ThincA lot of thought leaders focus on those who make national headlines for their innovation efforts. Big-name corporations are continually coming up with new ideas and new products, but we also need to look in our own backyards and recognize the incredible ingenuity coming from local and regional companies near to us.

I am fortunate to be a part of what’s known in Northeast Wisconsin as The New North. Here, local innovators are applauded for the game-changing contributions they make. A week ago I was thrilled to see the winners of the first Insight Innovation Awards. Our company, Innovationedge, is a longtime friend and collaborator with Insight Publications, and I include their fantastic news here:

Winners of first annual Insight Innovation Awards announced at THINC! event May 20

Five regional companies and organizations were named winners of the first Insight Innovation Awards at the third annual THINC! event held 3-6 p.m. May 20 at UW-Fox Valley.

Winners by category were: People – Holy Family Memorial, Manitowoc; Process – Breakthrough Fuel, Green Bay; Product – The Solberg Company, Green Bay; and Planet – MEGTEC, De Pere. St. Norbert College received a special award, Integrating Innovation.

Coordinated and hosted by Insight Publications LLC, Appleton, THINC! (Technology & Human Innovation Networking Conference) was designed to shine the spotlight on innovation in the 18-county New North region. A total of 43 companies were nominated for the Insight Innovation Award.

“Seeing the depth and breadth of innovative practices and associated business results across our region was very reassuring and exciting,” one of the judges said. “All the applicants should be proud of their work and the winners that represent the ‘best of the best’ should be especially pleased in being recognized as leading the region in innovation.”

TEC (The Executive Committee) sponsored the keynote speaker, Efrem Z. Stringfellow, Microsoft Vice President, Central U.S. Region. Other program sponsors were WMEP, Wipfli, Tushaus, Miron and Ark Media Group. First Business Bank and New North, Inc., sponsored the networking reception.


Holy Family Memorial

Twelve years ago, Holy Family Memorial made a commitment to radical change, when the health-care organization launched an initiative to move from a “sick care” to a “wellness” focus, emphasizing patient safety, quality and cost containment. The changes they made resulted not only in measurable, positive patient outcomes and employee job satisfaction but also saved an average of more than $4.3 million annually.

The organization has recently begun to help other entities in its community begin their own journey toward Lean, including the city of Manitowoc.

Our judges, who awarded Holy Family with the Insight Innovation Award in the “People” category, were impressed by the depth in which this organization engaged its 1,200 employees with incremental improvement and “Blue Ocean strategy” as they embraced an internal mantra of “Inspired Caring.”


Breakthrough Fuel

Breakthrough Fuel, winner in the “Process” category, was founded on a single innovative idea: How to leverage technology and information to help shippers reduce their energy cost, consumption and emissions.

Judges were impressed that the company, which employs 43 people, has made innovation a core part of its business with a commitment to release a new, innovative solution to the market within every 14 months. Each year, it invests nearly 10 percent of its revenue and time into innovative projects, research and development.

Breakthrough Fuel created a business model that allows its clients (large shipping organizations) to align reimbursement for fuel to the actual cost that is paid for that fuel by their transportation partners. It has been awarded two patents and has others pending for the technology that enables it to serve its clients. In a nutshell, it eliminates the distortion created by traditional fuel surcharge programs, and with its technology helps its clients reduce the cost, consumption and emissions in their supply chain. The resulting transparency has created stronger partnerships, reduced waste and led to new fact-based approaches to problem solving.


The Solberg Company

The Solberg Company, recognized globally for its environmentally-friendly firefighting foam concentrates and foam suppression systems hardware used in industries ranging from aerospace and aviation to petrochemical and utilities, caught the eye of the judges for a product it introduced one year ago.

Called RE-HEALING Foam, the high-performance, environmentally-friendly foam concentrate is the first significant innovation in firefighting foam since the 1960s, when synthetic-based foam concentrates replaced foams based of animal proteins. Synthetic products have since proven harmful to the environment and are under an EPA 2015 Stewardship Program to change their chemical compositions.

Solberg’s RE-HEALING impressed the judges, who named it the Insight Innovation Award in the Category, “Product,” because it has allowed the company to achieve full EPA compliance before a 2015 deadline – something its competitors have not yet claimed.  As a stand-alone division of Amerex Corporation, Solberg employs 34 globally, including 14 in Green Bay.


MEGTEC Systems

A global manufacturer of environmental solutions and engineered product, MEGTEC Systems employs 600 people worldwide, including about half in De Pere.

Although the company got its start in the paper and printing markets more than 45 years ago, it has transformed into a sustainability-focused company providing capital equipment solutions for air pollution abatement, sustainable industrial processes and end products linked to clean technologies.

The judges were impressed that MEGTEC was able to take its core competencies in drying and air pollution control to expand its market focus and develop innovative solutions for air pollution control equipment and machinery.

Today, the company produces lithium-ion battery electrode materials for electric cars, wind and solar energy storage, membranes for water purification, and other advanced materials. Its R&D pilot facility in De Pere is one of only several in the world that allows customers to test and develop products on production-size equipment for energy storage applications. It has generated more than $60 million in additional revenue in the past six years in this new business segment.


St. Norbert College

Contest judges created a special award to recognize the organization-wide commitment St. Norbert College has made to folding big ideas into everything it does: Integrating Innovation.

In 2013, St. Norbert President Tom Kunkel invited a member of his cabinet to take on the challenge of creating a team to further foster an innovative culture at the college and identify strategic opportunities. “The Big Ideas Group” was charged with soliciting forward-thinking ideas. Everyone – from students and faculty to alumni, trustees and Norbertines – was asked to submit ideas. In less than 90 days, 250 ideas flooded in. From these, five clusters of innovation were chosen; the best will be incorporated into the Strategic Plan for the college.

All of this is happening within the backdrop of major changes and enhancements at the college. Within the last five years, more than $100 million in construction has taken place, the Medical College of Wisconsin will have a campus at St. Norbert and the Donald Schneider School of Business and MBA program was recently announced.


Nominees were invited to apply for the awards. An independent panel of judges narrowed applicants to 15 finalists. They scored each finalist based on four criteria:

1) How does the innovation differentiate the applicant?

2) What positive, tangible results came out of the innovation?

3) Is the innovation sustainable?

4) How did the innovation help the applicant’s customers?

Besides the winners, finalists were: Appleton Group, LLC, Appleton; Aver Informatics, Inc., Green Bay; Bay Tek Games, Pulaski; EDCi (Electroline Data Communications Inc.), Appleton; Menasha Corporation, Neenah; Omni Resources, Inc., Appleton; Orion Energy Systems, Manitowoc; Paper Transport, Inc., Green Bay; Séura, Green Bay; and Xensr, Green Bay.

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