Thursday, April 12, 2018

Eleven inaugural “Innovator of the Year” awards handed out to central Illinois organizations

The University of Illinois Springfield, Innovate Springfield and the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine handed out eleven “Innovator of the Year” awards to organizations during the inaugural Illinois Capital Innovation Competition Awards on April 6, 2018, at the UIS Student Union.

More than 100 individual applicants applied for award consideration. The goal of the awards were to identify, celebrate and engage area innovators in the Sangamon County area and bring them together to collaborate with leaders from industry, social impact organizations and government.

Megan Luckey and Khara Koffel of Jacksonville, founders of Serious Products, received the “Innovator of the Year” award in the startup category. The two are the inventors of Serious Lip Balm, a company that hand makes all-natural lip balm out of beeswax, sweet almond oil, shea butter, lanolin and scented lip balm oil.

In the business solutions category, Barnabus Helmy of Springfield, creator of The Puck at SmashToast, was honored with an “Innovator of the Year” award. The Puck is a small device which allows smartphone control of any TV, speaker or other machine which accepts an infrared signal. One Puck can control multiple devices, allowing users to “toss the remote.”

The roots category honored innovation that has been applied outside of the area by an innovator who has roots in central Illinois. Andrew Arenz, owner of Spare Accessories, who grew up in Auburn, Illinois, won the “Innovator of the Year” award in this category. Arenz invented the patent-pending Reel Rack, the only spare tire cover that holds fishing poles securely on your spare tire.

The “Innovator of the Year” award for UIS research was presented to Yanhui Guo, Ph.D., UIS assistant professor of computer science, for his work in computer-aided microcalsifications (MC) in the detection of breast cancer using DCNN classifiers.

An award was also presented to UIS student Miranda Mogle, a business administration major from Chatham, who started Good News Now. Good News Now is a news content aggregator that screens out unpleasant news stories providing consumers with only positive news, which studies show leads to overall greater emotional happiness for children and adults.

The “Innovator of the Year” honor in the government solutions category was awarded to the Illinois Department of Innovation & Technology’s Blockchain Initiative, which is made up of a consortium of Illinois state and county agencies. Blockchain and distributed ledger technology has the potential to redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust and make a leading contribution to the State’s digital transformation.

The award in the community solutions category was given to the Community Health and Support Team at the SIU Center for Family Medicine for the CHIS intensive care coordination outreach model. Award-winners include Tracey Smith, DNP, Dr. Nichole Mirocha and Meghan Golden with SIU Medicine and Janice Frueh, clinical associate professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. CHIS programs provide crisis intervention, brief treatment and connection to longer term community and primary health care. The CHIS multi-pronged approach is a proactive and comprehensive program currently providing immediate health care linkage to stabilize participants through a variety of evidence-based programs.

In the health care application category, the “Innovator of the Year” honor went to Dr. Gregory Mishkel and Amy Durako with the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery Program (ERAS) at Prairie Cardiovascular. As part of the ERAS program, patients can connect with their doctors through the Seamless MD app. The app is provided at no cost to patients and has resulted in a decrease length of stay for open heart surgery patients, has increased compliance with cardiac rehab and decreased use of opioids for pain management in patients utilizing the app.

Ashim Gupta, Ph.D. and Dr. Michael Neumeister with the SIU School of Medicine and Sohyung Cho, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, were honored with the “Innovator of the Year” award for medical device. They invented a syringe system for fluid separation during surgery that helps reduce the time a patient is under anesthesia, as well as the time the surgeons and anesthesiologist are in the operating room.

SIU School of Medicine physicians were also honored with the “Innovator of the Year” award in the medical research category. Andrew Wilber, Ph.D. and Christopher Chambers, Ph.D. along with Jeffrey Miller developed a hemoglobin gene therapy to treat Sickle Cell Anemia and Beta-thalassemia. Each year, 300,000 – 500,000 babies are born with one of these disorders.

An honorary “Innovator of the Year” award was presented to Zack Kerker, Derek Parris, Jared Phillips, Kevin O'Dea, Andrew Harby, Beth Neuhoff, Michael Hulvey and Danielle Outlaw with Neuhoff Media in Springfield for their digital, on-demand, personalized delivery of sports information in Sangamon County.

The awards competition was open to researchers, inventors, entrepreneurs, startups, existing businesses, institutions, social entrepreneurs, non-profits and other individuals who currently live in and around Sangamon County, who have lived here at some point in their lives, or are willing to relocate here.

For more information, contact Bruce Sommer with the UIS Center for Entrepreneurship at 217/899-3186 or

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