Young and visionary: Meet the finalists for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the GeekWire Awards

Taking the entrepreneurial leap at any age can be daunting. Starting and operating a startup in your 20s, or even teen years, takes gumption and vision.

Our Young Entrepreneur of the Year award celebrates startup founders in the Pacific Northwest who are 30 or younger at some point in 2020 or 2021. Last year, Legalpad co-founder Sara Itucas took home this honor.

This year’s finalists include six rising stars in the startup community who have navigated not only the challenges of entrepreneurship but of doing so through a global pandemic.

Community voting is now underway across 13 GeekWire Awards categories in our 13th annual celebration of Pacific Northwest tech. Community voting, which closes on April 30, will be factored in with feedback from more than 20 judges. On May 20 we will announce the winners live at the virtual GeekWire Awards, presented by Wave Business.

Submit your votes below, grab your tickets, and keep scrolling for descriptions of each finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year, presented by First Tech. Finalists are ordered alphabetically by first name.

Create your own user feedback survey

Aran Khanna

Aran Khanna, CEO and co-founder of

Aran Khanna is CEO of, a Seattle startup offering software to automate cost management of companies cloud-related expenses.

Khanna previously co-founded Glia Intelligence, a machine learning consultancy for physical retail. He also worked as an AI engineer at Amazon Web Services and interned at Microsoft Azure.

GeekWire previously wrote about Khanna when his Facebook internship was rescinded after he exposed a flaw in the social media company’s Messenger app.

Khanna co-founded in 2019 with Nikhil Khanna, his younger brother, and Daniel Christianto. He is a graduate of Lakeside High School, Bill Gates’ alma mater, and Harvard University.

Read more: Ex-AWS, Azure employees raise $3.3M for Seattle startup that helps companies save on cloud costs

Avi Schiffmann

Avi Schiffmann, founder of (LinkedIn Photo)

Avi Schiffmann is the founder of, a website he launched in early January 2020 to track emerging data and information about the COVID-19 virus outbreak. His efforts attracted international attention and millions of visitors to the site.

Over the past year, Schiffmann has continued to maintain and improve the site, including the recent addition of vaccine data.

This spring, Schiffmann will be graduating from Mercer Island High School, located just outside of Seattle, and will start at Harvard University in the fall.

Read more: High school student near Seattle builds website to serve as a leading place for coronavirus information

Kwame Boler and Claudius Mbemba

Kwame Boler, left, and Claudius Mbemba, co-founders of Neu. (Neu Photos)

Kwame Boler and Claudius Mbemba are the co-founders of Neu, a platform that provides cleaning services to Airbnb hosts. The Seattle-based startup currently has nine employees and closed a $700,000 seed round in October.

Like many companies last year, the COVID-19 pandemic cast a dark shadow on Boler and Mbemba’s growing company and the future looked uncertain. Despite an initial drop in business, things began to look up as vacation rental bookings recovered and Neu bounced back.

A graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Boler is a former Boeing engineer who got the idea for Neu while working in property management. Mbemba, who graduated from Ohio State University, previously worked as an engineer at Microsoft and is also currently a venture investment director for Startup Haven.

Neu participated in the 11th Techstars Seattle cohort and made it to the finals of GeekWire’s Elevator Pitch series in 2018.

Read more: After pandemic speed bump, Airbnb cleaning startup Neu bounces back and raises $700K

Michael Petrochuk

Michael Petrochuk, co-founder and CTO of WellSaid Labs.

Michael Petrochuk is co-founder and CTO of WellSaid Labs, a startup developing more realistic AI-powered voices. The WellSaid Studio product allows users to create voiceovers from its library of voices with text-to-speech.

The company spun out from the incubator at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) in 2019, where Petrochuk and co-founder Matt Hocking began working together. They have incorporated AI2’s ethos of applying AI for the common good to the company’s mission.

Petrochuk is a graduate of the University of Washington and interned at Uber, Google and Lattice, a startup acquired by Apple.

Read more: AI2 gives birth to WellSaid, a startup that synthesizes amazingly realistic voices

Stephanie Strong

Stephanie Strong, founder and CEO of Boulder. (Boulder Photo)

Stephanie Strong is the founder and CEO of Boulder, an app-based addiction treatment program for those suffering from opioid use disorder.

An alternative to brick-and-mortar clinics, Boulder aims to provide patients support when and where they need it. The Portland-based startup is building out both a digital platform and a clinical care team.

Strong previously was an associate focusing on healthcare services and technology at a New York venture capital firm. She was a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree in healthcare in 2019 and graduated from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Read more: Portland startup aims to treat opioid addiction with tech as it raises $10.5M and partners with Premera.

A big thanks to our longtime awards presenting partner, Wave Business , for supporting this fun community event. Also, thanks to gold and category sponsors: Blink UX, WSGR , JLL , EY , Premera , Dreambox Learning , BECU , WestRiver Group , ALLtech and First Tech Federal Credit Union . And to our silver sponsors BCRA and Kingston Marketing Group . If interested in sponsoring a category or another component of the GeekWire Awards, please contact us at [email protected] .
Geekwire events highlights Aran khanna Avi schiffmann Boulder Claudius mbemba Kwame boler Michael petrochuk Neu Stephanie strong Wellsaid labs