Thunder Bay is a pretty innovative community, says Judy Sander.
The trouble is too often entrepreneurs and manufacturers focus too much on the local market, forgetting there’s a much larger world at their fingertips.
That said, there are more than enough success stories to go around, said Sander, the manager of the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre.
On Thursday she helped recognize five individuals and companies for their efforts at the sixth annual RBC Innovation Awards.
Among the celebrated was Dereck Legros’ Auto Flex Suspensions, which captured the innovative company of the year.
He’s helped develop a replacement suspension for ambulances, pick-up trucks and utility vehicles, an inexpensive fix that also helps with fuel economy.
“It actually bolts right into the existing spring hammer, so there’s no modifications to your vehicle. There’s no cutting or welding or voiding of the warranty as well,” Legros said.
“It makes you a lot more fuel efficient and also safer for shorter stopping distances for braking applications.”
Auto Flex was not alone on the awards podium.
Also recognized were DST Engineering and EcoSuperior Environmental Programs, who took the innovative project of the year award; Nicole Reid of Yuleys HexArmor, the innovation hero of the year; Catherine Leonard of the EcoBus, who took the young innovator of the year and Marv Detweiler of Ambassador’s Northwest, honoured as the advisor of the year.
Sander called it her favourite day of the year.
“We get to celebrate innovation in our region. This is the sixth one we’ve done. Every year we get a real diverse set of nominees and a diverse group of winners. It’s pretty fun.”
And it’s not easy to choose who get the trophies, which is done by an independent panel at arm’s length from the Innovation Centre.
“They have a tough time. One of the problems is there is a lot of stuff going on, but it’s diverse. So you’re comparing a soil-remediation project with somebody who’s created a new widget or something and how do you compare those things?
“But somehow they always make a decision,” Sander said.