Weather Updates

Innovation award winners ‘are moving Chicago forward’

Tom Kuczmarski left  Dan Miller right co-founders 10th Annual Chicago InnovatiAwards perform an opening act Blues Brothers Harris Theater

Tom Kuczmarski, left and Dan Miller, right, co-founders of the 10th Annual Chicago Innovation Awards perform an opening act of the Blues Brothers at Harris Theater, November 8, 2011 | Scott Stewart~ Sun-Times

storyidforme: 20673296
tmspicid: 7896705
fileheaderid: 3556360
Innovation: Complete innovation coverage
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: December 10, 2011 8:06AM

The Chicago Innovation Awards’ 10th anniversary Tuesday night celebrated the city’s emergence as a brain trust bursting with successful entrepreneurial ventures, familiar companies’ technological breakthroughs and expanding capital commitments to back them up.

“The winners of the Chicago Innovation Awards have not only strengthened our local economy, improved the standard of living in the Midwest, saved people millions of dollars, and introduced sustainable and unique solutions to the world, they have also attracted a great pool of talent to the region,” said Tom Kuczmarski, co-founder of the awards. “These innovators are the engines that are moving Chicago forward.”

The 10 Innovation Award winners for 2011 proved that they had made a measurable social or other impact on their respective marketplaces, and had prompted others to compete with them. The program also honored a “People’s Choice Award” winner chosen by popular vote online.

The ceremony also served as the launch of a book, “Innovating … Chicago-Style: How Local Innovators are Building the National Economy,” by Kuczmarski and Innovation Awards co-founder Dan Miller and director Luke Tanen. The book features innovators telling their stories of Chicago’s most impressive business successes of the past decade.

More than 1,500 people attended the event, which drew more than 400 award nominations. That compares with the kickoff event a decade ago, which drew 75 people and 30 nominations.

The winners are:


This Chicago-based company, with 12 employees, runs websites that let people download apps for Apple or Android devices. It licenses mobile app services that help companies such as Best Buy, Yahoo and major cell-phone carriers and manufacturers provide their customers access to mobile content.

The search and recommendation technology helps customers discover mobile apps customized to their interests.

The company was founded two years ago by Alan Warms, known for creating content-aggregation platform, and is funded by Apex Venture Partners.


Discharge 1-2-3 Composer: A blend of Star Trek’s Universal Translator and medical scanner come alive in software created by Schaumburg-based Callibra Inc. The company’s Discharge 1-2-3 Composer lets emergency physicians create patient instructions with the click of a mouse. The information, printed or emailed in the patient’s native language, provides details about their illness, in-home care and when to seek further medical attention.

Company CEO Dr. Christopher Galassi, a founding member of the Chicago Biotech Network (now iBio), developed the technology for the brainchild of Dr. Galassi and emergency room physician Dr. Richard Brantner, who serves as chief medical officer. Callibra has enjoyed 20 to 30 percent annual growth in recent years.


EZH2O: Who could come up with a new twist on the age-old drinking fountain? Leave it to 91-year-old Oak Brook-based Elkay Manufacturing Co., whose EZH2O bottle-filling station lets office workers fill up their empty water bottles in less than 6 seconds — three times faster than at a traditional water fountain.

The privately held company employs 3,600 worldwide.

Illinois Tool Works

Global Capless: Say goodbye to the screw-on gasoline-tank cap that drivers so often leave on the trunk or wrestle to take on and off. Illinois Tool Works has designed a closure with a valve that would replace the cap. The injection-molded closure, designed so that car makers may install it on the fuel pipe as a vehicle rolls off of the assembly line, opens when a gas pump nozzle is inserted and closes automatically when the nozzle is removed.

The Glenview-based manufacturing conglomerate, which employs 60,000 worldwide and reports $15.4 billion in yearly revenues, sees the design as helpful to people with arthritis, cleaner to handle and more convenient for drivers in a hurry. The cap is compatible with bio-diesel and keeps hydrocarbons from escaping.

