It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right: it’s time for the annual Purpose Awards.
Each year, we take nominations from the community to celebrate individuals who are making the world a better place. These people in the Purpose Jobs startup and tech community come from all over the country. They lead with purpose, and build community.
This year, we’re celebrating 26 awesome people. Check out the winners. What purpose-driven community leaders are you celebrating?
Meet The Winners of the 2024 Purpose Awards
As the inaugural Executive Director of the Center for Software Innovation at OSU, Shereen Agrawal is a seasoned technology leader working to bolster the startup and tech community in Columbus, Ohio. Between her experience as co-founder of a central Ohio-based consulting firm focused on product and go-to-market strategies, as well as leadership roles at Root Insurance, Twitter, Cloudera, Shereen has led companies through massive growth. Now as the director of the new Center for Software Innovation, Shereen is leading a massive effort to provide students with experiential learning opportunities to prepare the future workforce. Under Shereen’s leadership, the center aims to establish Columbus, Ohio as the hub for innovation, entrepreneurship, and product development.
As the President of OhioX, Chris Berry is helping elevate emerging tech hubs all across Ohio. OhioX is a statewide technology and innovation 501c6 nonprofit organization that represents and connects those committed to growing Ohio’s economy through technology and innovation. Chris is a fierce advocate for the Ohio tech community, helping to foster an environment of innovation and economic opportunity. This year, our team was thrilled to partner with OhioX on the Startup Columbus Happy Hour. We’re looking forward to many more to come with Chris and the OhioX team.
Max Brickman is the founder and Managing Director of Heartland Ventures. Max set out to create Heartland in 2016 to take a different approach to VC funding: to connect established Midwest companies with coastal startups, giving business leaders a voice in the tech transformation happening in their industries. Now, Max has effectively formed the largest network of mid-market tech buyers in the Midwest. Heartland has over $100 million under management and has invested in 14 high-performing portfolio companies. Max’s passion for expanding technological innovation into smaller, underrepresented Heartland communities is undeniable, and his enthusiasm for Heartland states like Ohio is infectious. He was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2022, an Executive of the Year by Columbus Business First, and a Future 50 Member by Columbus CEO.
As the CEO and Co-Founder of Marco Polo, the only video chat app created to help you feel close without asking you to compromise on trust, Vlada Bortnik is the epitome of a purpose-driven leader. Vlada and her husband, Co-founder Michal Bortnik, knew they wanted to found a company with a strong, positive purpose before they even knew what they wanted to create. The core of Marco Polo's mission is to help people feel close. That purpose is present in everything they do. Vlada is on a mission to foster connection and make a positive impact in the world.
Mallory Brown is an impact storyteller and keynote speaker. Purpose-driven to the core, Mallory travels the world to tell real-life stories of human connection. Mallory has visited over 60 countries, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight poverty, and spoken to audiences globally about leadership, culture, and doing meaningful work. She’s an advocate for creating a better company culture, and making the world a better place.
Lori Coulter and Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin
Lori Coulter and Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin are the co-founders and leader of St. Louis-based Summersalt. Since the beginning, Lori and Reshma’s impact on the fashion industry has been intentional, disruptive, and necessary. They launched Summersalt to change the conversation around swimwear and address a true market gap by creating designer swimwear without the designer price tag. Over the past seven years, the co-founders have created a truly responsible fashion company putting innovation, representation, and sustainability at the forefront of everything they do. Lori and Reshma are also passionate about helping the local job market in St. Louis thrive. They work to not only grow Summersalt, but they also mentor women founders and help foster a sense of community within the internal structure of Summersalt. In addition, Lori serves on the Board of Trustees at her alma mater Washington University in St. Louis and champions inclusive economic development and entrepreneurship as a member of the University’s Skandalaris Center National Council. Reshma sits on the board of Forest Park Forever in St. Louis, where she works on community relations and driving diversity and inclusion practices for the largest city park in the country. Both embody what it means to be a purpose-driven leader.
