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D CEO Award Programs

Winners Announced: The Innovation Awards

Presented by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, honorees in this year's program include David C. Williams of AT&T, Tricia D'Cruz of Catalyze Dallas, Celanese Corp, Hedera and Swirlds, and more.

D CEO and Dallas Innovates revealed the winners of The Innovation Awards 2023 at a private event last night at On the Levee in the Dallas Design District. The program honors leaders, entrepreneurs, and trailblazers who are paving the way forward for innovation in North Texas.

The program’s 68 finalists are recognized in the January/February issue of D CEO. Be watching for a photo recap and additional reports in the coming weeks.

The Innovation Awards 2023 Honorees

Corporate Innovator of the Year

Winner: David C. Williams, AT&T

David C. Williams solved a huge problem for his company in 2020, enabling 40,000 employees to process payment and verify identifying information while working from home, without exposing sensitive consumer details. He is the leader of the largest robotics process automation program in the world and is currently working on a new project that could revolutionize customer service. It’s set to debut this year.

Finalists: Matt Heydon, Toyota Financial Services; Alok Maskara, Lennox International; Heidi Soltis-Berner, Deloitte

Innovative Leader of the Year

Winner: Tricia D’Cruz, Catalyze Dallas

Tricia D’Cruz has built a career out of founding and scaling startups. She currently leads a holding company that acquires intellectual property from large corporations to bring new technologies to market faster and with lower risk. Her holding company has already spun out four new enterprises using this strategy, most recently closing a deal with consulting giant IBM.

Finalists: George Baker Sr, ParkHub; Dave Copps, Worlds; Ben Lamm, Colossal; Prasanna Singaraju, Qentelli; Evelyn Torres-Gomez, Solaris Technologies Services

CIO/CTO of the Year

Winner: Andrew Bender, DZS

Andrew Bender has spent his career helping integrate new technologies into society. Most recently, he led his team through skyrocketing demand for reliable broadband internet, adapting the R&D process to be collaborative in the remote environment during the pandemic. He helped DZS create the infrastructure to operate globally, as well as move its headquarters from the Oakland area to Plano—all while in his first C-Suite role, in the middle of the pandemic.

Finalist: Chris Akeroyd, Children’s Health

Innovation Advocate or Accelerator Leader of the Year

Winner: Hubert Zajicek, Health Wildcatters

Hubert Zajicek has built a sustainable business model that relies entirely on sponsors, private angel investors, and family office funds to fuel his organization, rather than a governing board or entity. Today, his group is one of the top accelerators of its kind in the country. For the past 10 years, Zajicek has guided the accelerator in mentoring entrepreneurs and investing in 99 startups that have raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars. Program alumni have gone through successful exits, including a sale to Nike and even a NASDAQ IPO.

Finalists: Trey Bowles, Techstars Physical Health Fort Worth; Cameron Cushman, University of North Texas Health and Science Center; Tarsha Hearns, The DEC Network at Redbird; Jennifer Sampson, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

Innovation in AI and Machine Learning

Winner: Lone Star Analysis

Over the past year or so, Lone Star Analysis has rolled out new branded solutions including MaxUp, a predictive and prescriptive asset analytics tool, and TruPredict, a strategic pricing software. Additionally, the company’s revenue growth has led to the expansion of its Addison office space, staff increases, and a client base growth of 51 percent. It also launched subsidiaries in the UK and Norway.

Finalists: Access Healthcare, Oncor Electric Delivery, OxeFit, Spacee

Innovation in Biotechnology

Winner: Caris Life Sciences

Caris Life Sciences has created a revolutionary new standard for cancer testing and monitoring, using liquid biopsies to test a person’s blood and be able to diagnose and determine the proper treatment therapy for people with cancer, avoiding invasive, inaccurate, and time-consuming tests used in many other cancer diagnoses. It’s innovations can also be used to monitor the progress of treatment using the combined powers of comprehensive molecular profiling, advanced AI, and machine learning algorithms to reveal the complexity of the disease and provide a roadmap for next steps.

Finalists: Lantern Pharma, OncoNano Medicine, Taysha Gene Therapies

Innovation in Cybersecurity

Winner: Cyber Defense Labs

Cyber Defense Labs works with midsize companies all the up to 60-billion-dollar corporations and Fortune 100 companies. It fills a void in the industry through risk assessment and advisory services, which include penetration tests, vulnerability assessments, configuration reviews, and security services management. At midyear 2022, its revenue outpaced the previous year by 70 percent. Additionally, revenue earned per client in its cyber-managed security services unit has grown 175 percent in the past 12 months.

