Meet the 5 finalists for Startup CEO of the Year – GeekWire

Startup CEO of the Year finalists, clockwise from top left: Christie Lagally of Rebellyous Foods; Prem Kumar of Humanly; Grin Lord of mpathic; Ivan Liachko of Phase Genomics; Emily Pesce of Joon Care.

The finalists in this year’s GeekWire Awards category for Startup CEO of the Year are taking on a range of tech and innovation challenges, in disciplines that include plant-based meat production, young adult mental health care, employee communication, DNA analysis, and automation of job candidate screening.

The award, presented by T-Mobile, is for leaders of companies with 100 employees or fewer. 

The five finalists are: Christie Lagally, CEO of Rebellyous Foods; Emily Pesce, CEO of Joon Care; Grin Lord, CEO of mpathic; Ivan Liachko, CEO of Phase Genomics; Prem Kumar, CEO of Humanly.

The 2022 Startup CEO of the Year winner was Raghu Gollamudi, CEO of Seattle software startup Included, which supports diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

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 May 1, combined with feedback from judges to determine the winner in each category.

We’ll announce the winners on May 18 at the GeekWire Awards, presented by Astound Business Solutions. There are a limited number of table sponsorships available to attend the event. Contact our events team at for more information.

Submit your votes below and keep scrolling for descriptions of each finalist for Startup CEO of the Year.

Create your own user feedback survey

Prem Kumar, CEO of Humanly

Prem Kumar, CEO of Humanly, during an episode of the GeekWire series “Elevator Pitch.” (GeekWire File Photo)

Background: Humanly co-founder and CEO Prem Kumar wants to help companies speed up the interview process. Humanly’s tech can screen job candidates, schedule interviews, automate initial communication, run reference checks, and more. The aim is to reduce the time it takes to find talent and provide a better experience for potential new employees.

A Techstars mentor, Kumar previously worked at TINYPulse and spent 10 years at Microsoft.

Related coverage: Seattle HR startup Humanly lands $4.2M to help companies automate parts of the interview process

Christie Lagally, CEO of Rebellyous Foods

Rebellyous Foods CEO Christie Lagally speaks at the 2019 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire File Photo / Dan DeLong)

Background: A former Boeing engineer, Rebellyous Foods founder and CEO Christie Lagally launched her food tech company in 2017. The startup isn’t just creating a line of plant-based meat, it’s creating the equipment needed to manufacture its line of fake chicken nuggets and more. The innovation will help Rebellyous to reach commercial scale production of its food.

Lagally was previously a senior scientist at The Good Food Institute.

Related coverage: Plant-based chicken startup Rebellyous Foods raises $9.5M to launch latest production tech

Ivan Liachko, CEO of Phase Genomics

Phase Genomics CEO Ivan Liachko. (Phase Photo)

Background: Phase Genomics CEO Ivan Liachko and his startup took on “one of the largest blind spots in biology” when they set out to catalog the diversity of viruses that infect bacteria in samples from the human gut and wastewater. The aim is to determine which viruses infect which bacteria worldwide and create a database used to develop new therapeutics and potentially to build a surveillance system to detect microbial threats and respond to them.

Liachko was previously a senior fellow in the University of Washington’s Department of Genome Sciences.

Related coverage: Gates Foundation funds biotech company cataloging the viruses that infect bacteria

Grin Lord, CEO of mpathic

mpathic CEO Grin Lord. (mpathic Photo)

Background: Grin Lord has previously described mpathic as “Grammarly for empathy.” The company’s enterprise software analyzes conversations happening in texts, emails, audio calls, and more to help employees identify potential misunderstandings in communication and adjust in real-time. 

Lord was previously chief clinical officer at; a clinical product psychologist at; and a research scientist at the University of Washington. She and mpathic architect Nic Bertagnolli also started Empathy Rocks, which builds human connection using empathic AI through a gamified platform.

Related coverage: Check your empathy: This startup raised $4M for software that analyzes workplace communication

Emily Pesce, CEO of Joon Care

Joon Care CEO Emily Pesce. (Joon Care Photo)

Background: Emily Pesce took over as CEO of mental health care startup Joon Care in October. The company, founded in 2019, provides remote therapy services for teens and young adults, integrating the benefits of one-on-one therapy sessions with a mobile app-based experience.

Pesce is a managing member of venture firm Working Lab Capital and was previously vice president of online learning platform Nerdy. She was also previously senior manager of mobile services at Amazon.

Related coverage: With pandemic taking a toll on mental health, Joon Care raises $3.5M to help teens and young adults

Thanks to gold-level and category sponsors: Wilson Sonsini, JLL, Blink, BECUBairdFuel TalentRSMTalent Reach, WTIA, Meridian Capital, Bank of America, and T-Mobile. And thanks to silver level sponsors: First Tech, Remitly, Fuel Talent, and SolluCIO Partners.

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

Source link