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Tampa Bay Tech poweredUP awards highlight innovation leaders

Margie Manning

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The Tampa-St. Pete area holds the promise for many more technology unicorns, according to the president and CEO of Tampa Bay Wave.

Linda Olson, who founded the technology business accelerator in 2008, voiced her confidence about the future of technology locally when she accepted the 2019 poweredUP Community Dedication and Leadership award from Tampa Bay Tech.

The organization honored a half-dozen individuals and companies at the Nov. 8 awards program, which included a newly created category, Tech Unicorn of the Year, recognizing Clearwater cybersecurity training firm KnowBe4 for attaining a valuation of $1 billion.

“We are breaking the myth that it can’t be done,” Olson said. “It’s the right time. The opportunity in Tampa Bay is incredible. I’m so excited about the potential for Tampa Bay to truly become one of the country’s leading tech hubs.”

In addition to highlighting award winners, Tampa Bay Tech announced a partnership with Think Big for Kids, a Tampa nonprofit founded by entrepreneur tony DiBenedetto, and unveiled a new website for the poweredUP event series.

Jill St. Thomas, CRO/executive director of Tampa Bay Tech, introduced each award winner. See what St. Thomas said about each of them below the video recap of the event.

Tampa Bay Tech Awards 2019 from St. Pete Catalyst on Vimeo.

Dan Lasher, Tech Datat

Tech Leader of the Year: ​Dan Lasher​, corporate vice president, enterprise architecture, governance and cyber security, Tech Data

Lasher wears many hats at Tech Data, a Clearwater-based IT distributor and the largest company by revenue in the Tampa-St. Pete area. He has global responsibility for the IT governance, cybersecurity and enterprise architecture teams and also serves on special assignments well outside of his role, supporting peers on projects including migrating data centers, directing the technical integration for mergers and acquisitions, or leading development teams on globally innovative cloud marketplace launches. He also gives back to the community whenever he’s asked, St. Thomas said.

“Every blue moon you are provided the rare opportunity to properly recognize excellence,” St. Thomas said, reading a statement from Lasher’s team. “Seldom are stories of courage in the face of chaos held up high as models worthy of admiration. Even rarer is the ability to work with someone who embodies these attributes and you are able to call that person your peer, your leader and your mentor. From all of us at Tech Data, we have been graciously been provided this opportunity by way of this year’s Tech Leader of the Year, our very own Dan Lasher. Dan consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty. Although everyone at Tech Data works 100 percent, one of the primary reasons that Tech Data IT continues to excel is that Dan continually gives 125 percent.”

Kishan Sridharan, Raymond James

Emerging Tech Leader of the Year: ​Kishen Sridharan,​ cybersecurity partnership and outreach executive, office of the chief information security officer, Raymond James Financial

Sridharan focuses on strengthening and growing St. Petersburg-based Raymond James’ network of relationships with outside organizations such as industry associations, government, law enforcement entities, local universities and other community partners. He has more than 16 years of experience in various aspects of technology.

The judges in the poweredUP award said Sridharan has more than just the obvious traits you want to see in a leader, St. Thomas said. “They were really struck by how much this person gives back to the community, and is always one of the first people to put their hand up when you ask them to go the extra mile.”

St. Thomas read a letter from Andy Zolper, senior vice president at Raymond James, the company’s chief information security officer, and Sridharan’s boss.

“Kishen is an invaluable member of my cybersecurity leadership team. We cannot be successful in our mission if we don’t have strong partnerships with industry leaders, with law enforcement, with government agencies and other sources of talent. Kishen bring commitment, creativity and a passion for cybersecurity to bear on every partnership opportunity and is incredibly successful creating mutually beneficial partnerships that contribute to our success,” Zolper wrote.

Jeff Johnson, Power Design

Tech Project of the Year: Power Design’s CrewConnect

CrewConnect, developed by the team at St. Petersburg electrical contractor Power Design, is the first mobile app of its kind in the construction industry.

“CrewConnect utilizes facial recognition on the job site to quickly and accurately match crew members to the site, along with their established profiles in the app,” St. Thomas said.

