Virtual awards ceremony a first for Omaha’s tech community

Last night, members of Omaha’s tech and startup communities attended the first-ever virtual version of the AIM Tech Awards, a celebration of local innovators and changemakers in the technology sector.  A prerecorded ceremony streamed on a virtual stage, accompanied by a live chat constantly scrolling with affirmations, congratulations and commentary from attendees. Traditionally held in…

TechAwards

Last night, members of Omaha’s tech and startup communities attended the first-ever virtual version of the AIM Tech Awards, a celebration of local innovators and changemakers in the technology sector. 

A prerecorded ceremony streamed on a virtual stage, accompanied by a live chat constantly scrolling with affirmations, congratulations and commentary from attendees.

Traditionally held in person, the nonprofit AIM Institute’s annual awards ceremony had to be hosted online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sponsored by Cox Business, the event featured a virtual expo hall and one-on-one randomized networking feature in addition to the ceremony streaming from the main stage.  

Since 1995, AIM Tech Awards has rallied the tech community around a shared vision of the Omaha area as an innovation powerhouse. These events typically drew hundreds of members of the area’s tech workforce to socialize over drinks and refreshments, enjoy live entertainment, and see which members of the tech community would win the city’s highest honor for their contributions to technology.

Last night, aside from the location, the mission was no different.

Corey Spitzer, VP of Engineering for Retail Aware, attended Tech Awards to celebrate his company winning Tech Startup of the Year. Retail Aware brings software to store shelves through microsensors that provide real-time analytics on metrics such as the amount of time a person dwells at a product display or the number of times an item is picked up and set down. 

From the safety of his home, Spitzer watched as his boss, founder and CEO Keith Fix, laughingly accepted a triangular AIM logo statuette from Mechanobot, a robot built at the AIM Brain Exchange, a high-tech building housing STEM education activities for over 2,000 students in the Omaha area. 

Spitzer said he had attended previous AIM Tech Awards shows, including the 2019 ceremony held at Metropolitan Community College’s Center for Advanced and Emerging Technology. 

“The food was better last year,” he joked. 

While the longtime developer (and erstwhile co-founder of sportscentric Omaha software company ScoreVision) had attended online trade shows recently, Spitzer said he’d never had the opportunity to attend a virtual awards ceremony before and felt fortunate to be able to do so. 

The ceremony was emceed by Monika Philp, director of tech leadership development for the AIM Institute. Philp is highly active in the local tech and entrepreneurial communities. She serves on the leadership team for Women in Technology of the Heartland and was an organizer for the Omaha chapter of 1 Million Cups.

Other winners of the evening included David Salazar, a grad student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha with an interest in biomechanics and 3D-printed anatomical models of organs. 

In 2016, Salazar helped develop an anatomical model replicating the spine of a six-year-old girl who had a tumor embedded in it. The location of the tumor had not only paralyzed the girl, it presented a great risk for error and would require a complex surgery. The girl’s surgical team practiced on the model that Salazar’s team had built. Eventually, her surgeons successfully removed the tumor, and the girl regained her ability to move.

Salazar’s key role in this story, in addition to his ongoing work in biomechanics, earned him the Tech Student of the Year award.

Urban League of Nebraska, a nonprofit working toward socioeconomic equality in North Omaha, won Community Builder of the Year for its role in launching the Careers in Tech Bootcamp, a collaboration between Urban League, Heartland Workforce Solutions and AIM Code School. Participants undergo an intensive period of career readiness training at Urban League followed by web development classes at AIM Code School. Once they complete training, Heartland Workforce Solutions connects them with jobs in technology. 

Urban League CEO Tom Warren accepts award for Community Builder of the Year

Urban League CEO Tom Warren accepted the award. Warren, who was the first Black chief of the City of Omaha Police Department, praised the tireless work of colleagues Rozalyn Bredow and LaWanda Gould in his acceptance speech.

Gould said she enjoyed the ceremony and thought AIM did “a wonderful job” organizing the event.

“We are honored to be recognized and appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with such a wonderful organization,” she said.

To watch last night’s ceremony, visit the AIM Tech Awards website or the organization’s YouTube channel. Donations to AIM’s mission to build a more diverse and inclusive tech workforce through increased access to tech education and career development can be made online or through the TAGG mobile app.

2020 AIM Tech Awards Winners

Tech Student of the Year: David Salazar

Tech Educator of the Year: Rios “Tony” Gunter, principal of Kennedy Elementary School, OPS

Tech Innovator of the Year: Mike Douglas, Lunavi

Community Builder of the Year: Urban League of Nebraska

Tech Leader of the Year: Kim Whittaker, President of FNTS

Tech Startup of the Year: Retail Aware

 

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