, mobile and software solutions for complex problems. Collaborating with clients and partners gives Breakthrough Technologies the opportunity to combine emerging technologies with innovative thinking to empower organizations, facilitate communication, and create positive change on a global scale.
Seth Dobbs, VP, Engineering HS2 Solutions
“Using technology to make the world a better place.”
Seth is involved in a team member’s career prior to a date of hire. Because he actively participates in the recruiting process, he is able to handpick team members who thirst for knowledge, never settle for mediocrity, and are eager to innovate. Seth firmly believes that there is no one-size-fits-all career path, but an individual who hungers to grow is always propelled to deepen or expand skills no matter the role, competency, or level. If a team member is energized by being a heads-down developer, Seth provides the staffing opportunity to learn a new technology, dive deeper into an existing technology set, pair with a seasoned expert, or prep with a training session. Likewise, if a team member is inspired to lead people, Seth creates opportunities to cross-train with Project Managers, work on projects where new found leadership skills can be applied, or actively participate in skill-building workshops or roundtables. Seth doesn’t care which career path you take, but he wants you to commit and grow. His part in the process? Hiring the brightest and doing his best to equip team members with the tools and opportunities necessary to expand their skills of choice.
Relying on more than 20 years of experience in this space, HS2 crafts technical solutions around a company’s vision and business objectives. They are a full-service agency that delivers end-to-end products—from conception to experience design to development to launch.
Susie Jendro, Manager, Interactive Technology OgilvyOne Chicago
“Cultivating a happy, motivated team”
Susie promotes career growth with all of the developers under her management. Using a combination of Pair Programing and Peer Review's she has helped mentor several developers to higher levels and aided in the training and development of several interns who are now successful developers in their own right. She puts in a great deal of thought and time with each developer she works with to put them on a path of success. She also takes part in running an HTML5 meet-up group in Chicago and is an active member in many company sponsored activities.
Susie's team recently released a successful and influential Chrome browser extension for the Brady Campaign called Zero Minutes of Fame. The plugin attempts to remove fame and notoriety from mass shooters by removing their name and image from major news outlet and search sites, and replacing it with a message deserving of our attention - the victims and their stories. Users voluntarily install the plugin and become part of a movement to stop gun violence by giving the killers Zero Minutes of Fame. The plugin was featured on TIME, Reuters, Mashable, USA Today, The Washington Post, CBS, AdWeek, and several other news outlets.
Best Tech Startup
Civis Analytics is an open, learning environment. Employees host lightning talks, journal club, brown bags and more. They provide an environment to help employees learn and grow, yet also socialize with a communal lunch table, happy hours, sports, and political viewing parties. Civis Analytics’ Founder and CEO, Dan Wagner, was the Chief Analytics Officer for President Obama's reelection campaign and his department was credited for "reinventing how campaigns are run." Dan aims to bring these same principles and methodologies to Civis Analytics.
Civis Analytics is a cloud-based platform that empowers organizations to run analytics faster, smarter, and more accurately. Specifically, their first application built on the platform, the Civis Media Optimizer, helped organizations like Discovery and GMMB optimize TV ad buying.
“Observe and learn”
Classkick’s CEO Andrew Rowland obsesses over increasing student achievement and believes technology has tremendous untapped potential to improve learning, but harnessing it effectively is tricky. All of the Classkick Team, including Andrew, constantly observe teachers and students to iterate technology that solves their greatest needs.
Classkick is a free app that allows students to work on their iPads and get instant feedback from their teachers and peers in real time.
Crowdfind's team works out of three concurrent spaces on any given day; TechNexus in the Civic Opera Building, Downers Grove or on-site at a client event. This sort of flexible environment is highly desirable for its adaptability and comfort. Crowdfind is also a part of L Street Collaborative, which grants equity ownership to all full-time employees leading to a highly motivated environment where all employees' efforts contribute to the greater cause.
Crowdfind is a software and service provider offering tools to efficiently manage high-traffic lost and found departments of events and venues.
“Transparent and collaborative”
Earshot provides an extremely collaborative and transparent work environment for all its employees. As a 10-person startup, Earshot eschews traditional meetings in favor of "stand-ups." Every day at 10 AM, Earshot employees stand up in the back of the office to hold a daily meeting, to discuss all daily tasks and business objectives. The stand-up lasts approximately 10-15 minutes and keeps everyone informed of what is going in the business, from sales and marketing to product and business development. This enables a highly transparent, collaborative work environment where everyone is encouraged to pitch in and contribute.
