Every year the drum rolls and the Pittsburgh Technology Council announces the finalists for the Tech 5o Awards, held annually to honor companies in the region that are getting it right. And every year the Tech Council has to find a bigger venue as the audience and list of winners grows.

This year companies will be honored at a mega event in late October at Pittsburgh’s Wyndham Grand Hotel. Audrey Russo, president and CEO, says the location keeps moving because attendance “has just gotten crazy.” The council expects about 800 to attend.

“Attendance doesn’t mean companies,” Russo says. “It isn’t an accurate representation of how many companies we’d like to recognize.”

The list of finalists is spread across eight categories, including CEO of the year, start-up of the year and innovator of the year; each category has anywhere from five to nine finalists, with a total of 54 companies or CEOs up for awards. (A complete list of the finalists and descriptions of their work can be found here). This list is indicative of the region’s growing tech community, not to mention the reason behind the awards program.

The criteria factored into the final decision involves individual companies’ fundraising, consumer base, target audience, level of innovation, number of employees and engagement with the community. When looking for a common thread in a company’s success, Russo says it’s impossible to put a limit on it.

“They’re all over the place. You have energy, you have people going to the moon, you have someone looking at robotic knee surgery, then you’ve got all this work on interactive applications. There’s been a burgeoning of interactive applications that’s really new. That inspired our ‘Ed Tech Company of the Year’ category.”

Russo says the theme for this year’s event springboards off of this idea. While last year’s event revolved around entertainment, with live dancers and a flame-thrower, this year’s will be about “Connections” and communication between companies.

“It takes a lot of us to build not just a business but a vibrant business community. That’s really what people want to be a part of. We’re focusing on those kinds of themes,” says Russo.

The idea is to open up the lines of communication between tech companies and allow them to hear from their peers on exciting and innovative steps this year’s start-ups are taking to advance their products.

While Russo says she’s excited about all of the companies being recognized, she mentions  a few that have taken her by surprise. NoWait, which began as an app that puts your name on waiting lists at casual restaurants, is now looking to expand this idea into doctor’s offices.

Russo also mentioned Thread, a company that takes garbage off the streets of Haiti and recycles it into durable, eco-friendly fabrics.

“That’s the beauty of building these companies. They think they’re trying to solve one problem at the outset, but often it turns out to be something different after they get an idea of what people need, what people buy,” Russo says. “You can’t really make a judgment about a company’s first step out. What’s more exciting is what these companies morph into and what their journey is.”

You can register to attend the awards program here.

Rebekah Zook

Rebekah Zook is a Duquesne grad and all-around story-telling enthusiast. A former fellow at WESA, she worked as a production assistant for their daily talk show. Most recently, she taught in the Propel...