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Innovation awards honor those ‘foolish enough to try’

Article Source: The News Gazette, Don Dodson, February 24, 2012

URBANA — What’s the common bond of most innovators and entrepreneurs?

According to Nuvixa founder Sanjay Patel, they’re “foolish enough to try things they shouldn’t be trying” and have “the stubbornness of mind” to persist in those efforts.

On Thursday, Patel and 10 other entrepreneurial leaders won awards for their work at the seventh annual Innovation Celebration.

The evening also highlighted the accomplishments of 18 other finalists, many of them founders of high-tech companies.

About 250 people filled the Beckman Institute auditorium for the awards, sponsored in part by the Champaign County Economic Development Corp.

Among the winners:

— Shahid Khan won the Economic Development Impact Award for developing Urbana-based Flex-N-Gate Corp. into an international supplier of bumpers and other parts for the automotive industry.

Emcee Laura Frerichs said Khan’s first job in the United States was washing dishes for $1.20 an hour. But after attending the University of Illinois and working at Flex-N-Gate, he started Bumper Works and later acquired Flex-N-Gate.

Today the company employs 12,450 people at 48 manufacturing plants in the United States and has $3 billion in annual revenues, she said.

Khan was out of the country Thursday, and Dave Kirkolis, Flex-N-Gate’s vice president of engineering, accepted the award on his behalf.

“Champaign-Urbana is very important to him,” Kirkolis told the crowd. “At the end of the day, he wants to make sure he made a difference.” Receiving that award is a sign he’s “on the right track,” Kirkolis said.

— Betty Brennan, owner of Taylor Studios in Rantoul, received the Longevity Through Innovation Award. Her company fabricates exhibits for museums throughout the nation. Brennan said the company is marking 20 years in business and has more than 35 employees.

— Brian Jurczyk, co-founder of Starfire Industries, won the Entrepreneurial Excellence in Management Award. The company, located in the University of Illinois Research Park, employs 17 and is a leader in neutron sources and plasma engineering.

Frerichs described Jurczyk as someone who would “do anything to support his team.” Jurczyk was traveling Thursday and unable to attend. His wife, Jenette Jurcyzk, accepted the award and said she’s “jealous of how excited Brian is to go to work” each day.

— Nuvixa, founded in 2009 by UI electrical and computer engineering Associate Professor Sanjay Patel, won the New Venture Award. The company, based in the UI Research Park, has used new sensing devices, advanced algorithms and new computing power to expand the potential of video presentations.

— Serionix won the Student Startup Award. The company is developing technologies for air and water purification. Specifically, it’s using fiber-based absorbents to help remove perchlorate from drinking water.

Jim Langer, president and CEO of Serionix and a doctoral student in materials science, accepted the award, acknowledging fellow doctoral student Weihua Zheng and UI Professor Emeritus James Economy.

— Scott Daigle and Marissa Siebel of IntelliWheels received the Social Entrepreneurship Award for developing an automatic gear-shifting system for wheelchairs. The device reduces shoulder pain for those using wheelchairs.

Siebel, who was traveling with the wheelchair basketball team, thanked the audience via Skype, and Daigle, there in person, called the venture “a really fun ride.”

— Dave Kranz, co-founder of both Immuven and Biodisplay, won the Technology Transfer Award given by the University of Illinois. Immuven is developing new drugs based on the engineering of T-cell receptor proteins. Kranz, a UI professor of biochemistry, has been issued more than 20 patents.

— Yi Lu, co-founder of ANDalyze Inc., received the Innovation Discovery Award given by the UI. A UI professor of chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics, he has 41 invention disclosures and 14 issued patents.

— Liz Kellner won the Entrepreneur Advocacy Award for nearly 20 years of work to support and encourage entrepreneurship in the community. She has worked at the UI’s Technology Commercialization Lab, in TechCommunity and with the Second Saturdays group. Frerichs said Kellner “is ever present behind the scenes” to make things run.

— Brian Nudelman received Parkland College’s Innovation in Engagement Award for his work with the Service-Learning Program at Parkland.

Through that program, Nudelman, an associate professor of humanities, helped get Parkland students involved in after-school programs at Garden Hills Elementary School and helped enable dental-hygiene program trips to Tennessee and India.