Each year, DC Inno spotlights the region’s top young innovators, those who are starting to make waves — and poised to make a big splash in the years ahead in the local tech and startup ecosystem.
To showcase this up-and-coming class, Inno has compiled a list of some promising and notable entrepreneurs and technologists at age 25 or under across the D.C. region. They include founders of both for-profit and nonprofit ventures, current and former students, local activists and members of prominent accelerators like Y Combinator, Techstars and Halcyon House.
This year’s list, based on community nominations and DC Inno’s editorial selection process, features 12 bright young pioneers forging new entrepreneurial paths across Greater Washington. Meet DC Inno’s class of 2022 for Inno Under 25.
Adeola Ajani
Founder and CEO, Fem Equity
Age: 23
Ajani is creating a tech-enabled social impact organization that provides financial education and professional development to women and underrepresented individuals. The goal is to help users thrive in tangible ways by creating equitable workplaces and disrupting the multibillion-dollar gender pay gap — Black women, in particular, earn just 64 cents for ever $1 that white men take home in their paychecks, per Center for American Progress data — through tools like a pay gap calculator. Ajani, an MBA candidate at American University and a former Morgan Stanley financial analyst, has been through John Hopkins University’s Social Innovation Lab accelerator and Techstars Founder Catalyst program to learn the skills to scale the company. The startup, which she founded with Chidera Egbuche, a master’s degree student at Towson University, now offers several self-paced courses, including on money matters, social capital and brand equity, and a membership network of women looking to increase their annual pay.
Minahil Cheema
Founder and executive director, TeleShadowing
Age: 20
While working as a policy analyst and executive associate at the Maryland Department of Health, Cheema is building her company, TeleShadowing, a virtual clinical shadowing program open to pre-health students around the globe — demand for which spiraled during the pandemic. Cheema, who held shadowing sessions at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore as a student herself, started the business with her sister, Aamna, among others with a boost from her mother, Asima, an internal medicine specialist, as the startup’s medical director. The platform has registered more than 5,000 students in more than 30 countries from 200 different universities to use the platform. They’ve collectively received more than 130 hours of online shadowing. Cheema, who separately had helped found a charity telemedicine clinic for lower-income patients in India and Pakistan, won third place in the University of Maryland’s Do Good Challenge, winning a mini-grant and serving as an ambassador on the campus.
Sabrina Clebnik 
Founder and CEO, Clebby‘s
Age: 21
Clebnik has created a line of cannabis oil-infused baking mixes. When delving into cannabis law, she found a loophole that product manufacturers had overlooked: by using cannabis oil in its cake mix, the product is classified as a “tincture product.” This allows a THC dosage of up to 500 milligrams, where edible products like gummies or chocolate have a 100-milligram limit per package. The idea won her first place and $15,000 on the new venture track in George Washington University’s New Venture Competition. Following the competition, the GWU student has secured a cannabis manufacturing and distribution agreement with Massachusetts dispensaries and finalized a line of custom baking mixes with an established baking-mix manufacturer. She hopes to launch her product in dispensaries in her hometown of Boston while she finishes up her undergrad degree at the D.C. university this December and embarks on her master’s degree in 2023.
Jess Garnett
Co-founder, JMakes3D
Age: 23
JMakes3D helps startups, entrepreneurs and inventors go from idea stage to functional prototypes of their products, and has worked with such firms as Solr Tech of College Park, Tactuity of Severna Park and Ocuclips of Ellicott City. Garnett, a Ph.D. student and graduate research assistant at the University of Maryland in material science and engineering, is currently working on a project funded by ARPA-E to develop novel heat exchangers using metal 3D printing. The goal: to create higher-performing structures than can be delivered through traditional manufacturing processes. The work stems from an interest in 3D manufacturing and prototyping that Garnett has held for years, even before meeting business partner John Fitzell while they both worked at Terrapin Works, a rapid prototyping and advanced manufacturing unit of the UMd.’s A. James Clark School of Engineering.
Jamal Holtz
Special assistant to the president on equity, belonging and public affairs, LINK Strategic Partners
Age: 24
In his role at LINK Strategic Partners, a communications and social impact consulting firm, Holtz helps manage internal DEI issues for the company. He may seem young to hold such a role, but his experiences in D.C. bely his years on Earth. He’s built a name for himself as an advocate for his generation and hometown, with organizing and civic engagement work through his seats on D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Commission on Juvenile Justice, Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative board, Destination D.C. Partnerships & Alliance Committee, and the D.C. Statehood PAC board. Born and raised in D.C.’s Ward 8, Holtz is building a career centered on community advocacy and grassroots organization, with perhaps his most prominent role as the face of 51 for 51, a group fighting for D.C. statehood.
Bryan Houlton & Ryan Downing
Co-founders, Manatee
Ages: 20 and 22, respectively
Houlton, CEO, left above, and Downing, CTO, co-founded Manatee, a company building a no-code platform for companies to create more interactive, efficient demos of their software products. The duo —  University of Maryland students who underwent the UMd. Department of Computer Science’s Mokhtarzada Hatchery incubator for student tech ventures — are already veterans of the nationally renowned accelerator Y Combinator, which accepted them last summer through their prior venture, Quandry, a fintech platform that offered alternative trading options to the traditional stock exchanges. While in the Silicon Valley accelerator, the pair pivoted from Quandry to Manatee, citing an insufficient market and higher legal and compliance issues with the former. But what caught the eye of Y Combinator, and what they’ve gained since, make them a founder duo to watch with their newest initiative.