Earshot is social media marketing platform that leverages the power of dynamic data such as location, weather, image analytics, consumer sentiment, and time of day, going beyond basic keyword filtering to help marketers acquire more customers, discover new influencers, and optimize live events.
Fitness Cubed Inc.
“Relationships both business and personal”
Fitness Cubed’s office space is an open concept which allows creativity to flow. Because their team consists of seven people, they all try our best to get to know one another on both a professional and personal level, and work in full transparency. They value relationships, both business and personal, internal and external.
Cubii is the first smart, under-desk elliptical that allows you to workout at your desk or even at home, and the mobile app and Fitbit enables users to track their progress and compete so every stride counts towards users' daily step goals.
“The entrepreneurial experience”
ParqEx utilizes a shared working space in the West Loop. The environment is truly entrepreneurial experience where employees can interact with other companies on a daily basis and create great partnerships.
ParqEx is a technology platform, accessible via smartphone and the web, that makes it easy and safe for owners to put their parking spots on the market, and provides drivers with immediate access to this exclusive inventory.
“Tackling big problems”
Millennials have tons of student loan debt -- $1.3T across the country and nearly three-fourths of college grads enter the workforce with student debt. Peanut Butter has built a business that makes it easy for leading companies to help employees get out of student debt. For companies, this means an opportunity to differentiate from competitors, to attract top talent, retain great people, and keep workers engaged.
Peanut Butter helps employers structure the right student loan assistance program to meet their company's talent goals within their budget, providing software and support to facilitate employee enrollment, loan verification, payment management, and reporting.
“An eclectic mixture”
Rippleshot is an eclectic mixture of data scientists, former journalists, finance analysts and seasoned entrepreneurs who all share a passion for mission-driven work. Located in one of Chicago’s most successful incubators, Catapult, Rippleshot is home to a team that enjoys working and learning from one another.
Rippleshot is transforming the way that banks detect fraud through a cloud-based technology solution that leverages machine learning and data analytics.
“A single mission”
Tanvas’ culture is centered around a single core mission and all projects drive towards that common goal. All have the ability to provide input. The sense of team is complemented by the fully stocked fridge and snack bar and several common spaces in a comfortable office space, plus a flexible work schedule to ensure a healthy work/life balance.
Tanvas enables you to feel what you see on a touchscreen, unlocking an unlimited number of programmable interaction possibilities.
“Focus on individuals”
Co-Founders of UrbanBound, Michael Krasman and Jeff Ellman, place importance on cross-departmental collaboration and maintaining a startup culture that focuses on individuals and allows them to thrive. Dedication, project ownership, professional development and the ability to roll with the punches are part of the job description.
UrbanBound provides a web-based platform to fully support an employee from beginning to end, and supports a company’s HR staff with a self-service platform allowing employees to manage their own experience.
Best Work Culture
Dom & Tom
"Experiment and build"
Employees of Dom & Tom shape their own roles and develop their own futures, through Dom & Tom labs, which allows teams to create their own products (and put money behind these initiatives to support them). This promotes creativity and facilitates new ways for people to work together. The labs initiative financed teams to build passion projects and helps them develop internal applications.
Dom & Tom is an end-to-end digital product development studio focused on emerging technologies, with apps that support clients in their strategic initiatives through open collaboration, forward-thinking user experience, engaging design, and cross-platform development for both web and mobile.
"Play and learn"
InContext has a specific Research & Development team, who are tasked to play around with the latest in VR technology and see what fun, useful, and game-changing applications they can come up with. Plus, InContext encourages the rest of their employees to experience their own VR, and hold regular “office hours” in their HIVE lab, where they can play games, see the latest developments in software and get used to being immersed in virtual reality.
InContext offers an enterprise virtual reality platform, ShopperMX™, which gives manufacturers and retailers the power to create engaging shopper experiences no matter the industry, through cloud-based virtual store simulations and shopper insights.
kCrua believes in empowering their employees to not only enjoy and be great at their jobs, but enjoy their time with co-workers during or outside of work. There are more than 10 current employee groups. One of the rapidly growing gatherings is kDisco, a product development knowledge share series, which cover a broad range of topics, including best practices, case studies, internal tools application, security, coding and more.
kCura are the developers of the e-discovery software Relativity that helps corporations, law firms, and government agencies manage and analyze large volumes of electronic data for litigation and beyond, serving more than 130,000 users in more than 40 countries from 10,000 organizations including the U.S. Department of Justice and more than 190 of the Am Law 200.
