Updated: 4 p.m.
From university campuses to coworking spaces to the City County Building, you’ll find these young Pittsburgh leaders paving the way in Pittsburgh’s technology field.
While they’re building companies and new tools, they’re also supporting each other with mentorship and training, and they’re giving back as volunteers and members of local boards and committees.
Meet the 22 members of The Incline’s second Who’s Next: Technology class. This group of under-40 pros joins more than 250 young PIttsburghers as honorees of our Who’s Next series, presented by S&T Bank.
You can meet them and toast their accomplishments at an Aug. 29 happy hour. Get your tickets here.
Until then, let us introduce you to these rising stars in local tech.
Join us at a happy hour in honor of The Incline's Who's Next: Technology class. Who's Next, presented by S&T Bank, is a monthly series honoring under-40 professionals making Pittsburgh a better place. At this happy hour, meet this talented class, and enjoy light appetizers, samplings of beer, wine and spirits. This event is for you if you're fascinated by the local tech scene or are trying to break into it. Your ticket supports our local newsroom, which is committed to keeping you informed by reporting relevant, original and actionable journalism.
Where: Ascender at 6401 Penn Ave. (East Liberty)
When: August 29, 2018 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
How much: $25 for public | Free for Who's Next: Technology honorees
Rachael Afolabi Royes has 11 years of experience in education technology, web, mobile and design applications technologies. She’s currently the executive director of the Center for Digital Learning & Innovation and Hub for Workforce Development and Innovations at Carlow University. Afolabi Royes has worked to grow the number of online courses at Carlow and created learning materials and tools. Her research focus includes digital technologies and African history and culture, and she recently launched her first educational mobile app about African culture and history. Afolabi Royes previously worked in the corporate world at Deloitte LLP., Accenture LLP., and Motorola Solutions and has worked as a short-term consultant for multiple companies. She is a board member at Assemble PGH. Afolabi Royes is a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria and the University of Phoenix. She lives in North Braddock.
Annia Aleman is a civic innovation specialist for the City of Pittsburgh and works to promote inclusion and opportunities for the local startup community. She manages PGH Lab, which allows startups to pilot their ideas with the city and local authorities and create lasting partnerships beyond testing. Aleman is also part of the team that organizes Inclusive Innovation Week, manages the city’s Roadmap for Inclusive Innovation, and created meetups that bring together nonprofits, government, community organizations, and individuals for networking and resource sharing. She’s a board member for Casa San Jose and Building New Hope. Aleman moved to Pittsburgh from Nicaragua in 2006 and became a Pittsburgh Promise Scholar at Pittsburgh Public Schools. She is a graduate of Chatham University and Carnegie Mellon University. Aleman lives in Shadyside.
Kelauni Cook is the executive director of Black Tech Nation, an organization she created in 2017 that grows and supports black tech in Pittsburgh. She also co-founded Distributed49, a blockchain education and tech company based at Carnegie Mellon University's Project Olympus. Distributed49 is the host of the city’s largest blockchain meetup — “Straight Up Blockchain.” Cook also helped create Beta Builders to teach coding to youth and continues to work with the program through Black Tech Nation. Previously a software developer, she’s a graduate of Academy Pittsburgh Coding Boot Camp and worked as a software developer for The Washington Post. Cook is a member of the City of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission and Pittsburgh City Council’s startup and entrepreneurship advisory board. She served as a consultant to Google, Carnegie Mellon University, and MIT for an upcoming tech application that monitors the unconscious bias of computer science teachers. She is a graduate of Howard University and lives in Arlington.
As executive director of Beta Builders, Maximilian Dennison leads a coding program for high school students that’s expanding across the region and has partnered with tech companies like Google, Ascender and more. Dennison is also a substitute teacher at Pittsburgh Public Schools and a tech inclusion recruiter for Excellerent Solutions, a software company, where he works as a direct support professional to help workers with disabilities. His nominators praised him for his passion and ability to connect with students who are learning to code. “Mr. Dennison is a pillar in the community. He is actively providing opportunities for young minorities to get a jump start in the tech industry, a nominator wrote. Dennison is graduate of Point Park University. A Hill District-native, he lives in Belzhoover.
