The Dallas-Fort Worth region’s significance as an innovation hub was celebrated last night at the 2024 Innovation Awards, a private event hosted at On the Levee in the Dallas Design District by D CEO and Dallas Innovates. The program honors leaders, entrepreneurs, and trailblazers who are paving the way forward for innovation in North Texas.
All 74 finalists are recognized at Dallas Innovates and in the January/February issue of D CEO. Be watching for a photo recap and additional reports in the coming weeks.
The Innovation Awards 2024 Honorees
Innovation in AI and Machine Learning
WINNER: Balanced Media Technology
Balanced Media Technology has raised nearly $30 million in research, seed, and series funding. One of its most recent breakthroughs with the creation of Eye in the Sky Defender, a human-computation game that enhances the precision of a deep learning ML model for detecting age-related macular degeneration. The company’s platform is a robust data infrastructure that feeds information to its AI systems, ensuring the models can process vast amounts of data quickly and efficiently.
Finalists: AdComp Systems Group, DZS, SalesBoost, SDV International
Innovation in Healthcare and Biotech
WINNER: Lyda Hill Philanthropies
Lyda Hill Philanthropies recently helped Dallas win a customer experience hub for a new $2.5 billion federal agency called the Advanced Research Projects for Health. The hub will be housed at the fast-growing Pegasus Park and focus on transformational biomedical and health innovations. Among other initiatives, Lyda Hill Philanthropies funds and elevates women in STEM with the goal of inspiring the next generation of leaders.
Finalists: Almaden Genomics, Recuro Health, Spectral AI, Timely Care
Innovation in Education
WINNER: Dallas College
Dallas College graduated 125 students it its Bachelor of Applied Science in Early Education and Teaching program, the first program of that nature from any community college in Texas. Later this year, Dallas College will launch its second bachelor’s program in nursing while continuing to offer dual credit to 30,000 high school students and free tuition to students at dozens of local high schools with laptops and hotspots for those who need them.
Finalists: Stemuli Studios, The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, UWorld
Innovation in Banking and Finance
WINNER: Nexus PMG
Nexus PMG serves more than 100 investors with more than $300 billion low-carbon assets undermanagement. The company has been on a mission to find reliable and sustainable solutions for pollution-heavy industries, making it the point where finance, development, and operations intersect. Recently, Nexus PMG secured a $50 million capital infusion from Greenbacker Capital, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and Ontario Power Generation Pension Fund.
Finalists: MoneyGram International, Texas Capital Bank, Valor
Innovation in Fintech and Insurance
Over the last five years, Bestow has raised more than $200 million in capital while continuing to move forward in creating and adapting life insurance products and technologies that ensure clients have access to insurance when they need it most. Through its innovative strategies, the company provides infrastructure to life insurance clients by offering its SaaS platform to large incumbent carriers such as USAA, Nationwide, and Transamerica.
Finalists: Collateral Edge, Deposits, Quiltt, Yendo
Innovation in Cybersecurity
With its sights set on redefining cybersecurity and IT architecture, Island.io has been able to build an entire security stack that protects user data, cookies, and local storage. Beyond that, the company created many other technologies, including a security awareness built into the product which teaches end users what links to click and what links not to click. Island.io has raised $325 million in capital with a valuation of $1.5 billion.
Finalists: Cyber Defense Labs, DigitalXForce/iTrustXForce
Innovation in Food and Beverage
Winner: Harwood Hospitality Group
After initially making its name in the office development space, Harwood International has gotten into the hospitality and food and beverage game in a big way. Along with opening a swanky new property last year, the 22-story Hôtel Swexan, it has become one of the most successful restaurant operators in Dallas with 16 concepts, including Happiest Hour, Poco Fiasco, and other popular venues.
Finalists: Avocados From Mexico, Duro Hospitality, Front Burner Society
Innovation in Real Estate
WINNER: Mintwood Real Estate
Mintwood Real Estate is reinventing the way developers look at urban residential real estate—and improving the city by bringing high-quality development to underperforming assets. One of its first projects took vacant floors in what’s now Santander Tower and transformed them into a boutique downtown hotel called The Guild. More recently, it turned 11 floors in the same building into nearly 230 apartments. Mintwood also is working on ground-up development by bringing affordable housing to the market with Oakhouse, a 219-unit project in North Oak Cliff.
Finalists: CBRE, Compass Datacenters, Dottid, TestFit
Innovations in Robotics and IOT
Clevon’s technology and tools to help advance the delivery solutions space came to a culmination with its robotic delivery vehicles. The idea behind the company’s vehicles originated with the goal of limited carbon footprint while also being able to maintain the ability to deliver sizable parcels. The vehicles have a range of driver settings, ranging from fully autonomous, partially autonomous with human assistance remotely, and fully human operated via remote with a limit of 20 miles per hour.
