DURHAM – For Startup Grind Triangle’s organizers, this was the night to put female founders on a pedestal.

Before a crowd of 80 people gathered at Smashing Boxes headquarters in downtown Durham on Wednesday night, three women received honors in a first-time awards ceremony as part of the group’s annual May event dedicated to promoting female entrepreneurs.

Among them was Jessica Mitsch, co-founder of Momentum Learning, who won best female newcomer. Launched in early February, the startup is a coding school that offers customized training for organizations. It also gives free crash courses online.

“As far as being a female entrepreneur, we couldn’t do this without this community,” said Mitsch, who previously worked at the no-longer operating Iron Yard coding school. “We’re really fortunate to be in Raleigh-Durham area, with a lot of folks supporting us.”

Heather McDougall, founder of Leadership exCHANGE, won top female social entrepreneur. Back in 1999, she started up the company that trains undergraduate students on social impact and entrepreneurship in Prague and Raleigh.

Meanwhile, Courtney Tellefsen, founder of The Produce Box, won top social impact entrepreneur.

In 2007, she was a stay-at-home mom living in Raleigh who wanted to support local farmers, but couldn’t always get to farmers markets with small kids in tow. That’s when she came up with the idea of delivering produce boxes to your door.

“The agriculture business is mostly male. It was challenging,” she admitted of those early days. “I had a lot to learn.”

The company now serves 11,000 families around the state and has duplicated its business model in Charleston, SC and Buffalo, NY, with plans to head to Pittsburgh, PA and a couple of cities in Texas.

Her advice to up-and-coming female entrepreneurs: Follow your instincts.

“Even as you get bigger, you’re more risk averse because there’s more riding on it. But you’ve got to trust your instincts; that has really held true for me. Women need to be confident in their choices.”

Mark Bavisotto, who heads up Startup Grinds local chapter, said it was important to single out and recognize the achievements of women in the startup industry, despite some backlash from some men in the community who argued a woman-centered event and awards ceremony wasn’t inclusive.

Citing the statistics on the low number of female-led startups and the struggle to receive financial funding, that was the least they could do, he argued.

“We want to use our platform to showcase women leaders and what they’ve accomplished. We feel that it will push the community further.”

Big Top, the “recruiting and career management” community owned by WRAL TechWire’s parent company, Capitol Broadcasting, was among the sponsors for the awards.