Jonathan Doctorick leads and oversees Carnegie Science Center’s Fab Labs and created one of its two Mobile Fab Labs. As the technical and education manager for the maker space, he coordinates scheduling, does equipment maintenance, and collaborates with schools and organizations for students to come use the lab’s tools. Before taking his current role in May, Doctorick led the center’s mobile fab lab and created programming for students throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. He started a second, smaller Mobile Fab Lab last year that allows the portable makerspace to go to new, previously inaccessible sites. Doctorick works closely with the state’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and has adapted Mobile Fab Lab programs for students with autism and visual impairments, as well as students living in state correctional facilities. He’s spoken about the Mobile Fab Lab at conferences in China, Chile and France and across the U.S. Doctorick is a graduate of Duquesne University and lives in Friendship.
Dr. Samuel J. Dickerson is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of Undergraduate Computer Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s active in undergraduate engineering education and education research and has taught a dozen courses in electrical and computer engineering, including a new course he developed on the Internet-of-Things to help students prep for future technologies. Dickerson won the Innovation in Education Award at Pitt in 2016 and 2018. “Dr. Dickerson’s contributions are outstanding not only because of the impact he has made at his own university, but also because of the potential for his educational innovations to spread to a much wider audience. His innovations are filling true needs in engineering education,” his nominator wrote. He’s a member of Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, American Society for Engineering Education, and National Society of Black Engineers. A graduate of Pitt, he lives in the North Side.
Tim Friez has spent his career working on tools for STEM education. He is the COO and co-founder of Robomatter, which is focused on education and software development solutions for global STEM initiatives. He’s responsible for its vision, strategies for the company’s growth and success, and works with a client list from five continents that includes consulting with ministers of education in India, Europe and East Asia. Friez was a developer for ROBOTC, a programming software used for educational robotics systems. He previously worked at Carnegie Mellon University as a software engineer and EdTech developer to create curriculum and software tools for teaching computer science, robotics and programming to K-12 students. As a native Pittsburgher, Friez told The Incline that he’s “privileged to not only witness but also participate in the tech renaissance of our city.” A graduate of Robert Morris University, Friez lives in Regent Square.
As a software product manager at Hamiltonian Systems, Vignesh Jayaraman leads a team building tools that help companies use Internet of Things and AI technologies through resources like supply chain intelligence. These tools aim to help companies stay competitive and be on the cutting edge of Industry 4.0. Earlier in his career, he developed a robotic exoskeleton for people with paralysis in one side of the body to help with mobility and designed a two person human-/electric-powered hybrid vehicle that had voice-activated control features and an electric range of 20 miles. “Vignesh is a bright scientist who also is creative and can see beyond what's in front of him,” his nominator wrote. He is a graduate of Amrita University in India and Washington University in St. Louis. Jayaraman lives in Shadyside.
Erin Elizabeth Gatz and E.Louise Larson co-founded Prototype PGH, a feminist maker space, in 2016. There, more than 150 women have learned technical and entrepreneurial skills through free and low-cost workshops that range from 3D modeling to salary negotiation. Gatz and Larson also work with more than 30 volunteers and provide networking and tools to those who use the maker space. Earlier this year, Prototype received $50,000 as one of four winners of the Google.org Impact Challenge Pittsburgh. In addition, Gatz is an academic advisor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, co-founded the PGH Zine Fair in 2011, and is a founding DJ with YASS QUEEN dance party since 2016. She also teaches classes at the Chatham University Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship as a design consultant in the Prototyping and Design Lab. Larson also teaches digital fabrication at Carnegie Mellon University, where she is pursuing a Master's Degree in design. She is a board member for Assemble and told The Incline that she’s passionate about “the transformative power of making things.” Both Gatz and Larson previously worked at TechShop. A graduate of Brashear High School, Gatz later graduated from the University of Toronto. She lives in Stanton Heights. Larson graduated from the University of Montana and lives in Garfield.
