Connect with us


GeekWire Awards: Meet the 5 finalists for Startup CEO of the Year

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…



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

Read More

Continue Reading


One-third of all CFTC crypto enforcement actions took place this year — Chairman Behnam

CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam told an audience at the Financial Industry Association Expo about the agency’s activity in the crypto space and its need…



CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam told an audience at the Financial Industry Association Expo about the agency’s activity in the crypto space and its need for modern legislation.

United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Rostin Behnam highlighted his agency’s activity in the cryptosphere and the need for up-to-date legislation at the Financial Industry Association Expo 2023 event in Chicago. He described the CFTC Enforcement Division’s efforts as a “nonstop drumbeat.”

In the text version of his keynote address to the industry group, Behnam recounted the $6 billion his agency collected in penalties in fiscal year 2023. He added:

“45 of those [enforcement] actions this fiscal year involved digital asset-related misconduct, representing over 34% of the 131 such actions brought by the commission since 2015.”

Behnam singled out the “precedent-setting litigation” his agency won against Ooki DAO, which resulted in the closure of the decentralized autonomous organization and netted a $643,542 penalty. In its default judgment against Ooki DAO, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found that the DAO was a “person” under the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) of 1936.

Behnam returned to the CEA when he discussed the agency’s future direction. “The cornerstone of our latest era is disintermediation brought about by groundbreaking technology: DeFi, AI and standard WiFi,” he said, but:

“The limits in the CEA established in essentially another era create real barriers to engaging in rulemakings and policy that is necessary to our mission, but just beyond our scope.”

Furthermore, those limits force the agency “to engage in increasingly resource-intensive quests for assurances that we are acting within the bounds of our intended remit.”

Vertical integration — an “outgrowth of electronification and the promise of DeFi” — is occurring throughout financial markets and leading to regulatory concerns, and “customer protections mean something different now,” according to Behnam.

Related: CFTC commissioner calls for crypto regulatory pilot program

Behnam’s statements contrasted sharply with Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler’s position that existing financial legislation “has been quite a benefit to investors and economic growth over the last 90 years” and should not be tampered with.

Behnam also indirectly addressed limitations on the CFTC’s enforcement authority. “To suggest that […] we must wait until victims suffer and cry out for help to be proactive […] undermines our mission and purpose,” he said. “I have continued to advocate for additional authority in the crypto space,” he later added.

Magazine: Cleaning up crypto: How much enforcement is too much?

Read More

Continue Reading


Volatility Shares cancels ETH futures ETF launch, ‘didn’t see the opportunity at this point in time’

The company’s co-founder and president, Justin Young, told Cointelegraph in an email that plans to launch at a later date were “TBD.”



The company’s co-founder and president, Justin Young, told Cointelegraph in an email that plans to launch at a later date were “TBD.”

Volatility Shares, a financial firm offering a range of exchange-traded fund (ETF) products, canceled its plans to launch an Ether (ETH) futures ETF on Oct. 2, citing changes in the market. 

In an email with Cointelegraph, the company’s co-founder and president, Justin Young, confirmed the cancellation:

“You are correct — we did not launch today. We didn’t see the opportunity at this point in time.”

However, when asked if the company still planned to launch an ETH futures ETF at a later date, Young responded, “Of course,” adding that “plans are TBD.”

Ether futures ETFs track the prices of ETH futures contracts — agreements to trade the asset at a specific time and price in the future. Essentially, they allow investors to be involved in ETH trading without having to actually hold any of the cryptocurrency.

Related: SEC continues to delay decisions on crypto ETFs: Law Decoded

Volatility Shares was previously positioned to be the first firm to offer an ETH futures ETF. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission was expected to approve the first such product on Oct. 12, but concerns over the previously impending Oct. 1 U.S. government shutdown reportedly prompted the SEC to move the timeline for approval up.

As of Oct. 2, several firms have begun trading ETH futures ETFs, including Valkyrie, VanEck, ProShares and Bitwise.

As Cointelegraph’s Turner Wright recently wrote, “Bills for the good or ill of digital assets would be halted amid a shutdown, and financial regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission, would be running on a skeleton crew.”

In a twist, the U.S. government managed to avoid the shutdown by passing a stopgap measure to keep services funded through Nov. 17, with the Senate voting 88-9 to pass the measure. U.S. President Joe Biden signed it into law immediately.

Read More

Continue Reading


Class-action suit filed against Binance for alleged harm to FTX before its collapse

A California resident is suing Binance and its CEO for tweets last November that, according to allegations, led to the collapse of the rival exchange….



A California resident is suing Binance and its CEO for tweets last November that, according to allegations, led to the collapse of the rival exchange.

A class-action suit was filed against Binance.US and Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao on Oct. 2 in the District Court of Northern California alleging various violations of federal and California law on unfair competition for attempting to monopolize the cryptocurrency market by harming its competitor FTX. The suit was brought by Nir Lahav, who is identified only as a California resident. 

At issue are posts made by Zhao on Twitter (now X) in early November on the eve of FTX’s collapse. The posts were made in conjunction with the decision by the defendants to liquidate their holdings in the FTX utility token FTT on Nov. 6. The plaintiffs estimated that Binance owned up to 5% of all FTT tokens.

Suit filed against Binance and Changpeng Zhao. Source: CourtListener

The following day, Zhao stated in a Twitter post that Binance had signed a letter of intent to acquire FTX, but it backed out of that deal one day later. According to the suit:

“Zhao publicly disseminated this information [on the withdrawal of the acquisition offer] on twitter and other social media platforms to hurt FTX Entities that ultimately lead to a rushed and unprecedented collapse of FTX Entities.”

After began its argumentation with a defense of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) policies on crypto and invocation of the Supreme Court’s Howey and Reves decisions, among others.

It went on to claim that Zhao’s Nov. 6 tweet, “Due to recent revelations that have came [sic] to light, we have decided to liquidate any remaining FTT on our books,” was false and misleading, since Binance has already sold its FTT holdings, and the post was “intended to cause the price of FTT in the market to decline.”

Related: New FTX documentary to spotlight SBF-CZ relationship

The plaintiffs found evidence for their claim in the same post by Zhao, where he wrote, “We are not against anyone. […] But we won’t support people who lobby against other industry players behind their backs.” The plaintiffs took the latter sentence to indicate that Binance opposed FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried’s “regulatory efforts.”

The suit alleges that Zhao’s proposal to acquire FTX was not made in good faith and the episode would “ultimately lead” to the collapse of FTX:

“Zhao’s tweet resulted in FTT price declining from US 23.1510 to US 3.1468. This significant drop plummeted FTX Entities into bankruptcy without giving an opportunity or chance to FTX Entities’ executives and board of directors a chance [sic] to salvage the situation and put in safe guards to protect its clients and end-users.”

The suit demanded monetary damages, court costs and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains based on seven counts. “Plaintiff believes that there are thousands of members of the proposed class,” the suit stated.

As the suit noted, both Binance and FTX are currently subject to SEC actions. The criminal case against Bankman-Fried will begin Oct. 4 in New York. Zhao addressed potential accusations of unfair competition in the same tweet that is cited in the suit. “Regarding any speculation as to whether this is a move against a competitor, it is not,” he wrote.

His statement did not stop speculation to that effect within the crypto community, however. The CEOs of the crypto exchanges traded jibes on then-Twitter for weeks afterward.

Magazine: FTX bankruptcy filing details, Binance’s crypto industry fund and a U.S. CBDC pilot: Hodler’s Digest, Nov. 13-19

Read More

Continue Reading