Pride & Pedestal: Pass the Torch of Innovation • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Pride & Pedestal: Pass the Torch of Innovation

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John Davies is the Managing Director for the Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana and as part of their mission to support entrepreneurship and leadership across the region Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly invited him to offer a recap of the organization's April event. The Society of Innovators was launched by Ivy Tech NW and principal sponsors at ArcelorMittal, Bukva Imaging, Horseshoe Casino, Kreig DeVault, Ivy Tech NW and The Times Media Company.

“Last night was fantastic…The passionate marinator, the singing scientist, the emotional sewer man…what a night of theatre!

—Bill Keith, Sunrise Solar, Inc. St. John

What happens when you bring 10 innovators together from diverse backgrounds?  Ask them to go onstage and present their innovations in three minutes each? Then invite the audience to mix with them afterward for a robust evening of networking?

No one anticipated the reaction, which was a mix of surprise, delight, and in some ways astonishment.

But this is exactly what happened at the Towle Theater in north Hammond on April 8th. The event was our first Pride & Pedestal: Pass the Torch of Innovation featuring 10 Great ideas on stage at the historic Towle Theater.

Stewart McMillan, president, of Task Force Tips, who opened his new world headquarters in Valparaiso and “keynoted” this event, said: “I want you to know how important that event was in connecting people and ideas.”  Stewart played a huge role because he set the tone by talking about serendipity and how this leads to great ideas.  Another talked about how the audience was “spellbound” and the event was almost “magical.” Yet another described it as “inspired innovation.”

This event to promote innovation in Northwest Indiana was sponsored by Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana Northwest and The Society of Innovators, which is part of the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center of Ivy Tech NW.

The event originated with the Society's Deployment Committee led by Keith Kirkpatrick, president, KPM Group and executive director, Leadership Northwest Indiana, and his committee. Members are Kathy DeGuilio-Fox, executive director, Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana; Gayle Faulkner-Kosalko, retired executive director of the Whiting/Robertsdale Chamber and a 2005 Fellow in the Society; and Eric Horon, Operations Advertising Manager, The Times Media Company. Also serving on this committee and playing a significant role in the success is O'Merrial Butchee, interim chair, Society of Innovators, and director of the Lamkin I & E Center.  Credit also goes to Jeff Casey, managing director of the Towle Theater for his tremendous help with this event and his service to The Society.

So why did this generate such a response? Why do this? And what is the Society of Innovators anyway?

Let me start with the last question first. In 2005, Ivy Tech NW launched the state?s first organized approach to discover, honor, and celebrate innovators and innovation. This initiative was led by Chancellor J. Guadalupe Valtierra, Ivy Tech NW, who coined the theme that has become part of the culture of The Society that “Anyone can be an innovator.”

Today, The Society has about 160 Members involving both individuals and teams. These range from students to sophisticated teams of research scientists. Each year, The Society can select up to six Fellows for innovation. These Fellows receive a $500 cash grant and plaque, courtesy of ArcelorMittal. One of these Fellows can be named the Gerald I. Lamkin Fellow for Innovation and Service. This Fellow also receives a plaque and a cash award of $1000. The Society also can confer among our Team Members the Chanute Prize for Team Innovation. Chanute led glider experiments along our lakeshore, and helped the Wright Brothers “get off the ground.” The Chanute Prize itself is a traveling trophy. This winning team also receives a plaque and cash grant of $500 for charity, courtesy of Kreig DeVault law firm.

So what does it mean to have The Society in a region of seven counties? I think it means three things. First, it means that this region values innovation; we recognize that “innovation is the lifeblood” of companies, communities, regions, states and nations. So this is helpful in reminding leadership that they need to give importance to innovation. Secondly, by discovering innovation in established organizations as well as startups, we can change perceptions about this region; if people think they know us, think again. But I think the third reason is the most important and is work in progress. It is our responsibility to promote an understanding of innovation “across the generations.”

Make no mistake. Innovation is the rock of America. Peter Drucker taught us that innovation is the tool that entrepreneur uses to change the world. Business can?t stand still, but must continuously evolve. All of us must look for new and better ways to solve problems, find solutions, and make lives better.

If innovation is so important, why do a “Pride & Pedestal” event? By the way, the name comes from pride in the spark of ingenuity and then placing the innovation on a pedestal. So why do this is if the truth of innovation is self-evident?

I believe there are a thousand stories of innovation in Northwest Indiana. But the fact is that most of us don?t look for it and often, are not encouraged or even rewarded to be innovative. By pointing out innovation, it can remind people of their own unheralded ingenuity, or more likely the case, remind us to be more innovative, more ingenious. Why? Because the status quo is no longer acceptable.

This inspired us at Ivy Tech several years ago to launch what we call our “Innovators Cafes.” Basically, we go into a workplace and the CEO and his or her team hosts a boxed lunch for leaders in the audience, and then talks about how work done there is innovative. This is followed by a tour. Since 2006, Ivy Tech in cooperation with The Society of Innovators has held 12 “Cafes.” Our next one is at Porter Health on Sept. 23, 2010.

Just why did the “Pride & Pedestal” event elicit such a response? I believe it touched within the audience the capacity for wonder that sometimes we have lost.

I'll just mention one of the 10 presenters. Her name is Mary Hunter. She has a large family and she cooks a lot. One day, she was pouring over recipes at her kitchen table holding a pen. She had an inspired vision to create a marinating stick modeled after that writing instrument. Today, it is patented, used by chefs across the country and soon will be sold in Walmart. More information about “Mary's Marinating Stick” is on

Who would have thought that a great grandmother from Gary would try to change the cooking world. Mary did!  After all, Mary's an innovator and innovators don't quit!


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