Finalists: RobotLAB, Sensori Robitics, Ziosk
Innovation in Software and SaaS
WINNER: o9 Solutions
Growing at a rapid rate with a 51 percent year-over-year increase in annual recurring revenue in 2023, o9 Solutions continues to lead the supply chain planning solutions and management software space. The company services planning teams by incorporating AI technologies to generate accurate and reliable forecast models. Last year, o9 Solutions, which began as a small Dallas startup, grew to 2,500 employees globally, and after securing an additional $116 million in funding saw its valuation rise to $3.7 billion.
Finalists: JobThread Software, Lexipol, SPOTIO
Innovation in Transportation Technology
Optym recently launched a driver schedule optimization solution, a dispatch tool, and a real-time dock management system. By working with some of the largest transportation firms in the world, the company uses artificial intelligence to optimize transportation, offering services in trucking, rail, and less-than-truckload deliveries. In turn, the company has helped its clients save an estimated $1 billion and nearly 10 million miles of travel per day.
Finalists: RailPros, VicOne
Startup of the Year
WINNER: Braemont Capital
With the largest inaugural growth equity raise in Texas history with $525 million in 2023, Braemont Capital invests in founder-led and family-run companies. To date, the company has executed three investments representing more than $250 million in commitments. Notably, Braemont’s investments include software business RedTeam, facilities maintenance platform Vixxo, and insurance firm Incline P&C Group. With its second fund expected to be raised by the end of 2024 or beginning of 2025, Braemont is expecting to surpass its initial record-setting fund, but not more than $1 billion.
Finalists: Adaptive 3D, Firehawk Aerospace, NVenue
Startup Leader of the Year
WINNER: Gary Wojtaszek, RecNation
Gary Wojtaszek founded RecNation, an RV and boat storage facility startup, in 2020 and has experienced rapid growth thanks in part to a 30 percent increase in RV and boat ownership post-pandemic. RecNation acquires storage facilities across the country and the company gives the assets a facelift that can include fencing, security cameras, gravel, and blacktop and for the units, RecNation either adds a canopy or closes the units in, if necessary. With more than 50 assets under management, RecNation has raised more than $800 million in capital in just three years. Wojtaszek expects to own and operate 350 assets by 2028. Prior to RecNation, Wojtaszek built CyrusOne into a datacenter behemoth and soon after his exit, the company sold for $15 billion.
Finalists: Patrick Brandt, Grata; Chris Gannett, Gannett Partners; Ben Lamm, Colossal Biosciences
Nonprofit or Accelerator Leader of the Year
Winner: Trey Bowles, Techstars Physical Health Fort Worth Accelerator
An advocate for innovators in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Trey Bowles works to give entrepreneurs the resources and tools they need to be successful. He launched an entrepreneurship program at SMU, while also relaunching the next stage of the Startup America Partnership as the Startup Champions Network. Bowles was a co-founder of the Dallas Innovation Alliance to develop the Small Cities initiative for Dallas, as well as the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, the Mayor’s Star Council, and InnoCityPartners which helps communities and companies create places for people to live, work, and play. Bowles was also appointed to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and currently helms Techstars Physical Health Accelerator in Fort Worth.
Finalists: Abigail Erickson-Torres, Frontiers of Flight Museum; Ann Montgomery, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas; Jennifer Sanders, Dallas Innovation Alliance
Emerging Leader Award
WINNER: Deven Panchal, AT&T Labs
As chief innovation officer at a global tech and telecom company, Deven Panchal is a business leader, researcher, AI and machine learning solutions and software architect, and data scientist. He has led the launch of four AI/ML products into Open Source, and they’re being used around the world today. His work has directly benefitted millions of people around the world.
Finalists: Zach Cunningham, Remington Hospitality; Tavian Harris, Seasons of Change; Khirodra Mishra, Cybalt; Arun Kumar Ponnusamy, Jugl; Shanthi Rajaram, Amazech Solutions
CIO/CTO of the Year
WINNER: Phill Lawson-Shanks, Aligned Data Centers
As chief innovation and technology officer for Aligned Data Centers, Phill Lawson-Shanks is helping Aligned Data Centers build a sustainable data center company. Its facilities utilize no water and significantly less energy than legacy data centers. Additionally, its assets utilize AI and ML-capable cooling technology. The company’s reach internationally extends into Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. Lawson-Shanks has overcome an adult diagnosis of dyslexia and no academic qualifications in the industry to build his career.
Finalists: Srujana Bobba, Jiito.ai; Bala Subramanian, UPS; Joe Vaughan, MoneyGram International
Corporate Innovator of the Year
WINNER: Pedro Lerma, LERMA/ Agency
Pedro Lerma has become a trailblazer in the advertising industry. For Super Bowl LVII, LERMA/ Agency produced three different commercials for the event—the first advertising firm in Dallas to be responsible for such a feat. The spots were produced for Avocados From Mexico and He Gets Us, a Christian nonprofit. In December 2022, LERMA expanded its space in the West End and now occupies nearly 56,000 square feet in creative workspace. The agency has been named by Ad Age as the Agency of the Year for two years in a row.
Finalists: Jeremy Fudge, BAL; Dr. Eric Haney, Lone Star Analysis; Jared Johnson, Frito-Lay North America; Craig Torrance, MCS