Rose Ross
Rose Ross

Ten years ago, when we launched the Tech Trailblazers Awards, no one “got” an awards scheme without a physical ceremony. “No black tie? No LBD? No awards dinner? How could that work?” Virtual awards were an alien concept in the pre-COVID world.

But it seems there was a method to our madness. Our MVP—to coin the startup term for a minimum viable product—was to focus on the awards as an opportunity for boot-strapped and more mature enterprise tech startups to promote themselves and to get some much-needed visibility when the “usual suspects” at awards were traditionally bigger, more established tech companies or consumer tech upstarts—oops I mean startups!

As the only independent enterprise tech startup awards program with global reach and recognition, the Tech Trailblazers has been recognizing and rewarding exceptional innovations virtually since 2012. Think infosecurity, AI, blockchain, cloud, IoT and beyond.

Because we’re global, we’d decided that unless we could welcome all finalists to an event, we’d not do one at all. Who knew that ten years later, virtual events were the only thing people could attend, and now, no one bats an eye at a virtual meeting or awards ceremony!

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '21 Technology PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

The ‘new normal’

Due to the pandemic, the gradual, pre-existing trend towards more virtual work environments accelerated overnight in Spring 2020. Sure, there were initial challenges and teething problems, but new opportunities and lightbulb moments followed too. As businesses embraced virtual setups in order to survive, the result was new initiatives like virtual conferences, more efficient processes and a heightened interest in developing and maintaining global relationships without jumping on a plane. The world has been forced to think outside the box, garnering incredible, creative solutions embracing our “new normal.”

In January 2020, PRCA research found that 64 percent of in-house communications leaders would consider hiring a virtual PR agency, and pointed to the benefits of doing so. Fast forward a few months and this was true for 100 percent of them. The same it seems is true for virtual events, including awards.

In our new eBook, Startup50 Founder and Editor-in-Chief Jeff Vance predicted that by 2030, the enterprise tech startup landscape will no longer need to rely on any particular place or region to find talent that exists globally, thanks to the pandemic’s virtual revolution.

So, from virtual workplaces and distributed teams, to online conferences and events now commonplace, virtual is here to stay.

Providing value to entrants is key

The Tech Trailblazers Awards has been 100 percent virtual from day one, allowing us to be nimble and provide value to cash-strapped startups. This means we can offer low barriers to entry, with realistic fees for startups to sign off on. What’s more, our Firestarter Bursary—covering the cost of entry to one category—ensures early-stage startups up to three years old don’t miss out either.

Awards programs can also add value to entrants in the submission and judging processes. For us, it’s an important chance for entrants to consider what information they should have in their pitch deck, so the entry process also doubles up as an exercise on reinventing and expanding their elevator pitch. The judges are especially keen to hear the voice of the executive team come through clearly in a submission. The CEO or founder is likely to be able to provide a clear picture of a business, its technology, go-to-market strategy and customer value in their sleep!

The strength of the awards has always centered around our 40-strong panel of high caliber judges from the likes of GigaOM, McAfee, Silicon Valley Bank and VMware to name a few. Even without winning an award or being shortlisted, there was always a value of getting on their radar and receiving expert feedback. I’m proud to say this is one of the ways we’ve helped our startup entrants to expand their networks and hone their strategies for future success.

And Tech Trailblazers alumni have seen their fair share of success. Since 2012, our winners and runners-up have raised over $10 billion in VC funding post-winning and secured a whopping 54 acquisitions from the likes of Cisco, Google Cloud, Microsoft and VMware. We’ve also had some shared success stories. Two of our alumni who have IPO’d to date—Nutanix and Zscaler—have acquired fellow Tech Trailblazer alumni PernixData and Edgewise Networks.

Shine a light on the winners

Being a virtual awards program means we can also provide extra value to startups with our entire library of content. They get the best of both worlds: various opportunities to promote their business in thought-leadership content as well as access to our hub of expert startup advice and resources. For us, virtual awards aren’t just about awarding titles; they’re about rewarding expertise and effort, providing opportunities for future success.

Winners and runners-up have various promotional opportunities at their fingertips: in our #FoundersOnFire podcast, new eBook Tech Trailblazers @ 10, amplification on our social channels, and so on. The opportunities for promotion just keep snowballing as the platform grows! It’s all about recognizing new ways to add value as you evolve.

Our content library is also designed to guide these startups through challenging processes and decisions. For example, our advice section offers practical guidance such as "A guide to early-stage funding" and insights from senior enterprise tech leaders from around the globe in our #TechOnFire and #JudgesOnFire podcasts.

And as the world has fully embraced virtual working, it’s become even easier for the Tech Trailblazers team to connect with all these great minds in technology, grow our network and manage our 40-plus panel of stellar judges.

The future of virtual awards

Since launching the Tech Trailblazers Awards in 2012, we’ve learned that straying away from tradition and convention helped define us and offered the most value to our customers.

On this note, we’re holding our first ever virtual—and free!—awards ceremony on December 8. The winners’ ceremony will, of course, be the main event, but you can also expect panel discussions and fireside chats with tech experts from around the globe. Head to to learn more. And if you really want to stay ahead of the curve, the Tech Trailblazers 11th edition will start in June 2022, so mark your calendars!

As the virtual revolution continues, the opportunities for award programs to raise their online game have boomed. My advice? Strike while the iron’s hot if you have a trailblazing idea. Hone your USP, and don’t be afraid to do things differently. Just like the Tech Trailblazers Awards blazed our own virtual trail, 10 years from now your unconventional idea could be what sets you apart.


Rose Ross is Founder and Chief Trailblazer of the Tech Trailblazers Awards.