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Innovation Stars Award Winners

The Southern Piedmont Technology Council’s Innovation STARS Awards Banquet partnered with the Southern Virginia STEM-H Summit to promote the extraordinary achievements of our region’s educational and industrial leaders, punctuated with an impressive keynote address from NASA astronaut Leland Melvin of Lynchburg, VA.
With 200 of the area’s most influential in attendance in IALR’s Great Hall, the evening’s festivities began with SPTC President Jon Horin recognizing the Tech Council’s 20 years of advocating the importance of investing in technological fields in both the public and private sectors to meet the adapting demands of economic development in the region.
“Since its inception, SPTC has been an advocate for the region’s technology investments by educating the community and increasing Southern Piedmont's exposure relative to technology,” Horin stated. “Over the past two decades, we have recognized many technological achievements that have catapulted our region forward.”
“On behalf of the SPTC Board, and our anchor members – the Center for Innovative Technology, American National Bank and Trust Company, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communications Corporation, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, and Noblis, I thank you for your support and commitment to the importance of this event for our region,” Horin remarked. “We are extremely proud of the significant accomplishments that will be highlighted as we recognize and honor our region’s innovation stars.”
Award winners include:
Senator Frank M. Ruff
Chairman's Award
Innovation in Education and Community Outreach Award

Troy Simpson - Precision Machining Workforce Development Pipeline
Innovation in Community Award
Innovation in Technology - Small Business Award
Microsoft Data Center
Innovation in Technology - Large Business Award
Samantha Smith-Herndon
Rising Star Award

