Steve O’DonnellSteve O’Donnell

Success doesn’t come easily. Faced with ever-increasing competition, your business needs to provide a unique solution to a real problem, while having a clear go-to-market strategy. Entering an industry award is no different; you’ll need a winning strategy to capture the judging panel’s attention.

Here’s the inside scoop, what our judges are looking for and my top tips for creating an award-winning Tech Trailblazers submission.

Think of the judges like VCs being asked to invest. We review your submission with the same skepticism and detail that a VC would. We want evidence and proof points; help us do our research by providing external links. Creating your entry with this in mind also means that when you’re approached by a VC later, you’ve already thought about and answered the questions they’re going to ask you.

Consider the segment, problem and solution. Who are you selling to? What genuine issue do they face? How unique and effective is your solution?

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '22 Crisis Communications & PR Buyer's Guide Magazine
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Read the questions. An obvious one, but many entrants fail to consider the questions they’re being asked and end up not answering them properly.

Spend time on your entry. It’s worth it! Some—in fact, to be honest, many—entrants ask their PR agency or a junior marketer to complete their entry. Our judges are senior professionals, so your CEO or founder’s answers are more likely to provide a clear picture of your business, its technology and go-to-market strategy. Also, some entrants copy and paste a marketing blurb into their answers. Avoid! You do you—or your clients—no favors taking that approach.

Tell us a story. We want to know your success stories, aka how did you solve a specific customer’s problem? It’s good to have dreams and hopes, but we want to know what measurable goals you’ve achieved to date.

Rose Ross, Founder and Chief Trailblazer, has been #OnFire with the podcast schedule this year, picking the brains of our global pool of judges (including me).

Here’s a line-up of some of the latest #JudgesOnFire podcasts:

  • Ben Kepes, Principal at Diversity. Ben’s been with us from the beginning. Joining us from his rural home in New Zealand, Ben shares his views of how his category of interest, Cloud, has changed for start-ups over the last 10 years. He also shares his experiences from having been an angel investor and being part of a start-up himself.
  • Sam Johnston, CEO of Acumino. Also back for his tenth season, Singapore-based judge Sam shares his interesting history, having begun as a founder/entrepreneur at the age of 17, through working at big corporations, to being head of a start-up that creates start-ups, bringing valuable experience to the Tech Trailblazers Awards’ judging team. He has good advice about how start-ups should stay hyper-focused.
  • Eleanor Dallaway, Editorial Director at Infosecurity magazine. Joining the panel for 2021, Eleanor offers her tips for the things she’ll be looking for in an entry. The London-based judge also shares her rise up through the ranks at Infosecurity and how she has become more passionate about diversity and inclusion in the industry. She also reports on how start-ups seem to be surviving the challenges brought on by the global pandemic.
  • Gerald Brady, Managing Director, Silicon Valley Bank Network at SVB Financial Group. A long-term supporter of the Tech Trailblazers Awards, Gerald joins the 2021 panel from California, paying close attention to the Diversity and Investment categories. We quiz him about the variety of roles he’s held over the years and how he’s now in a position to have a finger on the pulse of the innovation economy. He also makes predictions for what will happen in the world of technology over the next 10 years. Will quantum computers be a thing?
  • Enrico Signoretti, Senior Data Storage Analyst at Gigaom. Italy-based Enrico’s been with us since the very beginning. In a fascinating conversation, Enrico shares his life story, including how his career path changed after starting a blog. He also talks about how storage has changed in the last decade, moving beyond primary/secondary storage to a new way of viewing data.
  • Joe Baguley, VP and CTO EMEA for VMware. UK-based Joe has been a judge since the very beginning and was even involved in the conversations before the initial launch. Joe elucidates what cloud will really be like and the opportunities it could bring for start-ups. He also describes the difference between invention and innovation, how he sees plenty enough “frying pans,” and how that’s key for entrants and successful start-ups. Listen to his cautionary tale of how diversity, equity and inclusion are very different things and how they need to be dealt with differently.
  • Jeff Vance, Founder and Editor, Startup50. Having joined us in 2020, Jeff judges the Networking and Big Data categories. In this podcast, you’ll find out all about how Jeff has been writing about technology trends for 20 years and his experience in evaluating start-ups, how VC funding has changed during the pandemic and why start-ups should be focusing on “the steak not the sizzle,” with a little dash of Chinese espionage thrown in too.
  • Stephen Foskett, Organizer in Chief, Tech Field Day. Stephen shares more about Tech Field Day, a series of invite-only technical meetings between influencers and sponsoring enterprise IT companies. Their events focus on enterprise IT topics from the data center to the cloud, mobility and networking to security and storage. He explains how Tech Field Day was born and what will impress and inspire him in a Tech Trailblazers entry.
  • Justin Lodge, Principal Architect in Financial Services. Singapore-based Justin joined us right at the beginning. Find out about Justin’s wide variety of jobs during his career, what he’s looking for in an entry to the Tech Trailblazers Awards and what disruptive technology is going to shake the world in the future.

For more advice, you can also sign up for awards updates as well as download our 10-year anniversary Tech Trailblazers eBook free of charge, which is filled with great insights about the awards and the start-up world. Just go to:


Steve O’Donnell is Chief Information Officer and has served as head judge of independent global tech start-up awards, the Tech Trailblazers, since its inception in 2012.