Original Published on Nov 14, 2022 at 23:31

By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Five “innovators” were recognized for their achievements on Nov. 3 during the 13th annual RBC Innovation Awards luncheon. 

Hosted by the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre, the event in Thunder Bay had more than 140 people in attendance to celebrate and recognize innovative companies and individuals in Northwestern Ontario.

Judy Sander, a senior business advisor with the Innovation Centre, says the three judges had a hard time narrowing 40 nominations down to five winners. 

“You’re comparing apples to oranges often, because innovation is really broad. It’s in all sectors,” Sanders said. 

“The judges were given some criteria based on the uniqueness of the innovation and what kind of impact it could have.”

When these organizations and individuals are recognized for what they do, they can use an RBC Innovation Award as part of their promotion of who they are, especially outside the community as well as inside, she said.

Sanders added that it’s also important to share the stories so the general public know that innovative things are happening.

The five non-monetary award categories include Advisor of the Year, Innovative Project of the Year, Young Innovator of the Year, Innovation Hero of the Year, and Innovative Company of the Year.

AgriTech North, fresh from a second-place win in Bioenterprise Canada’s Northern Ontario Innovation Challenge last month, was chosen to win Innovative Project of the Year. The company, operating in Dryden, is a first-of-kind indoor vertical farm in the Northwestern, growing fresh produce year-round at wholesale capacity. While addressing rising food insecurity and environmental challenges, they utilize hydroponic and aeroponic technologies that use 90 per-cent less water, 60 per-cent fewer nutrients, and no chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides.

Benjamin Feagin, owner of AgriTech North, says winning the award is the start of bigger projects for his company.

“We’ve recently aligned with Northern Ontario innovation centres and advanced manufacturing facilities and are advancing a number of new innovations in that sector related to the vertical farming market that will enable rural and remote communities to essentially print spare parts from within their communities,” Feagin said. 

“Advanced manufacturing is essentially 3D printing. They’ll be able to 3D print their own spare parts and our intention is to get them to the point where they can essentially print the means of production or farming from within their communities.”

Feagin says being recognized on a regional scale as an innovative organization will have reverberating effects in all of their future engagements.  

“A very large innovative group of companies and organizations have essentially vetted that we’re doing what we say we’re doing, that we’re following through on our commitments and our obligations and we’re creating real change, and that’s important to be able to make headway even further. It opens a lot of doors for us,” he said.

The other 2022 winners include Tok Tok, an online furniture brand with no retail stores or wholesale distribution, which won Innovative Company of the Year.

Alessandra DeGrazia won Young Innovator of the Year for her MRT markers and NuovaCard. As an X-ray technician, DeGrazia saw a need for custom-designed X-ray markers for her workplace and now 3D prints all of her markers locally. Her NuovaCard is a plastic gift card, up-cycled into a double-sided, dry/wet erase marker surface which helps to limit the quantity of single-use “scrap” paper.

Eric Tribe took home the Marv Detweiler Advisor of the Year award for his leadership with the organization during his term as the Innovation Centre’s board chairman. 

Erin Beagle of Roots to Harvest was presented with the Innovation Hero of the Year award for her leadership in creating an organization with creative programs that positively impact the community.

This item reprinted with permission from   The Chronicle-Journal   Thunder Bay, Ontario

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