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The 2012 Chicago Innovation Award winners

Dr. SirirBanuchi wears BioMask an anti-microbial face mask that's first be approved by FDA protect herself from flu virus during

Dr. Sirirat Banuchi wears the BioMask, an anti-microbial face mask that's the first to be approved by the FDA, to protect herself from the flu virus during flu season. Tuesday, October 16, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:04AM

Though the still-evolving Silicon Prairie’s top claim to technology fame is daily-deal site Groupon, this year’s Chicago Innovation Award winners boast creative solutions ranging from feeding needy children to warding off the flu virus.

The winners announced Monday night range from the nation’s largest food-donation charity to a fourth-generation family-owned medical products company.

The 11th annual Chicago Innovation Awards drew 410 nominations this year — about the same as last year’s competition — and the 75 preliminary finalists were feted Sept. 5 by 800 celebrants at the House of Blues.

A judging committee narrowed the list to 75 companies that best represented the results of a sustained commitment to innovation. The committee’s criteria focused on a company’s product or service’s ability to meet an unmet need, its uniqueness, whether the product or service created a “me-too” response from imitators and quantifiable evidence of success, said Tom Kuczmarski, founder and co-chair with Dan Miller of the Chicago Innovation Awards.

One example is award winner Medline Industries of Mundelein. The family-run business developed the first antimicrobial face mask approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that kills flu viruses on contact.

The BioMask inactivates the viruses, rather than filtering them out, by using copper, zinc and citric acid in a formula that took eight years to perfect, said Brian Tompkins, Medline’s senior product manager. The biomask is engineered with the company’s Ionixx(TM) technology.

“The problem with traditional face masks is that they become a potential means of transmission. So when a sneeze droplet lands on a mask, and someone’s hand comes in contact with the mask and then he or she touches his hair, he can infect himself or others,” Tompkins said. “This mask doesn’t just filter. It uses citric acid, zinc and copper to eliminate 99.99 percent of influenza A and B viruses. That happens within a matter of five minutes.”

The mask is sold for about $1.30 apiece to health-care workers and to consumers. It is sold at CVS, Target, Walgreens, Walmart and other major retailers.

The mask is aimed at those most susceptible to the flu, including pregnant women, the elderly and cancer patients.

Another innovator honored Monday night is Chicago-based Feeding America, formerly known as America’s Second Harvest, which set up food pantries inside schools — a concept that has grown to 350 schools serving 66,660 children.

“The School Pantry program is a far more dignified way for children and families to get food rather than standing in line at an emergency food pantry or kitchen,” said Maura Daly, chief communication and development officer.

The food banks typically distribute the food on a designated day each week or month. Some schools use “mobile” food pantries that pull up outside of a school and let families choose their food rather than being handed a bag of pre-selected items, Daly said.

“No program looks exactly the same,” she said.

The other winners are, in alphabetical order:

BrightTag, Chicago, for introducing a new way to connect websites to digital marketing and analytics services in real time. The result has helped ecommerce websites work faster and respond more quickly to users.

Catamaran, of Lisle, for its enhanced benefits coordination that processes pharmacy claims when the customer is paying at the pharmacy counter, saving the healthcare industry billions of dollars and patients time and frustration.

Champion Medical Technologies, Lake Zurich, for its RecallConnect, described by the FDA as “the Holy Grail of medical device tracking.” The product automatically matches alerts about recalled medical devices to a hospital’s inventory system and notifies doctors and nurses when a patient is exposed to a recalled device.

Coyote Logistics, Chicago, for its private fleet business model that dispatches trucks in the most effective way to eliminate “empty miles” by keeping the fleets loaded and constantly delivering goods.

Cummins Allison Corp., Mount Prospect, the only U.S.-based manufacturer of coin and currency-handling products, for the JetScan iFX i100. Banks, casinos and currency processing businesses use the product because it quickly and accurately scans currency, checks and tickets.

Littelfuse, Chicago, for its TMOV255/TMOV345 Varistor, a power surge protector for outdoor LED lighting and solar power applications, whose semiconductor circuitry make them vulnerable to lightning strikes and other power surges.

OptionsCity Software, Chicago, for Freeway, software that gives independent traders access for the first time to the highly competitive world of algorithmic trading. The software is available at OptionsCity’s Algo Store, dubbed the “iTunes of the trading world.”

Polybrite International, Naperville, a subsidiary of the Goeken Group Corp. and a leader in light-emitting diode (LED) lighting technology, for the Borealis A19 LED light bulb. The LED lamp consumers up to 90 percent less energy than a traditional incandescent light and glows for 50,000 hours, or nearly twice most of its rivals’ lifespan.

SMS Assist, Chicago, for Real Time Vendor Management, a web-based solution for managing building-maintenance outsourcing on a local, regional and national scale. The platform boasts 40,000 client sites and 28,000 vendors.

The Sun-Times is a media sponsor of the Chicago Innovation Awards.

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