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Innovations change lives and fuel economic development in the entire Calumet area.

Sometimes those innovations spring from brilliant flashes of ideas, those “light bulb moments” that illuminate a challenge and its solution.

Innovation also fosters adaptation – a paradigm shift needed to look at an issue or problem and its solution from another vantage point then create a tool, a technique, a program to make a positive difference.

And sometimes innovative ideas and inventions grow and develop from collaboration, being transformed by the curiosity, talent and dedication of those involved.

No age, income or social boundaries limit creativity and innovation. However, having a light shine on those innovative ideas and their creators encourages the dreamers, thinkers and doers, says John Davies, managing director of The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana.

For the past 10 years, The Society of Innovators has celebrated “some of the region’s most innovative thinkers and doers across our seven-county region (and) original ideas that are helping to change the perception of how we look at ourselves,” Davies wrote in his Oct. 12 column in The Times newspaper.

Headquartered in the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest in Gary, The Society of Innovators also taps a team each year for the Chanute Prize for Team Innovation. The winning team demonstrates innovation through collaboration.

This award is named for Octave Chanute, a Chicago engineer who flew the first glider plane from the Indiana Dunes in Miller Beach in 1896, six years before Orville and Wilbur Wright tried powered flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C. It is jointly sponsored by The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana and the law firm of Krieg DeVault.

On Oct. 16, the Society of Innovators celebrated 10 years of spotlighting creativity at Hammond’s Horseshoe Casino with more than 200 guests.

William Nangle, editor emeritus and former executive editor of The Times Media Co., received the society’s top individual award – the Gerald I. Lamkin Fellow for Innovation and Service. Nangle was also inducted as a Fellow of the society that evening.

Both the fellowship award and the center are named for Lamkin, president emeritus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, an innovator who created the statewide Ivy Tech system. Lamkin traveled from Indianapolis to attend The Society of Innovators’ event and encouraged those gathered to continue to innovate.

“We’ve seen this area grow. We’ve seen people blossom,” he says. “There is no limit to a dream or idea.”

During the event, 28 additional members were inducted into The Society of Innovators – six as Fellows and the others as team award winners.

They follow in the footsteps of hundreds of innovative individuals and teams who hail from Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Newton, Porter, Pulaski and Starke counties honored by The Society of Innovators over the past 10 years.

The society’s call for nominations each spring starts an intense five-month process to select the next class of Society of Innovator members, says O’Merrial Butchee, director of the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation and Enterpreneur Center.

To spur more nominations, the Society of Innovators and eight chambers of commerce joined forces in 2012 as the Champions of Innovation project. The chambers of commerce included Crossroads, Chesterton, DeMotte, Gary, Lakeshore, Michigan City, Starke County and Valparaiso.

Those honored for their innovations during the past decade include inventors, environmentalists, political figures, educators, researchers, business owners, utility companies and centers of learning.

In 2008, for example, Richard Bender, an 8th grade science teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Valparaiso, was tapped for leading his school to success in the National Science Olympiad competitions at the local, regional, state and national levels. On Nov. 1, 2006, Bender’s story was front page news in the Wall Street Journal.

That same year, nationally-recognized environmentalist Lee Botts was honored by The Society of Innovators as the founder of the Great Lakes Alliance in 1971 and the Indiana Dunes Environmental Learning Center. She was also named to the Great Lakes Basin Commission by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

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At the 2008 ceremony, Davies says Botts’ work as a champion of the environment and Lake Michigan epitomizes why the award is given.

Another innovative idea tied to Lake Michigan was honored at the 2011 Society of Innovators induction ceremony held at the Horseshoe Casino.

In 1985, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, sketched an idea for a reclaimed Lake Michigan shoreline on a napkin. That idea became the Marquette Plan, and garnered the congressman the Gerald I. Lamkin Fellow award in 2011.

At the ceremony, Visclosky says the plan to reclaim 75 percent of the lakeshore for public use and transform the lakefront will take “the long view” to complete.

“This plan won’t be completed for 100 years,” Visclosky says. “When a property opens up (along the lakeshore) we need to decide what is its best use. We can’t make a mistake for the future.”

IVDiagnostics of Valparaiso was also honored in 2011 with the Chanute Prize for Team Innovation for the company’s development of a diagnostic tool to fight cancer. The nontoxic tool identifies tumor cells that circulate in the bloodstream and eliminates the problem of false positives and negatives.

Frank Szczepanksi, co-founder, CEO and president of IVDiagnostics, accepted the award for his team that evening and asked that the $500 Chanute prize be divided between the charities Hearts in Motion and the Foundation for Molecular Medicine.

Two recipients of the Chanute Prize for Team Innovation were named in 2012.

NIPSCO and The Center for Innovation Through Visualization and Simulation facility at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond shared the Society of Innovators’ kudos.

Nineteen CIVS members were honored, with special recognition going to Chenn Zhou, the CIVS director, a professor and interim associate vice chancellor for research and graduate studies.

“Innovations are driven by two things – dreams and visions, challenges and roadblocks,” says Ralph Rogers, PUC vice chancellor for academic affairs and himself an engineer.

“Challenges and roadblocks and constraints are when someone throws the gauntlet down,” Rogers says. “The status quo is just not acceptable to innovators.”

The Society of Innovators and the Lamkin Center also challenge youth to become entrepreneurs.

For example, the society sponsors the Ivy Tech Youth Innovators Video Challenge for Northwest Indiana students.

The Society of Innovators also declared last April 12 “Innovation Day in Northwest Indiana” in celebration of the 2014 Northwest Indiana Innovation Expo at the Jean Shepherd Community Center in Hammond. A host of innovation-based activities engaged children and their families.

“We discover in our own backyard amazing creativity and innovation,” Davies says during the expo event. “It’s not only inspiring. It’s fun. Innovation is improvising. It’s thinking outside the box. It’s making life so much better.”

The Society of Innovators is governed by a volunteer group of 18 leaders representing business and industry, education, planning, municipal government, utilities, media and law from across Northwest Indiana. Thirteen have been elected governors, while five serve on committees.

Richard Sussman, Ph.D., former General Manager of ArcelorMittal R&D Global Center, East Chicago, is chair of The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana.

For more information about The Society of Innovators and the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest, visit ivytech.edu/northwest/Innovation.

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