Innovation Awards Seeking Nominations — And Not Just in Tech


    Innovators of all kinds across Wisconsin will be honored October 4 at the fourth annual Wisconsin Innovation Awards, and you have until Thursday to let organizers know who you think should win.

    “I would just think about is there a person, is there a company, is there a service that you’ve used recently or come across in Madison, or in Wisconsin, where you’ve looked and then go, wow, that is really different, that’s really interesting, that’s really cool,” says WIA founder Matt Younkle. “If that has ever struck you, that would be somebody to nominate. We’re just looking for that spark of innovation and then it’s up to that person that you nominate to tell us a little bit about how they’re doing, how they’re faring.”

    Younkle says innovation isn’t just about tech, either.

    “That’s one of the things that we’re doing with the Wisconsin Innovation Awards is casting a pretty wide net around innovation,” he says. “We’re looking at not just tech and bio-tech, certainly we’re looking at those too, but also at education, at the arts, non-profits, manufacturing, anywhere innovation is happening.”

    After a business or person is nominated, they’ll receive notification and have the chance to give organizers more information about their business or organization. In other words, you don’t need to know many details about the person or business you’re nominating — just a name and why you think they deserve an award.

    Younkle says the award is all about innovation — not necessarily profit.

    “What are the external proof points that this innovation is meaningful to whomever it’s designed to serve?” Younkle says. “We’re looking at innovation in all sorts of different forms, we’re not just limited to say how many customers you have.”

    A panel of more than 20 judges will narrow the nominations to finalists, which will then be organized into nine categories. A tenth winner will be named by popular vote.

    Winners will “primarily get the admiration and respect of their peers,” Younkle says. “We want to make the winners famous, we put out press releases and the usual kind of things. They get a fantastic award, which is a glass light bulb award. The award itself is pretty neat. This year, we’re doing something a little bit new. We’ve contracted with a terrific video production company and all the finalists are gonna end up with a wonderfully produced video of themselves talking about their innovation. The finalists will end up with probably a little bit of extra footage. Every finalist and every winner will have a terrific video showcasing their innovation that they can use and share as the program at the Wisconsin Innovation Awards. What we’re gonna do is build a library of those stories of the innovators in our state and hopefully, that’ll be a terrific resource to inspire other folks to innovate and create, to build things.”

    Other opportunities might come with that publicity. Younkle recalls one of the first winners, Scanalytics.

    “They have a technology that puts sensors into floors, so you can determine where and when people are walking around and can actually I.D. people by their walk and their footprint,” Younkle says. “It’s helpful for advertisers or people at trade shows where there’s a lot of different places where you might be able to apply that technology. But, the reason that one stands out for me is the year that they won, our keynote speaker at the awards program was the founder of Atari. Nolan Bushnell is his name, the founder of Atari computer, but he is also the founder of Chuck E. Cheese, and he gave the keynote speech and then was sitting back in the audience and listening and hearing about Scanalytics and afterwards approached them, and now Nolan ended up on the board of Scanalytics. Here we have this visionary, luminary who came to Wisconsin and is now involved with this Wisconsin company.”

    Younkle was inspired to start The Wisconsin Innovation Awards after winning a similar award in Chicago for his invention, Turbo Tap, a device to help bartenders serve more beer and less foam.

    “I was a winner for a product called Turbo Tap a number of years ago and there are a number of things that they did that I really liked,” Younkle says. “One of which was, while a lot of awards programs are innovation awards program in a way, are either toward tech, or bio-tech, or engineering in software, one of the great things that they did is that they recognized innovation in a lot of different sectors.”

    Younkle says it’s also important that the Wisconsin Innovation Awards celebrate innovators across the state.

    “We’re looking at innovation across the entire State of Wisconsin, not just within one city or region,” he says. “That’s another thing that I think we can do better on here in Wisconsin is really connecting up the various regions. There’s always been kind of a divide between Madison and Milwaukee, and certainly when you push out to the rest of the state, there’s a lot of folks in Madison and Milwaukee that really don’t know a lot of the great things that are happening elsewhere. The awards program is about recognizing the top innovators across all sectors and in also trying to get people from around the state to come together, meet each other and connect a lot of dots.”

    Nominations are due at noon on Thursday, June 1. Nominees will then have a few days to finish their application.