Narrative Science

This Chicago-based startup has figured out a way to fashion stories, tweets and business reports without human writers. The company’s artificial intelligence technology searches a company’s databases to find trends and angles that allow it to generate sports updates, financial analyses and other data-dependent content. The technology automatically generates the copy.

The 25-employee company boasting 20 clients uses a platform conceived at Northwestern University’s Schools of Engineering and Journalism.

Narrative Science CEO Stuart Frankel formerly led digital marketing and search-engine advertising firm Performics.

Navman Wireless

Qtanium: Glenview-based Navman has created a wireless tracking system to help construction companies measure their on- and off-highway vehicle fleets within a single application. The system allows companies to combat issues such as $1 billion in yearly thefts of construction equipment and preventative-maintenance cycles that can cost as much as $10,000 each.

The Qtanium 300 solution, costing on average $45 a month, delivers from 25 percent to 75 percent return on investment. Navman Wireless employs 300 and forecasts 2011 revenue of $80 million to $90 million.

Red Frog Events

This River North entertainment industry leader shows how innovation happens from the inside out. The 106-employee company, whose work force has grown from one employee four years ago, produces heralded live-action experiences such as the Warrior Dash, Beach Palooza and Great Urban Race. Behind the scenes, the Camp Red Frog headquarters embraces meetings in a specially designed tree house with meeting spaces and featuring a slide, zip line, swings, rock-climbing wall and a 50,000-piece Lego conference table.

The company offers creative benefits such as unlimited vacation days, frequent field trips to sports, entertainment and team-building events, a $250 “morale boosting” budget for each of the 55 “frogs,” as full-time salaried employees are known, and the kind of freedom that creative people need to think out of the box.

Tripp Lite

SRCOOL12K: The 89-year-old Southwest Side manufacturer shows that innovation isn’t just a startup’s purview. The company, with 350 of its 450 worldwide employees based in the Chicago area, has designed a portable air conditioner that uses an environmentally friendly refrigerant and expels condensed water through an exhaust duct.

The $650 median-priced SRCOOL12K offers an easy way for warehouses, data centers, telecom closets and other hard-to-cool places to control temperatures during off-hours or in emergencies. The unit can be plugged in, set up with a timer and doesn’t need drain tubes or water-collection tanks.

Tripp Lite has enjoyed a 15 percent compound annual growth rate for the past five years.


TrustKeeper: Consumers and tech executives alike lay awake nights worrying about hackers, data breaches and security slackness. Chicago security and compliance firm Trustwave has designed a cloud-based antidote called TrustKeeper. The solution gives companies a single, scalable view into their security situation.

Companies can review their own networks and add on technology to better protect their data with solutions such as managed firewalls, log monitoring, data scanning and credit-card data encryption.

The company, with 575 employees and $111.5 million in revenues in 2010, is run by Chairman, CEO and President Robert J. McCullen, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Technology in the Midwest region for 2011.

World Bicycle Relief

Buffalo Bicycles: The Chicago-based organization distributes and sells rugged, specially designed and locally assembled bicycles that provide essential transportation, disaster recovery and relief from poverty for students, entrepreneurs, health-care workers and others across Africa.

World Bicycle Relief’s income from donations and bike sales to non-governmental organizations last year totaled $3.5 million. It has distributed 90,000 bikes since its founding in 2005 by F.K. Day, co-founder and executive vice president of bike manufacturer SRAM Corp.

Day started the venture to help survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

People’s Choice Award

Fresh Moves: Three community activists — Steve Casey, Sheelah Muhammad and Jeff Pinzino — decided to tackle the food desert problem on their own by outfitting a former CTA bus as a moving fresh-produce, fruits and vegetable store. The service, a non-profit called Fresh Moves, offers residents of the Austin and North Lawndale communities easy access to healthy foods at affordable prices Tuesdays through Fridays.

Fresh Moves sources its food from local growers, wholesaler Market Produce and organic produce distributor Goodness Greeness of Chicago, and depends on foundations and donors for its financial support.

Sun-Times Media is a media partner of the Innovation Awards.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.