THUNDER BAY – Innovation comes in many forms.
For Gord Maki, it was coming up with a way to help railways fight the dangers of liquefied peat bogs surrounding their tracks in certain areas of the country.
For Kaden Kanakakeesic, it was coming up with a way to make knives, using the tools and materials available on hand.
For Kevin Kalyta, it was passing on years of business experience to the next generation of entrepreneurs looking to make their mark in the business world.
All three were rewarded for their efforts on Thursday at the 11th annual RBC Innovation Awards, presented on Thursday at the Victoria Inn by through the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre.
Maki, a vice-president at TBT Engineering, accepted the Innovative Project of the Year Award, after helping CP Rail create the Spring Drain, an engineered perforated, reinforced flexible pipe filled with crushed rock designed to decrease groundwater pressure around the tracks.
Maki, who said he had to search the country to find the 20,000 zip ties he needed to complete a one-kilometre section during the test phase of the project, which began in 2016.
“We gathered all the information we could and came up with an innovative solution and it’s just taken off from there,” Maki said. “Now we’re into new challenges, trying to manufacture this product with tight new timelines and learning new processes. It’s totally different than engineering.”
Kalyta said his trophy, the Marvin Detweiler Advisor of the Year Award, caught him completely off guard.
A former operator of two hotels and an executive in Robin’s Foods’ head office, he’s been helping local companies find their way from start-up to success, putting their business plans together and helping them forecast their financials to make sure they can obtain profitability as quickly as possible.
“It’s certainly rewarding. I love to see them come together and hopefully some of the advice I’m giving them is helping their business succeed,” Kalyta said.
Several other awards were also handed out.
The Innovative Company of the Year Award went to Kenora’s FSET Inc. for their work with law-enforcement and health-care IT solutions. Kanakakeesic took home the Young Innovator of the Year, while the Innovation Hero of the Year was awarded to Taras Manzie, president and CEO of Lake of the Woods Brewing Company which is set to expand into Warroad, Minn. next week.
Judy Sander, manager of the Innovation Centre, said it’s important to recognize what people are doing entrepreneurially in the region.
“Innovation kind of happens quietly. Some of the companies and heroes are doing things that don’t get a lot of public attention and we need to support that. We need to celebrate that and recognize that. And also, we need to create some awareness in our community that these cool things are happening,” Sander said.
“You might not even know about it, but they’re here.”