The Philly Geek Awards are back, but before you can even think about partying at the Aug. 26 black tie affair, you should get to know the fabulous local geeks who’ve been nominated.

Be on the lookout at the event for Billy Penn‘s table, and start planning your outfit now. Get tickets here.

Comic Creator of the Year

Brandon Bitros

Newcomer Bitros launched indie comic book label Blackstone Comics last fall and has already released two titles: The Fist, a vigilante hero story set in City of Brotherly Love at the dawn of the 20th century, and James vs The New World Order, a post-apocalyptic action comedy set in an ambiguous, not-so-distant future.

Christine Larsen

As an writer and illustrator, Larsen has worked with clients such as Dark Horse, DC Online, and Cartoon Network, in addition to publishing her own comics on The Larsen Project. Last October, her work appeared in the final issue of the Regular Show comic series, to favorable reviews. Her contributions to a forthcoming Adventure Time shorts collection will be released in November from KaBOOM!

Rob Tornoe

Tornoe is a reporter and digital editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer—and one of the last remaining sports cartoonists on staff at a newspaper. His art illustrating the Phillies, Sixers, Eagles and Flyers and their surrounding communities has a loyal following on’s Tailgaters blog.

Maker of the Year

Elisabeth Garson

Creative director Garson is the brainchild behind East Passyunk’s Escape the 80s attraction, where timewarped guests solve puzzles to escape through a series of tricky rooms. But this year she brought her storytelling and UX prowess to The Franklin Institute, where she developed two themed escape rooms—the largest and most technologically advanced in the city.

Kate Nyx

Kate Nyx is an everything woman: she splits her time as a musician, a touring burlesque performer and instructor, and as a seamstress and costumer who runs her own business, Closet Champion, in South Philly. The latter earned a considerable following this year for her creative, bespoke wrestling gear. Clients include wrestlers from local indie circuits as well as those in the WWE, and even brands like Haribo.

Peter English and Jeff Gregorio

What happened when an artist (English) and an engineer (Gregorio) came together to explore music and technology? Drumhenge, a new musical instrument composed of 16 drums that are played by electromagnetic vibrations. The exhibit, on display at Drexel’s ExCITe Center, is part rock show, part art installation, park interactive tech demonstration.

Feature Length Indie Film of the Year

The Dark Military

In this indie horror flick from Average Superstar Films, a group of unsuspecting young adults are lured in a Halloween attraction that turns out to be a real-life fight for survival—and every terrifying move is broadcast live on the web. With nods to Battle Royale and Black Mirror, The Dark Military is a technology-driven thriller with plenty of action.

Short Stay

Director Ted Fendt’s taut 61-minute feature debut follows Mike, a listless Haddonfield, New Jersey pizza delivery guy who finds himself subletting a friend’s apartment in Philadelphia for a short while. Described as a throwback to “early mumblecore” by the New York Times, the film made its debut in December 2016 at the Berlin Film Festival to positive reviews.

Viva Amiga: The Story of a Beautiful Machine

Director Zach Weddington travels back to 1985 in this feature-length documentary about the “freaks, geeks, and geniuses” behind the development of the legendary Commodore Amiga—a computer that revolutionized video, multimedia, and digital art, despite its publisher later going bankrupt.

Multimedia Project of the Year


For 30 minutes, comedians and friends Paul Ritchey, Nick Murphy, and Josh Henderson sit down to play a random old school video game. At the end of this online sketch show, they must decide: stop playing, or continue? Subscribers into the hundred thousands tune in to find out every week.

Curiosity 180 – Let’s Talk About It!

In 180 seconds or fewer, these fun animated shorts help curious viewers explore questions like “how big is the universe” or “how does the internet work.” Created and narrated by game developers from Jumpbutton Studios, the series has already been viewed more than 66,000 times on YouTube.

Hi-Res Podcast

Designer Ryan Starr hosts this crisp interview-style podcast featuring Philadelphia’s designers, illustrators, photographers and creatives telling stories about the experiences that have shaped their lives and careers. New episodes post every other Tuesday on

Scientist of the Year

Dr. Alan W. Flake

In March, researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia released a groundbreaking report on efforts to create an artificial womb to potentially improve survival odds for extremely premature infants. Led by Dr. Flake, an attending pediatric and fetal surgeon at CHOP, the researchers created a fluid-filled “Biobag” to extend the gestational period; in a study, the device kept fetal lambs alive for up to four weeks.

Anna Dhody

When an Old City construction project unearthed an 18th century burial ground this March, the Mütter Museum raced into action to exhume and preserve the historic bones and artifacts. Led by museum curator Dhody—a former Harvard osteologist—the resulting campaign (dubbed the Arch Street Bones Project) sought to conduct biological profiles of the skeletal remains, providing a historic look at some of Philadelphia’s first residents.

