Tech’s rising stars: Vote for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the GeekWire Awards

GeekWire Awards 2022 Young Entrepreneur of the Year nominees, clockwise from top left: Tori Dunlap, Esha Joshi and Varun Puri, Shane Kovalsky, Nancy Xiao, and Michael Petrochuk.

While they may seem ahead of their time in age, the timing is just right to recognize these budding tech leaders in the GeekWire Awards Young Entrepreneur of the Year category.

Our five nominees — all age 30 or younger as of April 2022 — are making a name in the startup world by tackling such issues as IoT hardware/software; investment equity and education; employee morale; and AI-enabled synthetic voice creation and public speaking analysis.

Last year’s winner was Stephanie Strong, founder and CEO of Boulder Care, an app-based addiction treatment program for those suffering from opioid use disorder.

The GeekWire Awards recognize the top innovators and companies in Pacific Northwest technology. Finalists in this category and others were selected based on community nominations, along with input from GeekWire Awards judges. Community voting across all categories will continue until April 22, combined with feedback from judges to determine the winner in each category.

We’ll announce the winners on May 12 at the GeekWire Awards, presented by Astound Business Solutions. Contact [email protected] for more information.

Submit your votes below and keep scrolling for descriptions of each finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year, presented by ALLtech. 

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Nancy Xiao

Nancy Xiao, Mason CEO. (Mason Photo)

Nancy Xiao took over as CEO of the Seattle IoT startup Mason last summer when the company’s founder — her brother, Jim — realized she was the right person to build on Mason’s momentum.

Mason provides clients with custom-built hardware and software for single-purpose Android devices, and customers come from sectors including healthcare, retail, hospitality and government.

The company originally launched in Detroit, participated in YCombinator in 2016 and relocated to Seattle. It closed a $25 million Series A funding round in 2019.

Xiao, who was Mason’s president before becoming CEO, was previously a product manager at Oculus VR and Facebook.

Related coverage: Siblings at Seattle startup Mason swap roles

Tori Dunlap

Her First $100K founder Tori Dunlap. (Her First $100K Photo)

Tori Dunlap named her startup — Her First $100K — after a significant achievement in her life, after she saved $100,000 by the age of 25.

Since then, Dunlap has been spreading her brand of financial feminism and education to everyone who will listen. She’s attracted a huge audience on social media and with in-person and online workshops, a top-rated podcast, newsletter and a book in the works.

Dunlap, who quit a corporate job in marketing to focus full time on Her First $100K, just launched her first app to share more secrets to investing success.

“We are we are here to provide a community where people can connect with each other and ask really good questions and not feel like they’re gonna have a finance bro in there who’s mansplaining what cryptocurrency is,” Dunlap previously told GeekWire.

Related coverage: Her First $100K founder has her first app: Tori Dunlap wants to teach more women how to invest

Shane Kovalsky

Mystery co-founder and CEO Shane Kovalsky. (Mystery Photo)

Morale is up at Mystery, the Seattle startup that promotes “morale as a service” in its bid to help companies keep employees engaged through its surprising virtual events.

Shane Kovalsky is the co-founder and CEO who has successfully steered Mystery through a couple COVID-induced pivots and reach a $100 million valuation.

Mystery started in 2018 as a dating service of sorts, helping couples get out on the town for dinner, drinks, entertainment and transportation without having to plan any of it themselves. When the pandemic kept people in, Mystery came to them, and now it’s coming to workplaces, virtually, to facilitate artistic events, classes, games, relaxing events, tastings, and performances.

Kovalsky previously told GeekWire that in order to realize the full potential of distributed work, “we need to ensure that work doesn’t devolve into an impersonal and purely transactional dystopia.”

Related coverage: Perfect pivot: Mystery hits $100M valuation after shift from date facilitator to employee engagement

Michael Petrochuk

Michael Petrochuk, co-founder and CTO of WellSaid Labs.

Michael Petrochuk is the co-founder and CTO of WellSaid Labs, a Seattle startup developing more realistic voices with artificial intelligence.

The company makes a wide assortment of natural-sounding synthetic voices available via its audio production platform, for use in applications ranging from in-house training materials to quick-hit social media videos.

WellSaid was spun out from the incubator at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) in 2019, where Petrochuk and co-founder Matt Hocking began working together. The startup has raised $12 million to date.

Petrochuk is a graduate of the University of Washington and interned at Uber, Google and Lattice, a startup acquired by Apple.

Related coverage: WellSaid Labs raises $10M to boost its synthetic voice business fueled by AI

Varun Puri and Esha Joshi

Esha Joshi, left, and Varun Puri of Yoodli. (Yoodli Photo)

If Yoodli co-founders Varun Puri and Esha Joshi win in this category, perhaps their tech will be used to analyze how well they do in delivering an acceptance speech.

Yoodli is an AI-enabled software platform that analyzes delivery and gives tips for improvement — in a non-judgmental way — on public speaking opportunities such as company presentations or wedding toasts.

The Seattle startup is another AI2 spinout, and Puri and Joshi are AI2 entrepreneurs-in-residence.

“As a female engineer in a male-dominated industry, I felt like I had to try even harder for people to take me seriously,” Joshi, who spent several years at Apple and is Yoodli’s chief technology officer, said previously. “The nerves and doubt before a presentation can be crushing, and the feeling of successfully expressing yourself in front of an audience is a huge confidence booster. Our platform takes you from the nerves to the confident persona you need to achieve your goals.”

Related coverage: Afraid of public speaking? This startup’s AI tool aims to give you a silver tongue

A big thanks to Astound Business Solutions, the presenting sponsor of the 2022 GeekWire Awards.

Also, thanks to gold-level and category sponsors: Wilson Sonsini, ALLtech, JLL, DreamBox Learning, Blink UX, BECU, Baird, Fuel Talent, RSM, Aon and Meridian Capital. And thanks to silver level sponsors: J.P. Morgan Chase and Material+.

If interested in sponsoring a category or purchasing a table sponsorship for the event, contact us at [email protected]

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