Paul W. Leu is an associate professor and B.P. America Faculty Fellow in the Industrial Engineering Department at University of Pittsburgh. Leu also directs the Laboratory for Advanced Materials, which focuses on designing and understanding advanced materials through computer modeling and research. His research group has worked on making solar energy economical with new materials for solar cells that are more efficient, lighter, flexible and less expensive. “These technologies enable, for the first time, widespread adoption of solar cells into all types of surfaces imaginable,” his nominator wrote. In 2016, he won the NSF CAREER Award for work on flexible metals and outstanding research, teaching and service. He also won the Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers UPS Minority Advancement Award the same year for his work with the Pitt Office of Diversity to support underrepresented high school students. Before joining Pitt faculty in 2010, Leu was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a graduate of Rice and Stanford universities and lives in Squirrel Hill.
Adam Longwill is a self-described “English Major turned WiFi administrator.” As the founder and now executive director of Meta Mesh Wireless Communities, Longwill has led the deployment of more than 70 locations with free WiFi across the region including in Allentown, Braddock and the Hill District. He’s also worked on networks in Vermont, Puerto Rico and elsewhere. To create Meta Mesh, Longwill formed a business model around for-profit revenue models with nonprofit service. After earning an English degree from Goucher College, Longwill spent a semester at University of Maryland Baltimore County studying human-centered computing before returning to his hometown of Pittsburgh to work in IT and founding Meta Mesh in 2012. Per the Meta Mesh website, “he believes access to information is essential to having a more equal society and the best way to disseminate information is through community-owned infrastructure that resilient and expandable.” Longwill lives in Allentown.
Zach Malone is always looking for the newest tech companies in Pittsburgh — and he advises and mentors startups across the city. As a principal for Draper Triangle Ventures since 2011, Malone oversaw its investments in Thread International and ContainerShip, and he’s now a board member for both of those companies. Malone previously worked as an analyst at Gateway Financial and UPMC. He’s vice chairperson for the City of Pittsburgh’s Startup Advisory Board and a board member of the Pittsburgh Venture Capital Association, BNY Mellon’s UpPrize, and Pittsburgh Film Office. Malone volunteers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Pittsburgh. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech and lives in South Side.
Sandra Mau is CEO and founder of TrademarkVision, a visual search engine that uses artificial intelligence to search for images that include trademarks or design patents. The technology, which allows entrepreneurs to cut down the time they spend creating a logo as well as make sure it is unique and protected, is used by government offices, as well as companies like IBM and Warner Brothers. In 2017, TrademarkVision was named one of the top 10 most innovative AI companies in the world by FastCompany. Mau is also an International Trademark Association Design Rights committee member, was the founding chairperson of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Women in Engineering Queensland (Australia) Section, and regularly participates in hackathons. She is a graduate of University of Toronto, Carnegie Mellon University, and Queensland University of Technology. Mau lives in Regent Square.
Toni Murphy is the first African American woman and the first millennial to lead a large sales organization at Comcast Business. She started at Comcast in 2008 and became one of the youngest vice presidents at the company in 2015. In 2017, she took on her current role and became responsible for all business strategy, operations and customer fulfillment for selling business-class internet in a four-state region. Murphy leads a 200-person team. “Toni has single-handedly raised the bar on how we present at meetings, how we engage at events, and how we think about solving problems while putting the customer at the center of all we do in real and meaningful ways,” her nominator wrote. Murphy is a board member of Strong Women Strong Girls and Red Chair Pittsburgh, and is on the advisory committee for Manchester Academy Charter School. She is a graduate of Princeton University and lives in McMurray.
William Parker is the CEO and founder of VendSpin, an app that allows on-demand delivery of convenience items. He launched his company in March 2017 and has since expanded to multiple cities beyond Pittsburgh with 25 vendors in the U.S. and one in Hong Kong. The app even caught the attention of 7/11 for a possible partnership. Parker previously worked as a driver and operator of a mobile convenience store and saw how people relied on the mobile stores but didn’t know when they were coming to their block. That inspired him to create VendSpin and to focus on the future of “convenience delivered.” He also previously told The Incline that he wants to inspire kids growing up in the city by showing them the opportunities that exist in tech and that tech isn’t for “one certain group of people.” Parker also spent time volunteering for the Red Cross in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. He is a Pittsburgh Public Schools graduate and lives in the North Side.