Dr. Elaine Zackai

As the director of Clinical Genetics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Zackai has treated many rare conditions in her 49 years of practice. Her research has also included how we can learn from Holstein cows’ genetics when it comes to human reproduction. Recently, she was the recipient of the first-ever American Society of Human Genetics mentorship award, given for many years of professional development mentorship and training.

Mission Leader of the Year

Jasmine Sessoms

Sessoms is the founder of the organization “She Can Win” that trains young women to run for office and was recently awarded a large grant by the Eileen Fisher Foundation. Sessoms can recruit women from her law firm board room and suddenly hold a community gathering to speak to the block captains about their civic responsibilities and running for office.
Jasmine is a Billy Penn Who’s Next: Community Leaders honoree

Robert Cheetham

Cheetham is passionate about making data open, accessible, and free to the public, as evidenced by projects like OpenDataVote and Summer of Maps. As founder and CEO of Azavea, he has led the charge for using mapping technology to answer complex social questions around urban planning, economic development, public transit, safety, energy and more.

Simon Hauger

Hauger, an engineer and a current math and science teacher, started the after school Hybrid X Team in West Philadelphia High school a little over a decade ago. He challenges the students in math, science and engineering by mentoring them to creating hybrid vehicles. They have won multiple national competitions, and have even outperformed universities and corporations.

Phantazia Washington

Through the Bryson Institute—the education and training department of the Attic Youth Center—Washington helps create opportunities for LGBTQ youth to develop into healthy, independent, civic-minded adults within safe and supportive communities. In addition to pushing for LGBTQ acceptance broadly, Washington leads customized training seminars for youth, social services providers, professionals, parents and more.

Impact Organization of the Year

Black and Brown Workers Collective

Standing at the intersection of the Worker’s Right’s movement and the Black Lives Matter movement, the Black and Brown Workers Collective are combating injustices happening every day in the community—deliberate wage disparity, racial bias, sexual abuse and harassment, and more. The 200+ strong group strive to challenge and dismantle systems of oppression through collective community action.

Media Mobilizing Project

This media-based nonprofit uses storytelling as a means for community social justice, and has built a network of media, education, and organization resources to help fight for critical human rights issues. In January it launched #PhillyWeRise, an independent online platform to connect Philadelphians to fight against “the Trump agenda” and its surrounding social challenges.


Launched on World Refugee Day in June, NeedsList connects refugee aid workers with people who want to donate money, time, or supplies. The social enterprise platform helps build relationships between donors, NGOs, and dozens of nonprofit organizations serving refugees in Europe and the US.

Partnership of the Year

Clarifi and the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services for Ex-Offenders (RISE)

In an effort to expand its reintegration services, RISE, a city-run support agency for previously incarcerated individuals, partnered with Clarifi, a financial wellness nonprofit. Through workshops and individual counseling, the partnership sought to provide financial literacy education and coaching to help individuals reentering society work toward financial stability and lessen their likelihood of recidivism.


In March, mapping firm Azavea launched this civic initiative to encourage more transparency and engagement around open data. Nonprofits nominated one or more existing data sets that would be useful to their organizations, and the public voted on three top choices. From there, OpenDataVote worked with city government to publish the selected data sets. The project was a partnership among Code for Philly, Tech Impact, the City of Philadelphia, and Technically Media.

Voting Booth of the Future

For last year’s Democratic National Convention, marketing firm halfGenius collaborated with event producer LeapStarr Productions to design The interactive model is a forward-thinking take on what a voting booth could be, incorporating fingerprint recognition software and customized surveys to help guide voters to the choice that best aligns with their political views.

Movement of the Year

Battling Racism in the Gayborhood

After a video of a bar owner using racial slurs surfaced in September of 2016, Philly’s LGBTQ community leaped into action to address discrimination from within. Responding to public outcry following the video, City Council passed an anti-discrimination bill to strengthen penalties against businesses that discriminate against their employees, tenants, or customers. In June, the city revealed a new Pride flag design with black and brown stripes as a symbolic step towards inclusion.

Get Elected PHL

Following the November election, Philly saw a huge increase in training events encouraging young people to run for office, including Young Involved Philadelphia’s “Born To Run” to Philadelphia 3.0’s “Get Mad, Then Get Elected.” The groups behind these initiatives, whether inherently political in nature on not, are inspiring a new generation of leaders.

Tuesdays with Toomey

What good are elected officials if they aren’t representing the people? Started by seven Philadelphia women, this citizen advocacy movement initially called upon Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey to address voters’ concerns and to hold a public town hall, which he’d failed to do since 2013. The growing movement bands together every single Tuesday to encourage citizens to hold their representatives accountable and remain civically engaged.