The app details the crew’s job-related strengths and capabilities so Power Design supervisors can better organize teams and job sites to be successful. Within the app, there’s a communication platform that supports staff to chat in real time with the field crews, addressing issues as they happen.

“CrewConnect not only maintains a daily roster of who is on the job sites, it also works to increase productivity and incentivize the teams through a targeted employee reward system. Much-envied tools or gear can be redeemed and in addition, all of those awards are posted on internal employee sites and social platforms encouraging congratulations across the organization,” St. Thomas said.

Lars Letonoff, KnowBe4

Tech Unicorn of the Year: ​KnowBe4, a Clearwater cybersecurity training firm

This is a  new category for Tampa Bay Tech’s poweredUP awards, partly because there are only two tech “unicorns” locally — KnowBe4 and ConnectWise in Tampa. A tech unicorn is a company with a valuation of $1 billion or more. ConnectWise is more than 30 years old, while KnowBe4 is just 8 years old and achieved unicorn status when it raised $300 million in a funding round earlier this year.

“They are the fastest-growing company in this market and their mission is quite simple – it’s to train employees to make smarter decisions around security in their organizations,” St. Thomas said. “They just celebrated their 25th consecutive quarter of increasing sales, breaking all previous records by 50 percent. From a team perspective, they are extremely proud that more than half of their team is female, which is pretty incredible given that the average in cybersecurity is 20 percent With over $100 million in recurring revenue, near triple digit growth and a customer base of over 27,0000 organization over multiple industries, this company’s success seems limitless.”

Taylor Howard, AgileThought

Tech Company of the Year: ​AgileThought, a software development firm in Tampa

AgileThought was acquired earlier this year by AN Global, a Dallas technology firm that kept the AgileThought name. The company now has more than 3,000 employees across the United States, South America and Europe, and an expanded portfolio of service offerings.

During the year AgileThought also was recognized on the Inc. 5000 list for the 12th consecutive year, earned the No. 10 spot on Fortune’s 2019 list of “Best Workplaces for Millennials,” and was acknowledged on Fortune’s 2019 “Great Place to Work” list. In addition, AgileThought was named a 2019 Microsoft AI and Machine Learning Partner of the Year Award finalist.

“When Agile Thought was formed in 2004, it didn’t take very long for the community to notice that something very special was going on between those walls,” St. Thomas said. “By combining enterprise software product development with digital and agile transformation services, they’ve been able to deliver future forward solutions to many Fortune 1000 clients.”

Linda Olson, Tampa Bay Wave

Community Dedication and Leadership Award: ​Linda Olson, co-founder and CEO, Tampa Bay Wave

It’s the fourth year Tampa Bay Tech has presented an award for community dedication and leadership. Last year’s winner, Florida Funders Managing Partner Tom Wallace, introduced this year’s winner at the poweredUP award ceremony Nov. 8.

“I first met Linda in the early 2000s,” Wallace said. “She was an entrepreneur running a startup. I was immediately impressed with intellect, her passion and desire to build a company, and her entrepreneurial spirit.”

Olson started Tampa Bay Wave, a nonprofit tech business accelerator, in 2008, at a time when there were few such facilities in the Tampa-St. Pete area, Wallace said. Since then, Wave has helped more than 250 startups, received $5 million in funding and built a staff of smart, talented people, Wallace said.

“The other thing Linda did a great job with was igniting the tech community. She pulled in technology leaders, she pulled in corporate leaders, she pulled in service providers, all to share this mission of building the next great tech companies – the next Google or the next Uber – to come out of Tampa,” Wallace said. “If you like scrappiness, and I have always been a great admirer of scrappiness, she clawed and scraped and did everything she could from a funding standpoint to get this organization to where it is today. If you admire passion, tenacity and determination, you can’t help but admire Linda Olson.”

There aren’t enough women in technology, Wallace said.

“As the father of a daughter myself, I can’t think of a better role model for women than Linda Olson … The impact she has had on the technology community in Tampa Bay is really second to none.”

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