As program manager at UPMC Enterprises, Varsha Raj is part of a team working to re-release MyUPMC, the healthcare system’s online patient portal. She works with multiple development and operations teams across UPMC to grow digital patient engagement with the portal. Raj told The Incline that she believes in the ability of technology to empower patients, improve the patient care experience, and deliver better outcomes. “When faced with varying points of view and feedback, Varsha is keenly skilled in always putting the patient first. She quickly absorbs and synthesizes large amounts of information in order to make strategic decisions, and objectively lays out all of the information to create a seamless user experience,” her nominator wrote. Raj previously worked at Apple as a project and program manager in Austin, Texas. Raj is a graduate of the University of Manchester and the London School of Economics and Political Science. She lives in Regent Square.
Correction: This has been updated to reflect the status of a project and her role.
Stephanie Rosenthal joined Chatham University’s faculty last year to help create the applied data science and analytics major. As an assistant professor, she aims to “give students experience solving real-world problems that teach vital technical concepts,” she told The Incline. As a researcher, her work focuses on artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction to improve AI decision-making and performance. She’s also an adjunct faculty member in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. Rosenthal created a 10-week program called Gizmology to teach engineering, 3D printing, and electronics to 120 students from Shady Side Academy Junior School, St. Edmund’s Academy, and St. Bernard School. According to her nominator, she “goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to supporting her students … Her patience and compassion with students, as well as her high academic standards and vast technical knowledge in the field, earn her tremendous respect amongst students and her colleagues.” Rosenthal is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. She lives in Squirrel Hill.
Leah Simoncelli’s work has taken her from Greensburg and Pittsburgh to D.C., Nantucket and Chile. She started as the coordinator for the AlphaLab Gear’s Hardware Cup International Pitch Competition in October 2016, for which she plans, markets and manages the six regional competitions and increased applications from early stage hardware startups by 63 percent. Then in July 2017, she also become the coordinator for AlphaLab Gear where she does the social media strategy, manage the website, and support PR and marketing, as well as recruits and supports applicants. Previously she worked in Nantucket, Mass. and Washington D.C., as well as Santiago, Chile, where she taught English as a second language. Simoncelli is a graduate of American University and lives in Lawrenceville.
As open data and knowledge manager for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Eleanor Tutt helps Pittsburghers learn about data, relevant tools, and how to protect that data. She started at the library in 2016 and now manages the Beyond Big Data initiative, which helps both library staff and the public learn data literacy and opens library data to the public. "I love helping people access and use data relevant to their lives and communities,” she told The Incline. Tutt added that she’s especially proud of Data Day, the library’s annual community fair with hands-on data activities that’s coming up on Oct. 6. Tutt also organizes lectures related to data and a “data pen pal service” between library visitors and staff. Tutt’s work in data literacy is essential to the library’s priorities of “early literacy, workforce and economic development and neighborhood vitality,” her nominator said. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Saint Louis University. Tutt lives in Bloomfield.
Correction: An outdated volunteer role has been removed.
Think of Shine Registry as a wedding registry, but for startups. The platform created by Emily Wazlak allows women entrepreneurs to register for everything from office supplies to event volunteers to encourage and support women business leaders. Wazlak started the registry in 2016, she joined Project Olympus, Carnegie Mellon’s startup incubator, in 2017, and got into AscenderPGH’s incubator program this year. “Shine Registry is extremely relevant and filling an urgent need in the marketplace,” her nominator wrote. Before creating Shine Registry, Wazlak worked in politics. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and CMU. Wazlak lives in East Liberty.
Dick Zhang founded Identified Technologies, which uses drones to aid construction work around the world and works with companies including Alcoa and EQT. Identified gives users the ability to create maps, almost in real-time, and decrease surveying costs. Zhang was a member of the first cohort at AlphaLab Gear, raised millions of dollars from venture capitalists to start his company, and has received multiple awards, including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist. He regularly works as a mentor to new startups and was a guest lecturer at Point Park University. Before starting Identified, Zhang worked in corporate finance at Goldman Sachs and as a global development and operations consultant for Bristol-Myers Squibb. Zhang attended the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Shadyside.