Startup of the Year


Using open data to map more than 600,000 real estate locations across the city, FixList helps developers, lenders, nonprofits and institutions to find and evaluate properties and potential redevelopment opportunities. Founder Stacey Mosley, a former City of Philadelphia data scientist, hopes the subscription-based startup will help fight blight and vacancy.
Founder Stacey Mosley is a Billy Penn Who’s Next: Entrepreneurs honoree


Nurses in neonatal intensive care units are tasked with tracking and managing pumped breast milk meant for premature babies—a critical job. Founded by Penn grad Vidur Bhatnagar and developed through DreamIt Health’s 2016 accelerator cohort, Keriton uses a suite of HIPAA-compliant apps to help automate in-hospital breast milk management, reducing human error and improving communication between hospitals and parents.

Oncora Medical

This digital health startup, founded by  David Lindsay and Chris Berlind, is making it easier for radiation oncologists to reference historical records and predictive data patterns to personalize treatments for patients. Last year, Oncora Medical raised $1.2 million from their second seed funding and recently partnered with MD Anderson Cancer Center to build out their database.

Technologist of the Year

Dr. Basil Harris

Harris, an ER doctor from the Philly suburbs, turned his appreciation for Star Trek technology into a real revolutionary healthcare device—and a $2.6 million prize. As part of the global Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize competition, Harris and a team of friends and family developed a tricorder-like diagnostic device; powered by an AI engine, the gadget can recognize up to 34 health conditions.

Lauren Ancona

Data scientist Ancona is no stranger to civic hacking. Previously, she’s used public data to create interactive public maps of PPA parking zones and area restrictions for the 2014 Papal visit. This spring with Code for Philly, she co-led a crowdsourcing project that captured the influential hand-outs given to voters as they approached polling places.

Lloyd Emelle

Lloyd Emelle is a co-captain for Code for Philly, the city’s popular civic hacking affiliate of Code for America. He is a frequent contributor to open data projects, including CyclePhilly, and civic technology efforts, including supporting the redesign of the Philadelphia Police website. In 2016, he competed for $1 million in the “America’s Greatest Maker” televised competition on TBS.

Game of the Year


With the speed of checkers and the depth of chess, Cipher Prime’s latest digital game pits two players against each other in tile-based combat, aiming to defeat their opponent’s main “jawn” by placing a tile on top of it. The game launched exclusively as part of the April Humble Bundle and will be available independently in the fall.

Lazer Ryderz!

From designers Anthony Amato and Nicole Kline of Cardboard Fortress Games, this Kickstarter-funded tabletop game takes players on a high-speed race through the galaxy. Ripe with 80s nostalgia, Lazer Ryderz! ships in box shaped like VHS tapes and has its own synth-driven soundtrack for more immersive play.

Super Rock Blasters!

In this local multiplayer inspired by the classic game Asteroids, players dodge space debris, ricocheting neon bullets, and blast each other in a chaotic PvP arena. Released on Steam in January, this is the third title from QuadraTron Games, an indie dev studio formerly based at the Philly Game Forge.

Dev Product of the Year

A Visualization of National, Regional, and Local Air Quality in the U.S.

This interactive visualization uses pollutant criteria from the EPA to tell the story of dangerous air pollution in the United States from 1990 through 2015. At once alarming and informative, this collaboration from The Chemical Heritage Foundation and Azavea’s Summer of Maps program helps illustrate the public’s role in air pollution distribution.

Community Health Explorer

The web-based Community Health Explorer app visualizes community health data in Philadelphia, highlighting key public health challenges and the factors that influence them. A joint effort by  the Department of Public Health and Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation, the site’s stats are sorted by neighborhood, ethnographic factors, or data over time.


After a traumatic brain injury affected his short term memory, Tom Dixon collaborated with Jumpbutton Studios to develop this solution for those living with memory loss. On a secure mobile app, users can log detailed reminders, store specific memories, or even tag photos with names for easy recognition.

Geek of the Year

Liberty Rose

A longtime fixture of the Philadelphia burlesque scene, Liberty Rose brings extensive film and costume experience to the stage with her series of high-production scripted shows spanning TV, comics, and movie; this year’s tributes including Star Wars, Labyrinth, Twin Peaks, Game of Thrones, and the films of Hayao Miyazaki. She also co-produces The Philadelphia Burlesque Festival, an annual celebration designed to delight, inspire, and educate audiences about the resurging art form of burlesque.

Marion Leary

Marion Leary is a University of Pennsylvania professor, researcher, writer, and an advocate for science, technology, education, arts, and math education—otherwise known as STEAM. This April, she helped lead Philadelphia’s March for Science, which drew thousands to rally around the shared mission to support scientists and enable the use of science to improve society.
Marion Leary is a Billy Penn Who’s Next: Givers honoree

Asli Dukan

Asli Dukan is an independent filmmaker who delves into the world of speculative fiction—the genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction—as a way to explore social issues and racial bias. After nearly a decade in the making, her feature documentary “Invisible Universe” explores the representation of black creators in speculative fiction and draws real world connections to racial struggles today.