Finalists: Cysiv, Island, and Securonix

Innovation in DLT, Blockchain, and Crypto

Winner: Hedera and Swirlds Labs

Hedera is innovating with distributed ledger technology by setting out to enable shared worlds where people can gather, collaborate, conduct commerce, and control their own online footprint. Its tech is the most-used enterprise-grade public ledger for the decentralized economy. To start 2022, the company’s governing council— composed of 25 organizations that include IBM, Google, Boeing, and Tata Communications— voted to buy the IP rights to the proprietary Hashgraph algorithm—an algorithm that tracks time-stamped transactions between network nodes—from Swirlds Labs. As a result, the Hashgraph code is now open source to enable broader community participation, accelerated development, and expanded number of contributors.

Finalists: Applied Digital, Aurox, Blockmetrix, and MoneyGram International

Innovation in Education

Winner: RoboKind

Founded in 2011, its innovative facially expressive 14 robots help children with autism spectrum disorder hone and eventually master basic social-emotional skills. RoboKind took things to the next level with a remote-learning version of its K-12 program, which has been endorsed by the Council of Administrators of Special Education. More than 400 districts now use the platform.

Finalists: iStation, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Plano Independent School District, ScholarShot, and UWorld

Innovation in Finance

Winner: Gig Wage

Gig Wage’s financial services platform has been adopted by more than 350 businesses across all 50 states. It’s technology has been used to pay more than 300,000 contractors—and more growth is on the way. The company has raised more than $16 million from Green Dot Corp., Silicon Valley Bank, Foundry Group, Continental Investors, Techstars, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, and more.

Finalists: Bestow, IndyFin, Nada, Valor

Innovation in Food and Beverage

Winner: Darling Ingredients

Darling Ingredients is the largest recycler of food production waste streams around the globe, including animal and bakery byproducts and is the largest used cooking oil recycler, too, working with more than 100,000 customers. Last year, the company announced a partnership with Chick-fil-A to convert used cooking oil from its U.S. and Canadian restaurants into cleaner-burning renewable fuel, a service it also provides to Wendy’s and Wingstop. And with a $1.1 billion acquisition of Valley Proteins and an expansion of the Diamond Green Diesel facility in Louisiana, it continues to grow—and get even greener.

Finalists: 7-Eleven, OneDine, Yum! Brands, Ziosk

Innovation in Healthcare

Winner: Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co.

With transparent pricing that often undercuts the cost of medicines purchased through health insurance, Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. has seen major growth and success through its online pharmacy and has recently launched a partnership to enter the employer market. The company is also working on a Dallas factory that will complete the final step in the manufacturing process to deliver drugs to patients—some of whom may not get their medicine otherwise because they suffer from conditions with patient pools too small to be profitable for larger drug companies to produce them. The factory will also focus on pediatric cancer medicines.

Finalists: Catapult Health, The Heart Center at Children’s Health, Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation, Recuro Health

Innovation in Manufacturing and Consumer Goods

Winner: Celanese Corp.

Celanese has been a leader in pushing ESG initiatives across its global platform and also developed an “Accelerating Solutions Through Chemistry” initiative that involved everything from refillable contraceptive implants to producing products from biowaste sources. A recent acquisition of DuPont M&M will further accelerate its engineered materials achievements. And, the company has developed several people-related innovations, including its hybrid work plan, called WorkABILITY.

Finalists: BeautyBio, Tetra Pak, Twisted X

Innovation in SAAS

Winner: Arcade

Arcade gamifies sales workforces across the country—including Verizon—to help companies drive improved sales metrics, encourage productive behaviors, or achieve KPIs. Born from a study that proved that the economic cost of lost productivity of disengaged employees equates to 18 percent of their salary, the founder dove headfirst into alleviating this source of tension for companies through fun, interactive sales techniques that incentivizes success through numerous rewards. In 2021, the company closed a $4.5 million funding round and says that its proprietary gamified sales efforts allow clients to see a 44 percent increase in win rate, 38 percent average reduction in sales cycle length, and 60 percent average reduction in ramp time.

Finalists: Botisimo, Spotio, Thyrv

Innovation in Sports

Winner: OpTic Gaming

OpTic Gaming is one the largest and most valuable esports, media, and entertainment organizations in the world. After scaling financially through a 2021 merger with Envy Gaming—and eventually sunsetting the Envy brand—the company started 2022 by acquiring the $10 million, 100,000-square-foot Esports Stadium in Arlington. In November its Dallas Fuel esports team won the 2022 Overwatch League Champions, earning the $1 million prize purse. In late 2022, OpTic’s founder—who launched the company in 2006—returned as the CEO. To round out the year, the organization was named the 2022 Esports Organization of the Year at Las Vegas’ Esports Awards ceremony.

Finalists: GameSquare Esports, Monarc, NVenue


Kelsey Vanderschoot

Kelsey Vanderschoot

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Kelsey J. Vanderschoot came to Dallas by way of Napa, Los Angeles, and Madrid, Spain. A former teacher, she joined…

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