Do you think you experience innovation in your life?  I’m certain you do.  While it’s easy to assume innovation only happens in places like Silicon Valley tech companies or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it’s actually happening all around us every day – including in our Central Minnesota communities.

Simply put, innovation is finding a solution to a problem or a need.  Every single thing we use daily and take for granted was once someone’s innovative solution to a problem.  Consider, for example, cake mix.  My father was a chemical engineer who worked in research and development for Pillsbury.  One of his projects was exploring how to refine the quality of the powder in a boxed cake mix so that it would blend without lumps.  While he worked in a kitchen laboratory at Pillsbury, our home kitchen occasionally served as his lab.  I recall one year when his home experiment became my birthday cake.  However, one does not need to be an engineer to innovate.  Anyone and everyone can – and does – innovate.

While I don’t have data to back up this idea, I think there may be a correlation between a community’s quality of life and the amount of innovation taking place in it.  At the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC) we understand that innovation plays a vital role in economic vibrancy.  We currently have two initiatives that represent this: Our annual Innovation Awards and our work in creating and supporting a vibrant regional business start-up ecosystem.

Our annual Innovation Awards is one of my favorite projects in my role at GSDC.  Since 2012 we have been recognizing innovation in our greater St. Cloud community with these awards – 26 to date.  We think it is important to shine a light on innovations that might otherwise go unnoticed.  Innovation is a big deal, so we choose to make a big deal of it.  Each year we give out four awards:

  • One award to an emerging for-profit company
  • One award to an established for-profit company
  • One award to each of two non-profit organizations

You’ll notice that two of those awards recognize non-profit organizations.  While it may be typical to expect innovation to take place in for-profit companies, we understand that it is equally essential for non-profit organization to be innovative in order to carry out their mission effectively and efficiently. A vibrant community needs innovation in both sectors.

Last week we celebrated these four organizations and innovations:

Horizon Virtual (for-profit/emerging company), for a remote telehealth platform provides overnight physician coverage to rural hospitals.  It leverages state-of-the-art technology in a real-time virtual telehealth platform to deliver real-time care to patients needing a consult or an admission to the hospital.

Central McGowan (for-profit/established company) for their process of combining robotics with fixed automation to create systems that meet the unique needs of each manufacturing customer. 

Community Action Team/CAT (non-profit organization) for their multi-agency team of professionals who work directly with active utilizers of services in the community and those caught up in the justice system due to mental health concerns.  It resulted from a larger collaborative effort around decreasing recidivism and providing a more effective response to mental health in the community.  

Neighbors to Friends (non-profit organization), for Shower the People, a mobile shower truck for the homeless.  They also assist homeless people in getting their laundry done through Laundry Love, a neighborhood movement.

Each awardee received a trophy, a $1,000 cash prize and a video produced to showcase their innovation.  I encourage you to watch those short videos.  I know you will be inspired. At GSDC we’re delighted to shine the light on the wonderful people and projects taking place in our community and contributing to our vibrant quality of life.

Watch the 2019 Innovation Award videos here. Enjoy!

Sonja Gidlow is Investor Relations and Communications Director at the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation.