Honoring Innovation • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Honoring Innovation

Remarkable is a word that can easily be overused. But when it comes to the accomplishments of the 2010 Fellows of the Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, remarkable doesn’t come close to describing their vision.

One wondered why a system couldn’t be set up to feed the world’s 1.2 billion hungry. Another created a way to give mobility to those who couldn’t walk. Another brought dignity to the cadaver procurement process at a medical school.
There are educators, manufacturers, inventors and a partnership between a university and the Navy, yet this diverse group has a common goal—teaching others to better themselves and society.

The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana was created in 2005, and this year marks the sixth induction of Fellows into the organization. John Davies, the managing director of the organization, says it recognizes those whose work has made a difference for the residents of Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper, Pulaski, Starke and Newton counties. This year, six fellows and two winners of the Chanute Prize (recognizing team innovation) are being inducted.


Exploration Earth: Mission Ocean. Purdue University Calumet and the U.S. Navy
Getting elementary and middle school children excited about math isn’t easy. But offer them a trip to the bottom of the ocean to find a volcano, and they’ll jump at it—even though they have to know how to do complicated math quickly.
That’s what Mission Ocean does, and it’s available on any classroom computer.

Dr. Robert Rivers of the Center for Science & Technology Education at Purdue University Calumet explains that the key innovations in the program are getting students to work as a team and providing a real-world environment to show the results of their work.

Some 1,100 students at Hammond’s Clark, Eggers, Gavit and Scott middle schools, plus schools in southeastern Indiana, northern Kentucky and Cincinnati use Mission Ocean to learn concepts in science and mathematics.

David Miskimens is a civilian liaison with the Navy who works with Rivers. “Dr. Rivers came up with the idea; I just provided some help.” That help is several hundred thousand dollars in grants to get the program up and going.

Miskimens adds, “I was out there in May to watch 30 students graduate from the program. It was exciting to see them working and cooperating in a simulated mission.”

Rivers says, “People are wowed by the way students work together. This puts children in charge of their own learning. Adults are helping, but when they observe this, they notice that students are completely engaged in doing what they need to do to be successful. That’s what we need to build into educational programs.”

Dage-MTI. John and Peggy Moore, Michigan City
Vision—and a bit of risk taking—makes a difference. Seven years ago, Dage-MTI, a small Michigan City company, was on the brink of closing. John and Peggy Moore stepped in and transformed the specialty camera company into a leading supplier of high-tech cameras and lenses for medical microscopes.

Even though the company had been around for half a century, the Moores say little money had been put into research and development. “We needed to get into the digital field as soon as possible,” says John Moore.

By hiring the right engineers and designers, and partnering with Kodak, Dage-MTI turned around. “We can compete with anybody worldwide,” Peggy Moore says, adding that the company recently developed a process to use high-definition technology in microscopes to give researchers the clearest view yet of tumors by looking on a large-screen HD television.

“We’re a strong player in biomedical research,” says Peggy, adding that the company’s cameras are used in cancer research and DNA analysis. Dage-MTI has eight employees, a number the Moores say keeps the company flexible.
The company’s work isn’t limited to medical research. It still makes old-style analog cameras and vacuum tubes for nuclear plants. The analog camera and tubes can withstand huge amounts of radiation, while newer digital cameras cannot.

“These cameras are so expensive the industry tends not to adopt new cameras every year. But as technology changes,” says Peggy Moore, “we will introduce a new generation of cameras.”

Ralph Braun. Braun Corp., Winamac
Doctors told Ralph Braun’s parents when he was a boy that he wouldn’t live into his teens. He was born with muscular dystrophy, but it turned out to be a non-fatal form of the affliction. Still, he was confined to a wheelchair.

That, however, didn’t confine his mind, which was full of ideas about how he could get around better. In 1969, Braun converted an old post office Jeep by putting a power tailgate on it so it would load and unload a tri-wheel vehicle he had created.

It was the first wheelchair-accessible vehicle and the seed grew into Braun Corp., the nation’s largest supplier of wheelchair-accessible vans. Today, the company has 700 employees and 275 dealers.

Nick Gutwein is general manager. “There is absolutely nothing stopping Ralph Braun. He simply won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s the way he’s wired.”

“I wanted independent transportation for myself,” Braun says. “Basically, I saw how that lift could raise up a heavy object into a pickup truck, so with modifications and mounting it onto the back of the post office vehicle I could lift myself up into the Jeep.”

“I think the innovation that I have is the ability of being a highly mechanical person. I have used that to help my cohorts sitting in wheelchairs. I understand their needs because I have the same needs.”

Robert Forney. Founder, Global Foodbanking Network, Michigan CityIt was the late Robert Forney’s view there were too many hungry people in the world. So he created Global Foodbanking Network. He had begun creating a food distribution network in South Africa when he died suddenly on Aug. 29.

He previously led America’s Second Harvest, and before that, helped develop an application software business before selling to Dun and Bradstreet and becoming president of the Chicago Stock Exchange.

Maurice Weaver, spokesman for GFN in Chicago, was the third employee Forney hired. “His fervor and passion never wavered,” says Weaver. “He would reach out and touch people of all faiths and build bridges to solve a common program. He had the patience and perseverance to avoid turf wars and duplication of service.”

In an interview before he died, Forney explained that the 1.2 billion people who were “food insecure” weren’t getting enough to eat because of a distribution problem. So he approached some of the world’s biggest food makers and retailers—Cargill, Walmart and Nestle—and convinced them the food wasted in their operations could be given or sold at discount to food banks.

Then Forney developed a process using technology and the resources of established organizations to get food where it was needed. “Most countries have plenty of food. The challenge is to get the food to the people who need it.
“Every five years I want to reinvent myself,” Forney said in the interview. “When I die, if my tombstone reads, ‘He was a good student,’ that would be OK. I think that says it all—that I was a student of my family, a student of the unknown, a student of all challenges.”

Tom Sourlis. Mortar Net, Burns Harbor
Tom Sourlis loves donating to education charities. But without his simple idea that transformed the masonry construction industry, his contributions wouldn’t be as generous as they are.

Sourlis admits his idea was so simple he was surprised no one else had thought of it. He drew up his concept on a napkin in about 30 seconds, and then let it sit for a few years before turning it into the gold standard of the masonry construction industry.

The problem was that droppings of mortar inside hollow foundation blocks would cover holes in plastic drainage piping. That meant rainwater had nowhere to go except through the wall, causing damp basements.
What he came up with was a system of nets to catch and divide mortar clumps into pieces too small to block the drainage holes. “The idea seemed so simple, I almost didn’t go with it to market,” he says.
Called Mortar Net, the product is used by contractors across the country. Even though he had a solution to an old problem (he got a patent in 1992), he didn’t get it to market until 2000. “Mortar Net has allowed me to pursue new ideas,” says Sourlis. “My mind bounces around like a rubber ball, and sometimes it is hard to really focus because I am thinking of something else.”

P. Scott Bening. MonoSol, Merrillville
Taking a company with $1.2 million in sales and turning it into a world leader with $80 million in sales, required lots of innovation. P. Scott Bening, CEO of MonoSol LLC in Merrillville, accomplished that in 21 years, and in the process became a leader in water-soluble film manufacturing.

Bening, a chemist turned CEO, holds six patents used in detergents and dishwasher products. Most recently, he developed a water-soluble film that can hold a liquid, something that could be used in pharmaceuticals.
“MonoSol is a very unique organization that has taken very old technology and grown it into a niche business that has gone global,” says Bening.

So how does a company use technology that’s been around for decades? By combining different uses of the product to see if it can be used to form something new. Bening compares it to old television shows. “Think of TV shows and syndicated reruns. Sometimes they do better the second time around.

“We’ve built a wonderful, rapidly growing company,” says Bening. “We will take risks we can afford. Our main focus every day at MonoSol is figuring out what needs to be done and then figuring out how to get it done.”

Ernest Talarico Jr., Ph.D. Indiana University Medical Center Northwest, Gary
As assistant director of medical education at IU Northwest’s medical school, one of Ernest Talarico’s jobs is to procure cadavers for students. Over the past 11 years, he’s turned it into a more caring process.

He created the International Human Cadaver Prosection Program, which is studied by medical students and professionals around the world. “It started because of the way donors were treated,” says Talarico. “They were treated as a number. They didn’t have a name. What’s innovative is that we treat the entire family.”

The process includes cadaver imaging so all students can learn from the dissection on all cadavers, not just their own. The school works closely with Methodist Hospitals and at the conclusion of the program, Talarico holds a service of thanksgiving and remembrance.

“Medical students and others give thanks to the donors and their families,” says Talarico. “These donors give the greatest gift—themselves. The memorial service gives our medical students an opportunity to reflect and to know the names of these individuals.”
In 2008, Talarico presented details of his program to the American Association of Medical College at its annual meeting at Ohio State University. It was judged the most innovative program in medical education.

Howard Cohen, Ph.D., Chancellor, Purdue University Calumet, Hammond
As Purdue University Calumet has transformed from a small commuter college into a full-service regional university, there has been one constant—Chancellor Howard Cohen.

Cohen says his most important contribution was experiential learning, a discipline in which all students are required to take at least two courses in order to graduate. Purdue Calumet is the only university in the nation with that requirement.
Experiential learning is common for students in teaching and nursing, but to require it of all students is new. “This is a way to make sure they will be a good fit,” says Cohen. “We’re the right size and in the right location for such a program. I don’t think every university could do this.”

Cohen says innovation is taking existing elements and putting them together in a new way. “It’s not innovation in the sense that no other institution has dreamed of being a full-service regional university; there are many around the country. But I don’t think that any of the campuses in Northwest Indiana have that profile, and I think we are providing all of the services you would expect from a full-service regional institution.”

Cohen also has developed partnerships with area businesses to help teach and mentor students.

“It takes 1,000 people to do this, but if I did anything, I convinced them it was possible,” says Cohen. “Leadership is articulating a common goal so people remember what we are here for.”


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