Good ideas pay off at annual awards ceremony
URBANA — Ten individuals and companies were given awards Thursday for coming up with good ideas and carrying them out, at Champaign County's annual Innovation Celebration.
— Cobalt Digital, a company whose products are used in TV broadcasting, won the Longevity Through Innovation Award.
The company, founded in 1997, employs about 40 and has won numerous industry awards, founder Gene Zimmerman Jr. said. It's now in the process of consolidating operations on Galen Drive in Champaign.
— Chris Harbourt of Waterborne Environmental received the Entrepreneurial Excellence in Management Award.
Harbourt is vice president and principal engineer at the Champaign office of the Leesburg, Va.-based company.
The office, located in the University of Illinois Research Park, employs between 20 and 30, depending on the season. It provides consulting services for agriculture.
— The Champaign Organization of Developers and Engineers won the Economic Development Impact Award.
That group of volunteers — which now numbers 300 — has worked to attract companies to Champaign County by showing how much engineering talent is available locally.
"We're looking to get more companies and big names pretty soon," said Ken Taylor, a leader in the group.
— Andrew Singer, director of the UI Technology Entrepreneur Center, won the Entrepreneur Advocacy Award for helping student entrepreneurs become successful.
Singer, who said the award really belongs to the staff and students, said he enjoys helping all student innovators, but particularly "the ones trying to solve the big problems, the grand challenges."
— Spinlight Studio claimed the New Venture Award. The Champaign-based company started out as an advertising agency, but struck gold when it began developing educational Web apps for kids.
"It feels like we're being paid to play," said creative director and partner Matt Hutton.
Now, the company is concentrating its efforts on Web development, with a new product due out this month.
— Oso Technologies was named winner of the Student Startup Award. That team of students developed a plant moisture sensor that can communicate with your mobile device to let you know your plants need water.
Their idea served as the inspiration for one of David Letterman's "Top 10" lists — and also got mentioned by Conan O'Brien, on "CBS This Morning" and by The Drudge Report.
— The Illinois Green Business Association won the Social Entrepreneurship Award for helping businesses realize the benefits of green business practices and certifying those who adopt the practices.
Executive Director Cassie Carroll said the idea for the association sprang from a question students were asking — "How do you green Green Street?" They ended up "greening" an even wider swath of the community.
— Don Bergfield, agriculture program director at Parkland College, received Parkland's Innovation in Engagement Award. He took a group of students to Costa Rica, where he taught them about food production and trade, agricultural diversity and sustainable agriculture.
He also was the driving force behind Parkland's organic farm on the west side of campus.
Bergfield said he was awed by the other nominees in the room, saying he was "just a farm boy from Arcola." He thanked his department chair, Bruce Henriksen, for "listening to all my crazy ideas."
— Yoram Bresler was given the Innovation Transfer Award by the UI Office of Technology Management for innovations used in computerized tomography (CT) scans.
Bresler, a UI professor of electrical and computer engineering, was cited for his work at InstaRecon in the UI Research Park.
"I hope we make real change in the medical market, in terms of improving patients' outcomes," he said.
— Dr. Martin Burke, a UI associate professor of chemistry, was given the Innovation Discovery Award for his work involving the synthesis and study of small molecules with protein-like functions.
The work has implications for the development of new medicines.
Seventy companies use the chemistries developed by his team, Burke said.
The awards had more than a dozen sponsors, including the Champaign County Economic Development Corp. and several units at the UI.
Altogether, there were 28 nominees for the 10 awards. More than 200 people attended the awards ceremony held in the National Center for Supercomputing Applications auditorium.