Rebecca Rosenberg
Founder and CEO, ReBokeh
Age: 24
A Halcyon House fellow, Rosenberg founded ReBokeh to help develop assistive technologies for people with moderate, uncorrectable vision impairments. Since its founding, the startup has raised $220,000 in funding and launched the ReBokeh app in June, offering assistance for those in the low-vision spectrum to read faraway signs, spot friends in a crowd or read menus. It’s personal for Rosenberg: As a baby, she was diagnosed with oculocutaneous albinism, a rare genetic disease that hampers eye development and causing lifelong blurry vision. The biomedical engineer got her first grant to start ReBokeh as a Bucknell University student, honed the technology as a master’s student and Abell Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and, in September, was accepted into D.C.-based Halcyon House’s startup incubator. Her next stop? The massive CES trade show in January in Las Vegas.
Anna Shah
Co-founder and director of buying/commerce, POP!
Age: 21
The George Washington University junior, who is studying international business with minors in sustainability and German, co-founded pop-up thrift store, POP!, with three other GWU students, Maya Levine, Rachel Cohen and Stephanie Cheung. The quartet studied fashion research at the GW Institute for Corporate Responsibility and aimed to create a sustainable marketplace and reduce textile waste by selling secondhand clothing. The brand, which stands for “power of the purse,” opened its first pop-up store for fellow Colonials at the GW Textile Museum, attracting 1,000 students, before holding other events through the year. It incorporated the LLC last year and generated $12,000 in funds early in its founding when it was recognized at George Washington University’s 2022 New Venture Competition in several categories, including best financials and viewer’s choice. At the venture competition, the company was awarded $25,000 in total prize money to expand the brand to e-commerce channels and bring access to sustainable, affordable, fashion-forward clothing to other campuses.
Neal Singal
Founder and CEO, Global Pal
Age: 22
Singal is somewhat of a serial entrepreneur, and a rare repeat Inno under 25 member, at the tender age of 22. He’s currently building a mobile payments platform for small and medium-sized restaurants through Global Pal, offering another way for patrons to peruse menus and pay and split bills and tips from their smartphones. It’s compatible with Apple Pay with hopes of adding Google Pay soon, per its website. The endeavor, which has signed up six restaurants for its pilot launch early next year, has gotten the backing thus far of lead investor Pareto VC in a $275,000 pre-seed funding round that included other fintech angel investors and the Johns Hopkins FUEL Accelerator, per the business’ LinkedIn page. But prior to this venture, the former Georgetown University Undergraduate of the Year was a Halcyon incubator fellow, building a company that provided commercial-grade air quality monitors at lower costs during the peak of the pandemic as co-founder and CFO of Globally Unified Air Quality (GUAQ). He now serves as chief financial officer of that firm, which recently won George Mason University’s inaugural Accelerate 2022 pitch competition for students.
Isabell Sliwinski
Founder and CEO, Culturally Arts Collective
Age: 18
At a mere 16, Sliwinski founded nonprofit Culturally Arts Collective (CAC) to combat arts elitism and reframe the “starving artist” archetype by supporting artists of all ages, countries and abilities through virtual exhibits. In the two years since, it’s grown into a team of 80 arts administrators and curators — many of them students in universities spanning 16 countries — offering consulting and professional development to more than 1,500 artists through 30 education programs worldwide. It’s put 3,500 works of art, from visual to performance, on virtual view and assembled some 25 virtual-reality, 360-degree 3D exhibitions, complete with elements and tours built through artificial intelligence. They’ve ranged from a free virtual ballet program for 10 children in South Africa to outreach and arts mentorships in children’s hospitals. Beyond the exhibitions, CAC built an online network of 4,000-plus artists across six continents and publishes a magazine. In 2022, Sliwinski, an American University finance student and dancer and choreographer herself, was selected for the AU Center for Innovation’s Startup Venture Incubator.
Logan Weaver
Founder and CEO, Surmount AI
Age: 23
Weaver was a mathematical statistics and probability major at the University of Maryland who decided to switch to finance and financial management systems when the pandemic hit. At that point, he took a gap semester to start up a new business — and it grew into Surmount AI. Now he’s a member of the Techstars Anywhere cohort, building a platform, based on algorithms and machine learning, for any individual investor, regardless of account size or background, to automate their investments. His company, in beta phase today, has 14 employees and is preparing to launch software that Weaver describes as “the AWS for automated investing.”
Dana Wiggins
Co-founder and CTO, Seize The App Inc.
Age: 24
Wiggins, a University of Maryland computer engineering grad, created an app with friend Al Tearjen, an alum of the University of California, Davis, that lets people schedule a quick photo session with photographers at scenic spots across a city — in D.C., for instance, customers can sign up to meet a photographer at such tourist spots as the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and World War II Memorial for a fee. Since the photography platform’s launch in D.C. in April, Seize the App has grown to more than 300 photographers, increased revenue month over month by 20%, and expanded to New York City and Austin, Texas. Wiggins, a UMd. undergraduate teaching fellow and member of the Black Engineers Society, got the idea for the app while traveling solo in San Francisco as a Zillow intern. The startup went through the UC Davis accelerator before entering the Techstars Seattle cohort this year. Wiggins also is a co-owner of the first Kung Fu Tea bubble tea franchise in southern Maryland that’s due to open in December.
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