Danielle Jeffers
Student Innovator Award
Michael Ashby
Student Innovator Award
Senator Frank M. Ruff was announced as the recipient of the Chairman’s Award by SPTC President Jon Horin and Bob Stolle, SPTC Board Member and Senior Vice President of Operations at the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT). Earlier this week at the Capital Building, Senator Ruff was awarded the honor for his visionary leadership and outstanding commitment to our region.
“Senator Ruff has worked tirelessly to transform the Southern Virginia Region with a commitment to workforce, technology and education as the foundation to build opportunity,” Jon Horin explained. “He has championed FIRST robotics programs in our schools, broadband to our government offices, schools and industrial parks, and numerous other initiatives that have kept our communities competitive in a rapidly-changing technology economy.”
In 2016, Senator Ruff was recognized by the Virginia Economic Development Association for his work in policies that advance economic prosperity in the Commonwealth and he has always championed the impact of those policies for Rural Virginia. Among his commission and study responsibilities you find the Broadband Advisory Council; Elementary and Secondary Education Funding; Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board; Small Business Commission; Southern Virginia Higher Education Center Board of Trustees; Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission; Wireless Communications Infrastructure Group; House Commerce and Labor, Senate Commerce & Labor, and Senate General Laws & Technology; and the Virginia Board of Workforce Development.
Senator Ruff has tirelessly championed technology, education and economic growth across the Southern Region of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Noblis was presented with the Innovation in Education and Community Outreach Award which recognizes an individual or organization that develops innovative uses of technology to promote and enhance educational opportunities or community outreach. Anna Crawley from Noblis accepted the award during the ceremony.
STEM education has always been an important initiative for Noblis, and upon seeing the need in Danville, they were eager to dive head first into engaging with the public schools. In July of 2015, a partnership between Dr. Stan Jones, Superintendent of Danville Public Schools, and Noblis CEO, Amr ElSawy, was created to fulfill a mandate by the Virginia Department of Education stating that every child must complete a personal Academic and Career Plan by the fall of their eighth-grade year. Noblis worked throughout the year with administrators, principals and teachers to develop the program and the Passport Project was born.
The program is also being used as an opportunity to engage students with technology. Through an award from the Danville Regional Foundation (DRF), Noblis, and an investment by Danville Public Schools, funding was established to bring Chromebooks into the classroom for the completion and tracking of each student’s personal Academic and Career Plan.
To ensure a more hands-on learning community, partnerships were created, including, but not limited to, Averett University’s Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness; the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research; Danville Community College (DCC); Danville Parks & Recreation; and American National Bank & Trust Co. Through these partnerships, regular field trips have been established to expose students to post-secondary educational experiences as well as civic-engagement opportunities.
The Precision Machining Workforce Development Pipeline was presented with the Innovation in Community Award which recognizes a non-profit, government organization, individual or team that displays innovative use of technology to deliver services, advance their mission, or impact the community. Troy Simpson accepted the award on behalf of the Precision Machining Workforce Development Pipeline.
Implementation and deployment of this dynamic workforce pipeline required collaboration between industry, public schools, colleges and community leaders. Troy Simpson has skillfully worked with community and industry leaders to develop this extraordinary precision machining workforce training pipeline that has the potential to transform this region with higher skilled and automated job opportunities.  
Working with Pittsylvania Career and Technical Schools, George Washington High School, Danville Community College, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, and most recently, programs being studied for Halifax and Henry County in conjunction with Patrick Henry Community College, this program has successfully developed a pipeline that has catapulted recruitment and hiring for incoming and existing industries in this field.
The Gene HAAS Center at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research serves as a 3rd year capstone program for graduates who go through these training programs. This capstone program approach is now advancing to Internet 4.0 and utilizes training skills that intertwine computer numerical controls, information technology, robotics and advanced automation.
Panaceutics was presented the Small Business Innovation in Technology Award which recognizes a company that demonstrates excellence in technological innovation.
Panaceutics is disrupting the world of personalized therapies by breaking down the “one size fits all” barriers that limit the formulation, manufacturing, and delivery of personalized medicine and nutrition. In essence, they are eliminating the need for a person to take multiple pills daily with a combination of patented robotic manufacturing and software design.
The new era of personalized healthcare is built on a foundation of on-demand formulation, which enables stakeholders, such as healthcare systems, integrated delivery partners, pharmaceutical companies, and nutritional product manufacturers to provide personalized pharmaceutical poly therapies and clinical nutrition products to high volume populations with enhanced CGMP compliance and without the need for costly in-house infrastructure and associated overhead. 
The Panaceutics platform scales to serve as a full-featured formulation solution or an extension of an existing facility and helps clients meet the needs of their largest healthcare populations with the ability to deliver the right drug, right dose and right combination, every time.
Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Panaceutics will invest $5.8 million to establish a research and development and high-tech manufacturing facility in the Cane Creek Centre Industrial Park in Pittsylvania County. The project will create 70 new jobs.
Microsoft Data Center was presented with the Large Business Innovation in Technology Award which recognizes a large business that demonstrates excellence in technological innovation. 
Microsoft has now invested nearly $2 billion in its Mecklenburg facility and created more than 250 jobs since 2010. With five expansions in six years, this company’s success continues to be a testament to Southern Virginia’s talented workforce and strong IT infrastructure.
Microsoft’s original project in 2010 involved an investment of up to $499 million and 50 new jobs. In 2011, the company invested an additional $150 million to expand the site, and in 2013, they announced a $348 million expansion. In June 2014, Microsoft invested another $346.7 million, creating 90 new jobs.
The company expanded for a fourth time in November 2015, investing $402.4 million and creating 42 new jobs. Their investment in the data center has proven not only the opportunities to develop these technology-based businesses in Southern Virginia but has grown into one of the largest data centers in the world.
The Rising Star Award recognized a young entrepreneur, individual with a new idea or initiative, or a new business that has made a significant impact on our region.  This year’s Rising Star Award was presented to Samantha Smith-Herndon of Danville, VA.
Working hand-in-hand with farmers across the region, Samantha Smith-Herndon champions a drone program and the development of technology to support analysis of agricultural production. The goal of the program is to increase farming profits, while minimizing costly inputs, by developing farm specific reports based on multiple drone surveys.
Last year, Samantha flew 120 missions over more than 20 farms across the SPTC’s footprint, and she is currently working with farmers to analyze the data in preparation for next season. Samantha is also working hard to introduce this technology to others through outreach, including presentations at Ferrum College, the USDA, and multiple K-12 audiences.
Technology will play a key role in the future of agriculture, and Samantha is ensuring the agricultural community in Southern Virginia will be at the forefront of these innovations. 
The Student Innovator Awards recognized a high school or full-time college student that has shown leadership in technology, with this year’s award going to two recipients.
Student Innovator Award Winner Danielle Jeffers of Danville, VA
Jeffers began her senior year at George Washington High School with a conversation between her and her parents where they said “we can’t afford to send you to college, but you still have to go”. By the end of her senior year at George Washington High School, she earned 14 scholarships totaling $100,000 and accepted her offer to attend Virginia Tech.
Less than a year later, she created Dough 4 Degrees, a remote scholarship coaching company, to help students earn scholarships and graduate debt-free. Danielle works with students from all over the nation to help navigate the scholarship process.
To date, Dough 4 Degrees has helped more than 50 students and families earn more than $160,000 collectively in scholarships. Dough 4 Degrees has been selected to participate in, and won, numerous business pitch competitions and has received investment from Marcus Lemonis, host of NBC's The Profit.  After earning her bachelor’s degree in Communications focusing in multimedia journalism and double minoring in entrepreneurship and cinema, Jeffers hopes to earn her Masters of Business Administration at Virginia Tech and grow Dough 4 Degrees, now called College Dough, making it automated and accessible by an app.
Jeffers, who was out of the country, submitted a video for her award acceptance.
Student Innovator Award Winner Michael Ashby of Danville, VA
In order to maximize the community benefit that Averett University could offer, the Averett IT team reached out to Goodwill Industries and the Dan River Nonprofit Network to solve computer and network issues for local nonprofit organizations. As Averett University computer science students learn about various IT problems in the classroom, they are able to practice their newfound knowledge by assisting the nonprofits with their IT problems while simultaneously providing a community benefit.
As a student, himself, Michael Ashby collaborated with a small team of service-learning students to solve computer and network issues for Goodwill Industries and all other members of the Dan River Nonprofit Network. Michael has proven successful in leading this effort and has even reached out to the Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to serve them, as well.
In a time of doing more with less, it’s critical to rally a team and ensure they understand that every contribution, regardless of how small it may seem to be, has an incredible value. In the past year, he has steadfastly applied this methodology. Michael has been able to lead groups within the high pace world of higher education technology. He leverages everyone to provide accolades to team members, give credit where credit is due, and to reward team contribution. Averett University, Goodwill Industries, and the nonprofits of the region greatly benefit from his leadership.
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Coming Events

Thu Feb 21 @ 5:30PM - 06:30PM
Tech on Tap
Wed Apr 10 @ 5:00PM - 08:30PM
SPTC Innovation Stars Awards Banquet

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Thu Dec 13 @ 5:30PM - 06:30PM
SPTC Holiday Social
Tue Jan 15 @11:30AM - 01:00PM
Annual Membership Meeting & Tech at Lunch featuring the Passport Program
Thu Jan 17 @ 5:30PM - 06:30PM
Tech on Tap

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