The chill of the fall air outside the Harris Theater nipped at my cheeks as I got out of the car. Ahead the glow of the theater lit up the sidewalk with soft gold light and groups of well-dressed people drifted towards the door.
Upon entering the warmth of the interior, the loud hum of many conversations at once washed over me in a sudden rush and I had to pause for a moment to take it all in. It quickly became apparent that of the 500+ nominees for the Chicago Innovation Awards, a large portion of them decided to show up.
Taking It All In
A short trip to check my coat and get a press pass later, I found myself looking out over the crowd mingling under the multicolored lights. The pre-award show reception itself was spread out over 3 floors, each level bathed in a different colored glow.
The room before me moved with its own unique ebb and flow as people circulated through it in their own unspoken rhythm. After taking a few minutes to grow accustomed to the pace, I managed to squeeze my way over to the table with food and drinks before setting out on my quest for interesting conversation.
Reading the Room
The theme this year was ‘lifting people up’ and so far everyone’s spirits certainly seemed to be high. In a room full of some of the smartest and most successful people in the city, it was easy pickings for a good conversation. But everybody seemed to know that the moment of truth was only a short period away and a heavy feeling of anticipation lingered in the spaces between people.
By the time the attendants carrying large balloons with small gramophone apertures began informing people that it was time to be seated, everyone seemed ready to get the show on the road. As the crowd settled and the light began to dim, the audience quieted and the real show began.
An opening number from the presenters for the evening and the Future Kingz (America’s Got Talent Semi-Finalists) got people hyped enough that the award show banter didn’t elicit too many groans.
Innovation Award co-founder, Tom Kuczmarski, came out to tell us that the 519 nominees that evening had received a combined 432 patents and 3.44 billion dollars in revenue. (Not bad Chicago, not bad at all.) And finally, we got to the part everybody was there for, the winners.
The Collaboration Award
The first award of the night, The Collaboration Award, went to Adler Planetarium for the “first ever collaboration between teens and scientists“. Christopher Bresky and Michelle Larson accepted the award on behalf of their sizable team saying:
“Innovation is a team sport.”
They’re a groundbreaking program, The Aquarius Project, utilized not only cutting-edge technology but the skill sets of multiple generations. Together they retrieved a meteorite from the bottom of Lake Michigan. The next day the Adler Planetarium had this to say:
“This may look like a large group on stage . . . but they are representative of a much larger group responsible for the successful collaboration of The Aquarius Project. Our underwater meteorite hunt project led by Adler teens has been a true team effort and they’re just getting started!”
The Neighborhood Awards
As the evening went on, the Neighborhood Awards went to Aspire, Above and Beyond, and Lakeview Pantry for their exemplary work to better their communities in Chicago.
Lakeview Pantry is a food pantry located at 3945 N. Sheridan in Chicago. Unlike many other food pantries, Lakeview boasts not only a 7,500-square-foot space but a design that is analogous to many supermarkets we see today. There’s a lot of shame people associate with being poor, but Lakeview has made preservation of their shopper’s dignity one of its priorities. Kellie O’Connell, Chief Executive Officer of Lakeview Pantry had this to say:
“At Lakeview Pantry, we are reinventing the way people who don’t know where their next meal will come from find that next meal. With our Sheridan building, Lakeview Pantry demonstrates that dignity is something much more important to the human spirit than any amount of charity.”
Above and Beyond
Above and Beyond is a family recovery center that aims at helping people who suffer from addiction. The program is aimed at helping people not just with the arduous recovery that awaits them after a detox, but with their own personal growth as well. Hosting multiple programs including Alcoholics Anonymous, Trauma and Group Therapy, Rage Reduction, Life Skills, Housing, and many more Above and Beyond does it’s best to make a difference in its neighborhood.
The last of the neighborhood award winners was Aspire, specifically their Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Career Academy. The academy works with the disabled community to provide job training for a variety of fields. By utilizing simulated work environments and hands-on job training, clients who go there are more likely to be assimilated into the workforce. Herb Washington, Vice President of Aspire Careers commented saying:
“Aspire hopes that the Academy’s unique employment model will become the new normal for not only how other disability-focused nonprofits operate, but businesses as well. Together, we can make a dent in the historically high disability unemployment rate as we place more people with disabilities in long-term, sustainable careers, bettering businesses and communities at large in the process.”