After growing up in Michigan and moving to the coasts, Hilary Doe is now back in Detroit and works as the Chief Growth Officer for the State of Michigan — the first in state’s history and in the country. In this role, she leads the efforts to grow Michigan’s population, economy and reputation as the best place to live and work. As a purpose-driven leader, she has a background in civic tech and was the founder of Scout, a Detroit-based policy organization focused on ideas that build shared prosperity. Now Hilary helps grow the Michigan startup and tech community, bolstering its strength and the opportunities found right here in Michigan.
Jaysson Eicholtz is the Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer of Forge Biologics. As a founding member of Forge—one of the largest adeno-associated virus (AAV) manufacturers for gene therapies in the world—Jaysson embodies not only the entrepreneurial spirit but also what it means to be a business leader and community leader. Co-Founding Forge Biologics alongside Erandi De Silva, Ph.D., and Timothy J. Miller, Ph.D., Jaysson saw the potential to create a company that could make a meaningful difference in many people’s lives, while also addressing a significant market gap. Forge was launched to alleviate the need for more gene therapy manufacturing capacity and expertise, and to contribute to research into genetic diseases which affect 300 million people worldwide—most with little or no treatment options. Under Jaysson and his co-founders' guidance, Forge has rapidly grown over the last 3 years and was recently acquired by Ajinomoto Co. for $620 million. Jaysson is also a respected community leader and a proud advocate and member of the Grove City community, where Forge is headquartered. He is a trusted advisor to city leadership and leads a regular pick up of trash on weekends around Grove City. He also leads the Mid-Ohio Food Collective volunteer and donations efforts for Forge, supporting their mission to help those facing food insecurity. Jaysson is dedicated to his family, passionate about mentorship, and strives to leave the world a better place. One of his favorite sayings to his team is, “your work here is building something that will outlast all of us and will continue to make an impact long into the future.”
Entrepreneur, executive leader, mentor, and coach, Christina Fair is a purpose-driven leader helping the startup community grow and be successful. After 7 years as a Partner and Executive Leader at Rocket Fiber, Christina now is the Co-founder and COO of Hum, the operating system for multi family internet. She also runs her own advising business for cohorts and individuals, focusing on life and wellness coaching for self-identified females as well as strategic advising for startups. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Detroit Executives Association, the Advisory Board for the Michigan Founders Fund, and is a mentor for the Rise Leadership Program. Christina is on a mission to make life better for those around her, and anyone who knows Christina knows she’s amazing at it.
As the CEO of Multidots, Anil Gupta is a visionary and influential leader in the enterprise WordPress industry. He oversees the strategic direction, operations, and growth of Multidots, Multicollab, and DotStore. Anil is also a recognized thought leader and contributor to the WordPress Enterprise Growth Council and the Forbes Technology Council, sharing his insights and expertise on digital publishing, cloud applications, and business alliance development. On top of business growth, Anil is passionate about personal growth, mindfulness, and high-performing lifestyle. His podcast, Peaceful Growth, is all about how entrepreneurs can balance growth with personal wellness.
Victor Gutwein is the Founder and Managing Partner of M25, a Chicago-based VC firm dedicated to supporting Midwest startups. A former leader of Hyde Park Angels, Victor founded M25 in 2015 and quickly grew it to become the most active venture firm in the Midwest. M25 emphasizes its expansive networks and thrives on collaboration — helping to syndicate deals, encouraging fair terms as a best practice, and prioritizing relationships. It’s all a part of that Midwest culture and mindset, being purpose-driven in everything they do.
Jenn Hayman is the senior vice president of marketing, communications, and events for Ann Arbor SPARK. As a purpose-driven marketing leader, Jenn helps build brands that are working on amazing things: education, tech, hospitality, and more. Before joining Ann Arbor SPARK, she served as the director of marketing at Human Element, and was the director of marketing for Zingerman’s Service Network, a shared service organization supporting the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB). Ann Arbor SPARK is a catalyst for economic development, building awareness of the region’s development, growth, and amazing opportunities. Their work, alongside Jenn’s leadership, has helped Ann Arbor entrepreneurs prosper and the entire ecosystem to grow.
