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The Charlottesville Business Innovation Council recognized some of the area’s most successful businesses and entrepreneurs at its annual awards gala.
CBIC is a membership-based nonprofit organization that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship and supports technology-focused organizations in the Charlottesville region. It was founded 20 years ago as the Virginia Piedmont Technology Council.
About 450 people attended the gala at the Boar’s Head Inn on Thursday. The event started with an “Innovators Row” networking reception for early-stage startups.
The night’s featured speaker was Brian Calhoun, inventor of the “Chickapig” board game. The company has sold more than 5,000 games in the past year.
“I feel like there is a unique enthusiasm in Charlottesville to help others succeed,” Calhoun said. “I’m very proud to be a part of such a supportive, forward-thinking community.”
Calhoun previously founded Rockbridge Guitar Company, which counts Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz among its customers.
Calhoun’s older brother, Benton, was named Innovator of the Year for his work with PsiKick, a Charlottesville company developing low-power wireless sensors to enhance the internet of things. Benton Calhoun is also an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Virginia.
“I’ve always been drawn to problems and trying to solve them,” he said. “It’s a great privilege to have a career in a space where I get to do what I love.”
Brian Calhoun joked that while Benton had gained a reputation for groundbreaking technological innovations, he had become famous for “making the game with the cow that poops.”
CBIC’s Business of the Year award went to Silverchair, a digital platform for scholarly and professional publishers. Silverchair’s clients include Oxford University Press, the largest university press in the world.
“We have been able to get the most out of our proximity to UVa,” said Doug Morrison, chief delivery officer at Silverchair. “We have been able to find people who want to live in Central Virginia while working in a competitive market.”
Baron Schwartz was honored as the CBIC Entrepreneur of the Year. Schwartz is the founder of VividCortex, which provides database monitoring tools and services for popular websites like Etsy and Yelp.
“It’s good to see businesses starting and growing in Charlottesville,” Schwartz said. “It’s interesting how quickly a culture is building here.”
The Center for Open Science was named Startup of the Year. Launched in 2013, the nonprofit encourages openness, accessibility and reproducibility of scientific research.
“We are trying to help scientists do a better job of being transparent and open in their research,” said marketing director Rusty Speidel. “This work couldn’t be happening at a more important time.”
AgroSpheres was recognized as the Student Entrepreneur Team of the Year. AgroSpheres has developed chemical sprays for crops that degrade pesticides and prevent frost.
The AgroSpheres team consists of seven UVa students and recent graduates, as well as UVa pharmacology professor Mark Kester.
WillowTree was recognized as CBIC’s Top Job Creator for the second year in a row. The mobile marketing and software company has nearly 200 employees in Charlottesville and at satellite offices in New York and Durham, North Carolina.
Attendees of this year’s gala voted to give CBIC’s first Social Good Award to MadiDrop, a social enterprise that has brought an inexpensive water treatment solution to 55,000 people in 41 developing nations.
MadiDrop’s water purification technology was developed at UVa and was patented by the university’s Licensing and Ventures Group.
CBIC also announced the winners of $7,500 in scholarships and grants supporting science and technology education.
Stephanie Passman, a gifted resource teacher at Stony Point Elementary in Albemarle County, was named Educator of the Year. Passman helped to implement a “maker curriculum” at Stony Point and trains other teachers at Mary Baldwin University’s College of Education.
Passman received a $2,500 CBIC Tech In Education grant in support of educational activities encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.
Passman said the Educator of the Year award “shows that the work we do to encourage student entrepreneurs is important in the real world.”
“So many businesses here are willing to partner with local schools,” Passman said. “It’s exciting for students to see how you can turn your dream into a reality.”
CBIC awarded $2,500 scholarships to two high school students who plan to pursue education beyond high school in science, technology, math or engineering. This year’s winners were Liam Godbold, a junior at Holy Trinity Homeschool, and Isaac McSherry, a senior at William Monroe High School.
Godbold and McSherry both participated in previous CBIC Tech Tours, which bring 400 middle and high school students to visit technology-related companies and organizations in the Charlottesville area each fall.
Katie Murphy, chairwoman of CBIC’s Marketing Communications Committee, was honored as the council’s Volunteer of the Year. Murphy is a marketing manager for the UVA Foundation.