The Main Catagories
As the night progressed a total of 10 companies won awards in the main category. Winners spanned multiple fields and represented the ideals of people who seem to be striving for a better Chicago. Below we have our top 3 most interesting winners.
One thing that made Abbot notable this evening was the fact that it won an innovation award for the 7th time. This instance, their FreeStyle Libre technology that provides a non-penetrative system for continuous glucose monitoring devices. These advances have big implications for how diabetes monitoring will be conducted in the future. Abbott’s history of winning these awards for trendsetting medical technology certainly sets an impressive precedent.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum
The Illinois Holocaust Museum won its Flagship Award for its Survivors Stories Experience which incorporates holographic technology in a truly unique way. With numerous prerecorded responses, these holographic depictions of survivors telling their story are also capable of answering questions of the audience. By doing this the reality of the Holocaust can be more effectively conveyed to generations who did not live through it. In her acceptance speech Susan Abrams said:
“We want to encourage people to be upstanders instead of bystanders.”
SitterCity won this evening for its new app called Chime which allows for parents to find a qualified and background checked sitter easily and quickly. The app is an off chute of SitterCity’s larger babysitting platform which was the first online source for childcare. Chime will be launched on a national level in 2019. Upon her company winning Elizabeth Harz stated,
“We’ve connected milions of parents and babsitters . . We want to make childcare work.”
Overall, the Chicago Innovation Awards showed us that new ideas and new technology can be used to better our own neighborhoods. Success and care for others aren’t mutually exclusive and when they go hand in hand, the results are powerful.
The Full List of Winners
- Abbott for its non-penetrative FreeStyle Libre continual glucose monitoring devices for diabetes patients
- Illinois Holocaust Museum for its interactive, holographic Survivor Stories Experience
- Farmer’s Fridge’s P4, optimally stocked vending machines delivering same-day fresh salads
- Advanced Valve Technologies’ EZ Valve, efficient installation of a valve in an existing under-pressure pipe
- Molex’s 10 Gbps automotive ethernet backbone, providing industry-leading high-speed networks in connected cars
- Sittercity’s on-demand babysitting app, Chime, which allows parents to review and book sitters instantly
- UPshow, a fully customizable Social TV Platform for businesses
- Cameo, a platform enabling consumers to book personalized video greetings from celebrities
- Ensono M.O., a service management platform used to monitor and manage your entire hybrid IT estate
- Sterling’s TerraLam CLT mats, a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable work platform for construction equipment
- Codeverse, the world’s first fully interactive coding studio for kids aged 6-13
- ExerciseBuddy, an exercise app designed specifically for those with autism and related disorders
- Parker Dewey, which enables career launchers to work on professional, paid, short-term assignments for companies
- Esquify, an AI-driven workforce management platform for legal reviewer teams
- Jiobit, the world’s smallest and longest lasting tracking device designed specifically for kids
- Truss, which uses AI technology to enable small business owners to lease office, retail and industrial spaces at ease
- Unanimous AI’s Swarm AI, providing the interfaces and AI algorithms to enable “human swarms” to converge online
- Catalytic Predict, which embeds machine learning into an automated business process in under 10 minutes
- PanaceaNano, which takes early-stage nanomaterial discoveries and turns them into commercial products
- GuardianVets, a B2B telehealth platform for after hour veterinary care
- Lakeview Pantry, a food pantry that mimics the look and feel of a Whole Foods store in an effort to bring dignity to those who suffer the shame of poverty
- Above & Beyond, a completely free addiction center that emphasizes compassion, finding purpose, and goal-setting
- Aspire Chicago for the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Career Academy, an innovative job training and placement facility for adults with disabilities
Social Innovator Award
- BallotReady, a digital, non-partisan voter guide that provides voters with details on all candidates down the ballot.
- Adler Planetarium, The Aquarius Project was the first systematic attempt at a freshwater meteorite recovery, in partnership with The Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, Chicago Public Schools, NASA and the NOAA.
People’s Choice Award
- The Bra Lab, It won for their patented bra design, which incorporates 3 separate pieces (cups, back straps, and shoulder straps) to allow women to interchange pieces to suit their wardrobe needs. Out of 34,000-plus cast Bra Lab won the majority.