The inaugural Neon Swan Awards were held on Thursday, Feb. 28, at our very own Lake Nona GuideWell Innovation CoRE. The event honored women in the tech community – specifically, women in Orlando representing STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
The Neon Swan Awards began when Erica Jacobs, Chief Creative Officer of Pixadactyl, mentioned the names of 10 women on a social media forum who were creating greatness in Orlando. After less than a month, the list of 10 grew to a list with more than 150 names. Erica realized that something needed to be done to honor our local female talent who were shining brightly in Orlando, and, thus, the Neon Swan Awards were born.
“Awards are usually gold or silver, but neon is tech; neon is VIBRANT,” says Erica Jacobs of the name choice. “And the swan is elegant and beautiful but also confident. Plus, it is basically the Orlando mascot!”
When talking to Jacobs, she is effervescent and a self-described extrovert. She’s energetic and not afraid to wear neon blue lipstick to the event. She sees Orlando for all its beauty and knows how unique it is to live where we live. “Orlando isn’t cute. It is full of talented women that should be honored.”
Board members from Black Orlando Tech and ACMSiggraph choose eight outstanding women to award. Although more than 150 women were recognized and celebrated as Neon Swans, the awards ceremony on Feb. 28 highlighted nine women in eight specific categories. The categories for the awards were Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math, as well as Community Development, Confidence, and Empathy.
Neon Swan Award Winners 2019:
Kelli Murray created MedSpeaks in order to bridge scientific innovation with healthcare. She left the corporate world to make a change in our healthcare system by connecting “problem owners with problem solvers.”
Asia Hall of Neon Cowboys
Natalie Concors of Little Light Lab
Asia Hall and Natalie Concors met in Orlando, although both were California natives. Both women create wearable light-up tech. Together, they created WETESCO – Wearable Technology Solutions – a consulting firm that advises and works with companies on all aspects of wearable tech. They have partnered with the University of Central Florida and military organizations like MD5 and Sofwerx.
Leslie Hielema is an all-around badass. She is an engineer, a pilot, a speaker, and a consultant and has created more than 30 new products, services and/or initiatives around the globe. She was formerly with GuideWell Innovation CoRE but decided it was time to fly around the world and help others.
Reina Castellanos is an illustrator and designer. She holds a masters in fine arts from UCF in studio art and the computer and has also been a graphic design professor for Rollins College. She has received numerous awards and honors for her illustrations and videos. She is currently the social media manager for AIGA Orlando.
LaShea Reaves from 8 Cents in a Jar, Inc.
LaShea Reaves is the Executive Director of 8 Cents in a Jar, a local nonprofit teaching financial education to combat generational poverty. Their mission is to provide students in underserved communities with engaging resources to become financially capable through economic education. 8 Cents opened in 2016 and has already served more than 1,000 students and generated more than $98,000 worth of student wealth.
Photo Credits: Christy Marks Photography
Dionne Aiken is a graphic designer and user experience designer. She is the winner for Community Development for her ability to create person-to-person experience and interaction in a world full of screens. She voluntarily created an AIG mentorship program to give back, allowing mentorees to understand that someone is there to help them; they aren’t alone. Her website states, “By creating design that encourages offline interaction, we can take steps to restore our social fabric and human nature through empathy, acts of kindness, positivity and generosity.”
Lydia Chicles with Bold! Technologies
Lydia Chicles founded Bold! Technologies, a development company that works with startups as well as established companies. Women in male-dominated industries sometimes ask, “Should I be here?” Lydia Chicles doesn’t ask that question. She is a woman who embodies confidence, and the award is a reminder to women to assert themselves in what they know.
Danya Shea of Fervor Works
Danya Shea is the co-creator of Fervor Works, a company that specializes in teaching empathy to companies to promote growth and strategic marketing. Fervor Works strategically teaches empathy both to the employees toward each other but also to the company as a whole toward the consumer or client. She has received many accolades for her work.
Seeing the women above was inspiring. Each had her own story, and each one is showing off the powerful female force Orlando has to offer. They are not only contributing to our local community but spanning the globe and bringing positive recognition to our ever-growing City Beautiful. Perhaps Erica Jacobs said it best, “There is something special about women professionals; we don’t just do ONE thing. Women are out there kicking ass. It needs to be highlighted; people need to know.”
To learn more about all 150+ Neon Swan recipients, visit www.neonswanawards.com.