The RVATECH’s Awards Gala is the Academy Awards of the Greater Richmond technology community. On October 7, for the first time in 25 years, the Council hosted its annual event virtually. More than 400 RVATECH members and invited guests tuned in when Lori Jennings, founder of JENNINGS ProSearch and VCU Executive MBA graduate, received RVATECH’s highest honor, the Chairman’s Award.
Founded in 1989, RVATECH (formerly the Greater Richmond Technology Council) is a member-driven association of businesses and organizations that work to ensure continued growth of Greater Richmond’s dynamic technology-based economy. Their Chairman’s Award is presented annually to “an individual or organization that has made a significant impact on the growth of technology in this region, and/or the advancement of Greater Richmond as center for technology innovation.”
Jennings is among the youngest recipients ever to earn the group’s top honor, often presented as a “lifetime achievement” award. She was saluted for being “an outspoken advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the tech community” and for timely event programming that ensured the council’s viability during the pandemic.
According to RVATECH Executive Director Nick Serfass, “Lori is probably the most engaged volunteer we have. She jumps in everywhere, and her wisdom and perspectives get pulled into every piece of our organization – from membership and programming to governance and Council leadership.”
Advocate for diversity, equity & inclusion in the tech community
Ian Tyndall, senior director of Information Services for Altria Client Services, a founding RVATECH sponsor, presented Jennings with her award, saying, “In her professional capacity, Lori has propelled countless executives to c-suite positions, worked tirelessly to broaden and diversify the IT talent coming to our region, and even helped RVATECH secure Nick Serfass as our new executive director.
“But, as an RVATECH volunteer for a decade, her work has been transformative. Always an outspoken advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the tech community, Lori was a founding and driving force behind our Women in Tech Conference as well as our recent D&I commitment statement. In 2018, it was Lori who identified the rising need for a workforce skilled in data science, and she chaired 2019 Data Science Summit that achieved a sold-out audience of 500 attendees. Her 2020 Data Summit surpassed that record.”
“Getting my Executive MBA from VCU was career-defining for me”
Jennings’ path to RVATECH recognition had an unlikely start. After earning undergraduate degrees in Textiles and Marketing from Virginia Tech, she launched her career with an innovative textiles company. But after eight years, she transitioned to account work with tech giants like EMC and Cisco, and awakened her own passion for the world of technology.
As her career progressed, Jennings led the sales team at software consulting company CRT, but her keen understanding of industry needs compelled her to transition into staffing.
In 2004, Jennings decided to pursue her lifelong goal of earning an MBA. “I went back to school in my late 30s because I knew I wanted to own a business. I was working for small firm and wasn’t getting the kind of education that I’d had at large companies,” she explains.
“Getting my Executive MBA from VCU was career defining for me. It gave me the knowledge and the confidence to start my own company, including a broad understanding of business that expanded far beyond my knowledge of sales and marketing.
“I wrote my business plan while getting my Executive MBA. For two years, I had adjunct professors who owned and ran their own businesses reviewing my plan, providing feedback and helping me hone my elevator pitch. I can’t tell you the confidence it gave me. When I graduated – after two years working full time and going to school full time – I felt like I could achieve anything.”
“My boss at CRT supported me the whole time I was in the Executive MBA program. He knew I wanted to own my own business and offered me the opportunity to start CRT ProSearch as a subsidiary. This was during the Great Recession of 2008, and I was so grateful he was willing to take on a lot of the risk for me. I stayed with him for six years while I built the business. Eventually I wanted to own it outright and he let me buy him out in 2015. In 2016, I rebranded the company as JENNINGS ProSearch.”
Jennings remains connected to VCU. She served as a board member for the VCU Business Alumni Society and volunteers with VCU’s Connect Mentoring Program. An avid VCU basketball fan and season ticket holder, she also serves on the Ram Athletic Fund Board and the VCU Tennis Committee.
Proactive leadership sustained technology council during pandemic
During Jennings' time as an RVATECH board member, and in direct response to her timely and relevant programming, Council’s membership exploded. Prior to the pandemic, Jennings was programming lead for RVATECH’s Breakfast Series. In March 2020, as RVATECH scrambled to launch a webinar series, Jennings jumped in to help execute it.
According to Kim Mahan, founder of MAXX Potential and RVATECH board chair, that’s nothing new. “Lori is a constant,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone to an RVATECH event where I didn’t see her. She was here when I got involved a decade ago, and she remains incredibly engaged – always pushing us forward, asking the tough questions and being a champion for the organization.”
Serfass puts it this way: “Lori has made a tremendous difference and impact in our city. Through her volunteer efforts, she has strengthened the entire technology ecosystem in Central Virginia.”
While Jennings was “shocked” and “extremely honored” to earn RVATECH recognition, she says her real reward is the satisfaction of playing a role in promoting and growing the technology community in Central Virginia.
“Volunteering for RVATECH intersects with my own personal mission of creating a strong and diverse regional tech workforce that helps companies prepare for a digital future. My passion is people and connecting the right people with long-term careers in the tech field. I believe so strongly in what tech and digital transformation can do to drive business and improve our lives. One of the prime motivators for companies like Amazon selecting a city to move to is their commitment to developing a technology pipeline. I love having a hand in that.”