“Everyone has a voice”
All engineers on the Kenna Security team, from the most junior to the most senior, have a voice deciding what languages, tools, frameworks and patterns used to deliver software. They ensure that a reasonable percentage of work hours are allocated for exploring new ideas and testing them out, and recurring lightning talks for engineers to share these new ideas with the rest of the team. Kenna also schedules optional hack nights for hands-on deep dives into these new ideas.
Kenna Security mines billions of security incidents across the internet in order to identify critical security vulnerabilities for customers, enabling customers to focus their resources on security issues that are most likely to end in a breach and track their security risk across their entire enterprise.
As an educational software company, RedShelf encourages its development staff to brainstorm and create innovative technology for all aspects of higher education. For example, each developer works on a variety of features available in the eReader that are being used by students on over 500 college campuses to help them succeed in the classroom.
RedShelf provides affordable digital content from the world’s leading academic publishers, consumer trade publishers, self-publishers and a variety of other content creators to students across the country.
“The key to creativity is fun”
Shiftgig aims for a culture that is comfortable for all employees, with a common area for social breaks, a ping pong table, and Red Bull station for those long hours normally associated with a startup culture. Shiftgig’s company culture created an environment to be "your-Self", allowing employees to express their creativity with a flexible work schedule and the ability to work from home. Shiftgig is a company that promotes technical creativity. The key to creativity is to have fun doing what you're doing.
Shiftgig makes jobs on-demand possible, providing a service in this "gig economy" by matching job applicants to employers.
Shoppertrak RCT Corp.
“Develop innovative solutions”
Shoppertrack holds annual hackathons open to all members of the technology department, in which they collaborate to develop innovative solutions. In addition, Shoppertrak sponsors prototyping using a wide range of platforms and technologies. They focus on constant innovation and as such, continuously experiment with a variety of technologies. Further, because their product set is rooted in IoT, Machine (Deep) Learning, and Computer Vision technologies, they are constantly exploring sensing and data analysis technologies to maintain our competitive edge.
ShopperTrak helps retailers, malls and entertainment venues around the globe learn who is coming in their doors, where they’re going, and how to make the most of that information, thus improving effectiveness and profitability.
“Pursue your project”
SingleHop gives employees the option of spending 20% of their time (1 day per week) pursuing projects of their own choosing - anything they think would be worth exploring or would advance company goals. It could be a new product feature, a new product entirely, a system or process improvement or whatever. It’s limited only by their creativity and imaginations.
SingleHop is a global provider of on-demand infrastructure, hosted private clouds and managed services.
Sprout Social, Inc.
“Work on something fun”
Sprout Social empowers employees to take on projects and challenges that interest them, support their growth and are encouraged to have some fun along the way. During their annual Hack Week, all employees are encouraged to submit ideas for projects that can improve Sprout’s products team and culture. From exploring machine learning to building a Slack DJ integration, members of the team had the chance to work on something outside the box, use technologies they don’t work with every day, and ultimately see many of their efforts productized or used regularly within the company.
Sprout Social builds social media engagement, analytics, and advocacy solutions for business.
Trading Technologies International, Inc.
“Work hard. Play hard.”
TT provides a workspace that reflects the “work hard, play hard” ideals of its employee base. An open office plan fosters collaboration, seating developers alongside product managers and engineers alongside executives, including CEO Rick Lane. Stand-up desks, pop-up meeting spaces and lounge areas encourage impromptu team meetings. Whiteboard walls allow for designs and ideas to be captured on the fly. An extensive game room allows employees a place to recharge before tackling the next big project. TT’s open kitchen is loaded with snacks, breakfast items, and most recently, a cooler stocked with novelty ice cream treats. Next to the kitchen, and in the heart of the office, is the “Tech Tap” bar, which serves as an IT help desk during the day and pours craft beer and wine in the afternoon. It’s these perks that fuel employees, foster ingenuity and encourage creative collaboration between teams.
Trading Technologies develops and delivers professional trading software for a wide variety of users including proprietary traders, brokers, money managers, CTAs, hedge funds, and commercial hedgers and risk managers.
The Timmy Awards ceremony will celebrate the local technology community and also recognize not only the winners, but the entire Chicago community for creating a great environment to thrive in. The event itself will be a great opportunity to network with finalists and other members of the tech community. RSVP today!