Meg Hovious is the Founder of Here, a coalition committed to changing minds about mental health through increasing mental health literacy, advocating for better mental health care for all, and driving systemic, collective change at work, in schools, and in community. Based in Indianapolis, Meg is a purpose-driven leader committed to making the workplace a better, more sustainable environment by centering mental wellness.
Brett Hurt is a serial founder and entrepreneur. He currently serves as the co-founder and CEO of data.world, a B Corp and Purpose Certified company. Brett is also a Co-owner of Hurt Family Investments, which is involved in 133 startups, 41 VC funds, and counting. Passionate about purpose-driven leadership, Brett is the author of a book on the topic, The Entrepreneur’s Essentials. The book is available for free online, or it can be purchased on Amazon and proceeds go to support female entrepreneurs. Brett is a thought leader on purpose-driven leadership, firmly believing that companies have a soul that needs to be nourished.
Hilliary Jeffries, VP of Human Resources & Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at PatientPoint, is dedicated to fostering a diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment. When she first started in 2021, Hilliary conducted listening tours and crafted the DEI+B Executive Summary and Proposed Roadmap, setting the foundation for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive PatientPoint. Deep listening, thoughtfulness, high EQ, compassion, and empowerment are just a few of Hilliary’s traits that come to mind for her colleagues. Less than a year into her role, Hilliary spearheaded the DEI+B Council including respective committees focusing on Education, Engagement, Celebration, and Measurement. She also established PatientPoint's first employee resource group, The Women's Professional Network, complete with a mentorship program designed to provide valuable support and growth opportunities for women at all levels within the organization. “Her vision, passion, nudging, and nurturing are contributing to a PatientPoint where the whole self is valued and celebrated,” said Kimberly James, PatientPoint Senior Data Scientist.
Ilyse Kaplan is a tech startup executive and consultant. The founder of INKed Consulting, Ilyse provides strategic, financial, and operating advice to startup & scale-up businesses. Earlier in her career, she spent twelve years as an investor and now works as the CFO of Mananalu, a startup founded by Jason Momoa on a mission to “unplastic the planet.” Ilyse is also an advocate and mentor for women in the workplace, providing expertise and women’s empowerment. Earlier this year, Ilyse shared this advice with the Purpose Jobs community: Be unapologetically you, and 6 more pieces of advice for women in tech.
As Director, Strategic Talent Initiatives for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Spencer Lucker works closely with partners across the state’s economy to cultivate high-demand skills among Michiganders, retain our diverse and resilient talent already in the state, and attract incredible talent and investment from around the country and world. Spencer specifically leads the division’s work in PK-12 partnerships, talent attraction and retention, including the recently launched You Can in Michigan talent campaign, and other strategic initiatives supporting entrepreneurs and immigrants. This work is centered on bringing diverse groups together to solve structural problems. He’s mission-driven and focused on building authentic partnerships. Spencer is experienced in community and economic development, communications and marketing, and leadership development, and is deeply invested in helping to foster a stronger startup and tech community in Michigan.
As the Executive Director of The Speakeasy in Indianapolis, Chelsea Marburger is passionate about strengthening relationships that build resilient communities. The Speakeasy is a coworking space, a community, and an entrepreneur support organization. In just under a year, Chelsea has fostered community and built strong foundational programming for anyone considering entrepreneurship in Indianapolis. She focuses on access as a driving value and creates unique opportunities for people from all industries to connect. A truly purpose-driven leader, Chelsea believes that we should always leave every person, place, and thing in a better condition than we found it in.
As the Head of Connection at Michigan Founders Fund, Pete Martin has been instrumental in helping founders in Michigan meet the right people and find the resources they need to succeed. After leaving the state for a career in tech, Pete now lives in Michigan with his family and is passionate about sharing the many opportunities that are available in the Michigan tech ecosystem and the great people who are building amazing things in the state. Pete’s enthusiasm is contagious, and he’s helping the Michigan tech community grow stronger.
