The Amys: Honoring women entrepreneurs in memory of Amy Gannon

To keep her torch ablaze — as was Doyenne’s call to action after Amy Gannon’s death — we are lifting up five women who embody the work and progress Amy Gannon so fiercely championed.
All five winners of the Amy Awards
Photos by Paulius Musteikis

A big part of Amy Gannon’s life’s work was uplifting others, particularly women and especially those who often found themselves without a seat at the table. And if Gannon couldn’t find an in with the “table,” she created a new one. As the co-founder of Doyenne with Heather Wentler, Gannon helped transform the entrepreneurial scene, transitioning from a career as a professor and interim dean at Edgewood College. She was a wife to Mike, a mother to Aaron and Jocelyn, a mentor, a coach, a cheerleader and an unforgettable person to everyone she met.

It’s been nearly two years since a tragic accident took the lives of Gannon, 47, and her daughter, Jocelyn, 13. The loss has been immense — immeasurable.

“No other leader has been able to fill that void that she occupied in the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Tania Ibarra, a friend and fellow leader in the entrepreneurial space.

Amy and Jocelyn Gannon

Amy and Jocelyn Gannon. Courtesy of Gannon Family

In partnership with Mike Gannon, Madison Magazine is taking a page from Amy’s book. To keep her torch ablaze — as was Doyenne’s call to action after Amy Gannon’s death — we are lifting up five women who embody the work and progress Amy Gannon so fiercely championed. Mike Gannon is generously offering financial awards through the Amy & Jocelyn Memorial Fund to our inaugural recipients of The Amys.

“She would have just loved that you’re recognizing women or people who normally wouldn’t be able to get the light shined on them because they’re behind the scenes or continuing to chug through the work every single day,” says Wentler. “Taking that moment to appreciate them and honor everything that they bring to the world — I think Amy would have really loved that.”

In these women, Amy Gannon’s legacy lives on.

About The Awards
The Amys consist of four awards for professional women and a scholarship for a young woman (18 or younger) from the Madison area. The Amy Award, The Strategist, The Free-Thinker and The Teacher awards commemorate the kind of person Amy Gannon was and the work she wanted to accomplish at Doyenne. The Jocelyn Scholarship honors Jocelyn Gannon — who was the picture-taker of the Gannon family and aspired to be a professional photographer — by going to a young woman who might pursue photography in the future. Mike Gannon has generously decided to give financial gifts to all five winners through the Amy & Jocelyn Memorial Fund. Amy Gannon was fierce about investment and putting dollars directly into the hands of women to help them grow. The Amy Award winner will receive $5,000. The Strategist, The Free-Thinker, The Teacher and the Jocelyn Scholarship recipients will receive $1,000 each. Mike Gannon and Madison Magazine hope to make The Amys an annual awards program.

Amy Award: Vanitha Suresh
Suresh has accomplished an incredible list of professional and personal feats that showcase her creative talents and passions: She’s a software consultant who’s worked as a software developer in several industries, a Carnatic (south Indian classical music) vocalist, a musician (pictured below with a traditional Indian music instrument, the tanpura), the executive director of the nonprofit Melharmony Foundation and the founding director of the nonprofit SciArt services. She also runs a music school, was the first Indian immigrant to become a master trainer through the Wisconsin Arts Board’s Folk/Traditional Apprenticeship Program and she holds two master’s degrees. Read more about Vanita Suresh here.

Vanitha Suresh with a large instrument

Among Vanitha Suresh’s professional and personal feats are her skills as a musician. Pictured with traditional Indian musical instrument, the tanpura. Photo by Paulius Musteikis

The Strategist: Rebekah Stephens
As the business development manager with Common Wealth Development for nearly three years, Stephens used her own experiences and strategic skillset to uplift startup business owners. Her role entailed overseeing the day-to-day operations and well-being of Madison’s two oldest incubators, The Madison Enterprise Center and Main Street Industries. Read more about Rebekah Stephens here.

Rebekah Stephens

Rebekah Stephens is the kind of person who sees the silver lining in everything. Photo by Paulius Musteikis

The Free-Thinker: Tania Ibarra
Ibarra’s work involves three main efforts: Through Step Up: Equity Matters, where she is co-founder, she helps established businesses embed diversity, equity and inclusion within their strategies, operations and cultures through innovative assessment and training that help uproot bias and spark lasting change; as a consultant with a background in finance and accounting, she supports startups, many owned by women and BIPOC; and she supports the Latinx community as a member of several community boards, including the Latino Professionals Association, which she helped found. Read more about Tania Ibarra here.

Tania Ibarra

Photo by Paulius Musteikis

The Teacher: Annie Vang
When 45-year-old Annie Vang was growing up as a child of Hmong immigrants to Wisconsin, she was certain she wanted to work with computers — but what did that mean? Who was responsible for creating those games and programs that captivated her? There wasn’t even a phrase for “computer developer” in the Hmong language, says Vang. Now she’s created the HmongPhrases app, an app helping preserve an endangered language. It also earned her the only U.S. spot in Apple’s eCamp for Female Founders and Developers in July 2021. Read more about Annie Vang here.

Annie Vang

Photo by Paulius Musteikis

Jocelyn Scholarship: Leta Samsa
High school senior Leta Samsa has worked hard to find her way in school, says Marianne Matt, Samsa’s nominator and school counselor at Capital High. Samsa enrolled in the Early College STEM Academy at Madison College and earned a year of dual college and high school credit — one example of the young girl seeking out opportunities for herself, Matt says. Read more about Leta Samsa here.

Leta Samsa

Photo by Paulius Musteikis

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