Individuals, organizations honored for innovation

Individuals, organizations honored for innovation

URBANA — Cathy Singer's emphasis on both work and family was brought home at the annual Innovation Celebration event Tuesday.

Singer, the site manager for Yahoo in Champaign, won the Entrepreneurial Excellence Management Award. She started her acceptance speech with a thank you to "all the Champaign Yahoos who make my job easy" and ended it with thanks to her son, who — while listening to a description of what she'd done — told her, "You got this, Mom. You got this!"

Two other individuals and six organizations "got this" in other categories, out of 24 individuals and companies that were finalists for awards.

— BRG Sports, which turns out 4.3 million bike helmets a year from its 800,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facility in Rantoul, won the Economic Development Impact Award. Lewis Hornsby, general manager of Rantoul operations, credited the experienced workforce, noting the average tenure there is 17 years.

— Another large employer, Horizon Hobby of Champaign, received the Longevity Award. But CEO Joe Ambrose said Horizon feels like a younger company, with one of its divisions developing new commercial drone applications.

— Agrible — formerly Ag Informatics — collected the New Venture Award, using big data to predict how weather will affect crops, agricultural operations and economic decisions. The company now employs more than 20 people, CEO Chris Harbourt said.

— Rithmio, which developed gesture recognition software to work with motion-sensing devices such as Fitbit and smartphones, won the Student Startup Award. Co-founder Adam Tilton told the 400 in attendance "the community of entrepreneurship here is really awesome."

— Scientific Animations Without Borders, a group that develops two- and three-dimensional animation sequences, won the Social Venture Award. The group uses the animations to help people in countries with low literacy rates to learn about agriculture, disease such as Ebola and women's empowerment. So far the group has developed about 45 animations and used 50 languages in their efforts to disseminate information.

— Applied Media Promotions, a student-staffed strategic communications firm, won Parkland College's Innovation in Engagement Award. The group, operated by Parkland's Fine and Applied Arts Department, provides advertising, marketing and public relations services to nonprofit clients, such as the Wesley Food Pantry and the Illinois Radio Reader service.

Individuals receiving awards included:

— Kenneth Suslick, research professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois, who won the UI's Innovation Transfer Award. Suslick holds 26 patents and has launched start-up firms, including ChemSensing and its successor firm, iSense Systems.

— Alex Ruggieri, who won the Entrepreneurial Excellence Advocacy Award, for what emcee Laura Frerichs called being "a tireless cheerleader for entrepreneurs." Ruggieri hosts the weekly "Central Illinois Business" program on WDWS-AM and said he admires entrepreneurs because "they put everything on the line and sometimes they get arrows in their back. ... I get juiced about that."

Singer was cited for her courtship of Yahoo to Champaign and that company's eventual hiring of scores of former Motorola employees. The company moved into a new, larger building in the UI Research Park in December and has increased its staff size.

Staff members at Yahoo in Champaign have received 50 patents, even though the local office is not a research center, Frerichs said, adding that Yahoo headquarters in "Sunnyvale (Calif.) realizes it has a gem in Champaign."

The annual awards celebration, held this year at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, is coordinated through the Champaign County Economic Development Corp. as a way of recognizing innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in the area.


Innovation Awards

— Economic Development Impact Award: BRG Sports

— Longevity Award: Horizon Hobby

Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards

— Social Venture Award: Scientific Animations Without Borders

— Student Startup Award: Rithmio

— New Venture Award: Agrible

— Advocacy Award: Alex Ruggieri

— Management Award: Cathy Singer of Yahoo

University of Illinois

— Innovation Transfer Award: Kenneth Suslick

Parkland College

— Innovation in Engagement Award: Applied Media Promotions

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