CEO and Founder of BrandXR, Moody Mattan is a purpose-driven leader focused on using technology for good. Under his guidance, BrandXR has shattered the boundaries of what's possible for technology, crafting campaigns that not only capture the imagination but also inspire real-world change. His innovative thinking and visionary leadership has allowed BrandXR to lead the charge in using technology for the greater good. In addition, Moody is actively sought out for partnerships with non-profit organizations (like UC Davis in their fight against climate change) and socially responsible businesses, demonstrating his commitment to collective action for the betterment of society. His ability to unite various stakeholders behind a common cause is a testament to his leadership and influence in the field.
Heather McDougall is an investor, speaker, impact entrepreneur and filmmaker. For ten years Heather was co-founder and CEO of a sustainable products company, which she led to international mass market and then successful exit in early 2022. She then joined the investment committee and general partner of 701 Fund 2 out of Grand Forks, ND. Heather is a fierce advocate for using entrepreneurship as a vehicle for change. She is currently producing a 6 part documentary series, “Voices of the Maldives,” amplifying indigenous leaders from the Maldives and their world-changing wisdom and innovations. Heather is a frequent keynote speaker and executive consultant on leadership, global sustainability, entrepreneurship, and wellbeing for organizations including Edward Jones, South by Southwest (SXSW), and ND Farmers Union. She mentors for accelerators gener8tor and ILT Academy.
The founder and CEO of Espresso Public Relations, Jake Serwer has supported numerous tech companies in Michigan by catapulting them onto the national and international stage. Jake has an unwavering commitment to the people he works with, as well as mastermind communication strategies that have helped startups share their stories, attract talent, ensure retention, and find success. He generously shares his media expertise with startups in Detroit and Ann Arbor, helping grow their brands in the community.
Todd Sullivan and Brian Dukes started Exitwise with the sole mission of giving back to their fellow founders. Having founded and sold multiple businesses, Todd knows a bit about M&A and how frustrating and confusing the process can be for founders. Often, industry agnostic investment banks fail business owners by charging them fees, wasting their time and not selling their businesses. Exitwise is on a mission to educate business owners about M&A and to help them hire the best M&A experts in order to reduce the failure rate of selling as well as maximize their outcomes. Todd is driven by this mission, and always focuses on prioritizing that purpose over profits, helping entrepreneurs succeed.
Johnnie Turnage is a startup founder and community builder. Though he recently entered the startup ecosystem in Detroit, he’s already had an enormous impact. Evenscore, his innovative tech company, is driven by a deep sense of justice and the desire to empower individuals to support causes and policies they're passionate about. Outside of the office, Johnnie is the co-founder of Black Tech Saturdays, a critical support network for Black founders in Michigan. Johnnie and his partner, Alexa Turnage, who co-founded Black Tech Saturdays, do everything Johnnie they can to help Black founders succeed. They make introductions, offer pitch deck support, or simply listen when folks need help. Johnnie has been instrumental in propelling founders, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, and the entire ecosystem forward. “The vibrancy, diversity, inclusivity, and power of Michigan's startup ecosystem owe much to Johnnie's visionary leadership. In Michigan, no one is more deserving of this award than Johnnie Turnage, an exemplary force for positive change,” said Sarah Craft, Director of Community at Michigan Founders Fund.
Taylor Vanden Hoek
Taylor Vanden Hoek, Managing Partner of Atomic Object, was nominated for her dedication to both Atomic Object and the wider tech community. Over the last six years, Taylor has risen from a Software Consultant and Designer to a Managing Partner, always leading with empathy, support, and entrepreneurship. She and her colleague Ryan Abel spearheaded the creation of Atomic Object’s Raleigh office, exemplifying her outstanding leadership and resilience. Taylor's empathy and support for her team, and her ability to drive conversations that improve Atomic's culture, demonstrate her commitment to fostering a positive and inclusive work environment. She goes above and beyond to understand different perspectives and incorporates them into team dynamics, promoting diversity and cohesion in her team. Her positive energy and lightheartedness bring a sense of ease to the team, creating a space where others feel safe and empowered. This selflessness, dedication, and positivity are exactly what the Purpose Awards celebrate—individuals who make the world a little better.