TechPoint’s Mira Awards on April 13 might be Indiana’s biggest night for technology this year. For 20 years the awards highlighted exceptional members of Indiana’s tech scene, with categories including Best New Product, Investor of the Year and Tech Educator of the Year. As the role of technology in life has grown, so has the Mira Awards. It sold out the Marriott Ballroom, the largest ballroom in Indianapolis, two years in a row.
The 2019 Mira Awards nominees feature a number of African Americans, who are carving a space for African Americans in the tech world. Win or lose, the nominations bring brand recognition, attention and possibly investors.
Kalvin Jones, Code Black Indy
Despite his nomination for Tech Educator of the Year, Kalvin Jones wanted to be clear on one fact:
“What I try to tell kids [is] I’m not the teacher,” Jones said. “You’ve been in class eight hours a day. You’re not going to continue to be in class when you’re with me. We’re friends, and I’m here to give you information.”
While employed at Salesforce, Jones worked with BOLDforce, where Salesforce provides coding resources and workshops to underprivileged children. After Jones left Salesforce he wanted to do similar work, so he created Code Black Indy.
Code Black Indy is a coding camp exclusively serving underprivileged children who have limited to no access to coding instruction. Jones uses free open source platforms as frequently as possible to encourage students to learn on their own time.
During class, Jones does not carry himself like a teacher. He instead wants to emphasize that he is just like his students.
“I’m just them in a better place right now,” Jones said. “I’m somewhere they can be. I cuss sometimes in class because I’m not the teacher and that’s the way I roll. I’m super real with you. If you are not trying, I’ll tell you that you played yourself.”
Justin Buford, Geico
Mira largely nominated Geico for Best Employer because of its few-months-old Indy IT Development Center of Excellence, where Geico employees create IT products, work on digital architecture, develop artificial intelligence and pursue other confidential projects. In order to create such a center, Geico hired 167 employees for the center in 167 days.
“The Center of Excellence is literally a place where in every single thing that you do, you are constantly looking to improve and constantly looking to be excellent,” Justin Buford, manager of the center, said.
While it might seem strange for Geico to stand alongside small tech startups at the Mira Awards, TechPoint did not just nominate them for their size. Joshua Hall, senior writer and events manager at TechPoint, said the Mira Awards nominate large companies who build up the workforce and pursue meaningful work in Indiana such as the Center of Excellence.
“We came in with the mindset that we want to develop people from the ground up,” Buford said. “We wanted [employees] to understand not only we are here for Indiana, but we also wanted to bring in some of the Geico culture.”
In addition to the Center for Excellence, Geico created a culture thatprioritizes employee morale. For example, a fun committee provides treats such as oranges on Citrus Day, a day that encourages healthy eating. They also have an appreciation wheel. Coworkers nominate each other for the wheel for performing exceptional work, giving them the chance to possibly win prizes such as gift cards and T-shirts.
Nick Turner, DeliverEnd
Around two years ago, Nick Turner’s friend arranged online to meet a purchaser for hisiPhone only for the “buyer”to rob him when they met. Turner realized the dangers — mugging and scams — people may encounter when they buy from strangers they meet online. Turner felt the services such as Craigslist or NextDoor aren’t trying to make meetups safer, so he created DeliverEnd.
DeliverEnd allows the buyer to pay for the item online then drivers deliver the item from the seller to the buyer, removing the need for personal interaction with each other. The service not only makes buying and selling items locally safer, it also provides jobs to drivers. Currently, DeliverEnd is in the beta stage and will fully launch this month or first week of May.
TechPoint nominated DeliverEnd for New Tech Startup of the Year and Turner for the Rising Entrepreneur Award. Turner is happy because of what the nomination means for his business and the community. As someone who went from being homeless to earning a full scholarship to Indiana University to owning his own company, Turner believes his story can inspire others.
“I pray that we win because it will show a lot of people in Indianapolis that there are great African American startups here, and we are going to make a lot of noise and represent Indianapolis and Indiana really well,” Turner said. “… We’re going to put Indiana on the map even more.”
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.
When: 5:30-10 p.m. April 13
Even though tickets are sold out, you can find out the winners by following @TechPointInd on Twitter during the awards ceremony. In addition, Inside Indiana Business TV will show segments of the Mira Awards at 7:30 p.m. April 19 on WFYI and 11 a.m. April 21 on WTHR Channel 13.