The 2023 Innovation Stars Awards banquet was a rewarding night full of networking and celebrating our innovation stars.
Keynote speaker, Dr. Zachary Doerzaph, executive director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), spoke on how VTTI is cultivating the future of ubiquitous, safe, and effective mobility by overseeing groundbreaking and impactful research today.
Award winners for the 2023 year included stars from across the region:
- The Student Innovator Award recognizes a high school or full-time college student who has shown leadership in technology. The 2023 Student Innovator Award was presented to Ethan Wilkerson.
- Ethan is a Career Tech Academy IT alumni and current Work-Based Learning student. Last year during the CTA IT program, Ethan created multiple games that could be used with the elementary tours and visits to promote and encourage IT exploration. Ethan earned his career studies certificate from Southern Virginia Community College and completed multiple industry recognized certificates as a high school junior from Halifax County. Ethan is also an active member of the Halifax County Cometbots Robotics Team. This year, Ethan is enrolled in the CTA Work-Based Learning program where he continues to explore IT with an internship in the workforce.
- The Rising Star Award recognizes a young entrepreneur, individual with a new idea or initiative, or a new business that has made a significant impact on our region. The 2023 Rising Star Award was presented to Natalie Hodge.
- In 2019, Natalie launched Rudy’s Girl Media (RGM) and this star has been on the rise ever since. In a short time, she has purchased and renovated her office space; purchased equipment to furnish a small studio; and hired two full-time staff members. However, her work has not stopped there. She has also produced two seasons of RGM’s flagship show, released a new book, and announced the launch of RGM TV on Xfinity Channel 16. Natalie is using technology to nurture dreams, support entrepreneurs, create community, and lift Southern Virginia. Her use of technology as a powerful force for economic growth and opportunity is directly in line with SPTC’s mission of furthering economic vitality through technology.
- The Innovation in Entrepreneurship Award is awarded to an entrepreneurial company* that demonstrates excellence in technological innovation. The 2023 Innovation in Entrepreneurship Award was presented to TECHnista.
- TECHnista is an organization that provides curriculum support, consulting, and content development for K-12 education and beyond. They look to innovate K-12 education by providing unique and user-friendly curriculum for hard to teach technical concepts. In 2023, TECHnista not only promoted technology through their daily work but they were able to provide curriculum to local educators that made technology fun and relatable for students.
- The Innovation in Education, Government, or Community Outreach Award is awarded to an organization that develops innovative uses of technology to promote and enhance educational opportunities, governmental excellence, community outreach or displays innovative use of technology to deliver services, advance their mission, or impact the community. The 2023 Innovation in Education, Government, or Community Outreach Award was presented to Adam Reeves from Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.
- Adam Reeves is the Southern VA Higher Education Center Career Tech Academy (CTA) Automation & Robotics Instructor and Coach for the Halifax County High School Cometbots. Adam has taken the automation & robotics dual enrollment program to a higher level. In addition to concepts and skills within Automation & Robotics, his students are exposed to CAD and 3D printing, encouraging them to think outside of the box during the completion of an end of the year project. Over the last 2 years, his students have created projects where the robots are programmed to play the piano, a guitar, play the first round of Mario Brothers, and even play the board game Operation. These projects exemplify Innovation and encourage his students to achieve beyond of their comfort zone in the world of technology.
- The Small Business Innovation in Technology Award recognizes a company that demonstrates excellence in technological innovation. The 2023 Small Business Innovation in Technology Award was presented to Riverstreet Networks.
- For over 70 years, Riverstreet Networks has been serving rural communities. Since 2020, Riverstreet has worked hand-in-hand with the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) to provide high speed fiber across difficult terrain and sparsely populated areas not otherwise well covered by traditional service providers. Their service enables reliable and affordable high-speed internet access, traversing areas in Amelia, Bedford, Franklin, Patrick, Henry, Pittsylvania, Campbell, Charlotte and Nottoway Counties – across southern Virginia to thousands of residents. This investment in broadband and fiber networks is an investment in our rural communities that helps to create the best possible future for all of us.
- The second Innovation in Technology Award recognizes a large business that demonstrates excellence in technological innovation. The 2023 Innovation in Technology for large businesses was presented toHitachi Energy.
- Expanding their operations in South Boston, VA Hitachi Energy invested $37 Million in December of 2022 to address fast-growing demand from utility customers and for applications such as renewable energy generation and data centers. In addition to serving distribution and power transformers for the nation’s power grid, commercial buildings and industrial facilities, they provide traction transformers for use in railway applications – paving the way for high speed rail in the United States. At a time when economic development is challenged by power needs, Hitachi’s Halifax Virginia facility is known world-wide as an innovative leader in energy. Hitachi’s commitment to Halifax County and the surrounding region is not only seen in their investments in the company, but also in the investments Hitachi makes to its employees and the many civic organizations it supports across the region.
- Chairman’s Award for visionary leadership and outstanding leadership and commitment to our region and was presented to Circ.
- Circ is a Danville-based innovation startup creating global waves in the sustainable fashion industry, leveraging technology to bring the textile and tobacco roots of the region full circle. CEO Peter Majeranowski says we have all the clothes we need to make all the clothing we’ll ever need and Circ has pioneered the technology to prove it. The team that founded Circ was trying to create fuel from tobacco, which unintentionally led to the creation of a different material — pulp that could go back to the beginning of the supply chain and close the loop on fast fashion. Circ has created a technology system that returns clothes to the raw materials from which they were made. Again and again.