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Tampa Bay Tech honors seven innovators changing the face of technology

Margie Manning



Linda Olson, founder and CEO of Tampa Bay Wave, presents the Tampa Bay Tech Community Leadership and Dedication Award to serial entrepreneur Steve MacDonald.

Tampa Bay Tech presented its Community Leadership and Dedication award to Steve MacDonald, one of the area’s best-known serial entrepreneurs.

MacDonald and six other award winners were honored during an online ceremony Thursday afternoon co-hosted by Jill St. Thomas, executive director of Tampa Bay Tech, and DJ Fresh, official DJ of the Tampa Bay Rays.

MacDonald recently founded his own venture fund, MacDonald Ventures, drawing on his experiences as a tech company founder. In 2017, he sold myMatrixx, a tech-enabled pharmacy benefits manager in Tampa, to Express Scripts for $250 million.

“It really helps me, for the next phase of my life as I start MacDonald Ventures, to take this, give back, and through MacDonald Ventures try to help build and fund the next group of phenomenal founders,” he said.

Previous winners of the Leadership award chose McDonald for the 2020 honor. They include Chris Cate, chief operating officer and chief information officer at Valpak; Tony DiBenedetto, co-founder and former CEO of Tribridge and founder of Think Big for Kids; Tom Wallace, founder of Florida Funders; and Linda Olson, founder and CEO of Tampa Bay Wave.

Related: Meet the 18 finalists for Tampa Bay Tech’s 2020 awards

Tampa Bay Tech introduced a new award for 2020.The Bridge Builder award recognizes an individual who is building a radically connected tech ecosystem, through philanthropy, thought leadership or a commitment to social causes. The recipient of the first Bridge Builder award was Suzanne Ricci, founder of Computer Coach Training Center.

Suzanne Ricci

“When Covid paralyzed our community [Ricci] noticed many in her network being laid off, many with no warning and she knew she could help. She jumped into action by holding over 150 job-seeker networking events, co-founding HireUp Florida, becoming network director for Women in Technology International, and regularly coaching at multiple meetups and events like ours. She started a talent acquisition podcast and mixer to help job seekers connect with recruiters and local employment opportunities,” St. Thomas said.

Here are the other award winners:

Geographic Solutions, a Palm Harbor company that develops and implements online employment software for state and local government agencies, won the Tech Project of the Year award. The company recognized the need for states to move quickly to provide pandemic unemployment assistance, or PUA, after Covid hit, and rapidly adapted its software to process PUA claims.

“Since we began with this exercise in March, we’ve paid over $40 billion in benefits out of our systems to individuals around the country,” said Paul Toomey, founder and president.

Venuetize, a Tampa company with a platform that provides mobile ticketing, maps and ecommerce products for the sports and entertainment industries, won the Emerging Tech Company award.

“Like many other companies, we weren’t really sure what 2020 was going to hold for us,” said Adam Keller, vice president, product and portfolio. But with contactless payments and touchless technologies, “We’ve become part of the plan to help arenas safely open.”

Samyr Qureshi, co-founder and CEO of Tampa-based ed tech company Knack, was named Emerging Tech Leader of the Year. Knack, with a mobile app for peer-to-peer tutoring, has secured over $5 million in venture financing.

“It’s been putting one foot in front of the other for the last five years and I wouldn’t want to be doing it with any other team or in any other city. Having Tampa be the first place I landed, moving to the United States when I was a kid, and now coming full circle to be able to make a splash and impact in this community, is really priceless for me,” Qureshi said.

Jean Kneisler, vice president and chief information officer at Jabil’s healthcare division, was named Tech Leader of the Year. Kneisler manages all applications and infrastructure supporting 40 sites in 11 countries, with a global team of over 600, St. Thomas said.

Jean Kneisler

“Last year at this time, she was looking forward to several projects that would change the division dramatically, including Jabil’s factory of the future. She was planning to launch a new manufacturing execution system, continue with cloud adoption and rationalize and modernize Jabil’s SAP systems. Then Covid arrived,” St. Thomas said. “Being in the healthcare segment, most of her lines and products were considered essential, so she quickly pivoted to ensure the work got done and her teams were safe, both requiring a creative approach to leveraging technology.”

The winner of the Tech Company of the Year was KnowBe4, a Clearwater-based cybersecurity training firm that makes sure that employees manage the ongoing problem of social engineering to protect organizations against threats like phishing and ransomware.

“Winning this award means a lot to us,” said Lars Letonoff, co-president and chief revenue officer. “We love the Tampa Bay area and everything that the tech community here has to offer.”

The Thursday event was the 17th annual awards program for Tampa Bay Tech, a non-profit technology council with over 125 member companies representing thousands of tech employees.

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    Michael Shewell

    November 23, 2020at5:18 pm

    I worked with Steve at a PBM from 1992-1998. He’s a sharp visionary and the only person I’ve ever heard say “Healthcare is my dream industry”. Obviously, he saw the opportunity and seized the dream. You’d be wise to listen to his guidance with respect to growing a company, particularly in that industry.

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