September 22, 2009

Four firms move to Innovate Illinois semi-finals

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- As the preliminary winners selected by the Southern Illinois University Entrepreneurship Centers at Carbondale and Centralia, four Southern Illinois businesses will be contenders in the state semi-finals of the Innovate Illinois competition this week.

PayPerWatt and MegAssist Solutions, LLC are the southern region semi-finalists, chosen the Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Eco-Brine and Load Locker, Inc. are the semi-finalists from the southeast region, the picks from the University Entrepreneurship Center at Centralia. All four will participate in the semi-finals Thursday, Sept. 24, in Champaign. They’re vying for a chance to advance to the state contest Nov. 10 in Chicago.

“Innovate Illinois is a great platform for the entrepreneurs of Southern Illinois to showcase their creativity and innovations. This event also presents a unique opportunity for the SIUC programs to compete head to head with innovators working with institutions like the University of Illinois and Northwestern,” said Emily Carter, director of entrepreneurship and business development at SIUC.

This is the fifth year for the Innovate Illinois competition, a highly selective entrepreneurial contest with cash prize awards for innovative businesses. There are actually two categories and separate prizes for each. The early stage contest is for companies with an idea for an innovative product, service or process while the later stage competition is for new companies that have recently created an innovative product, service or process.

“The goal is to encourage and reward companies for implementing or planning innovative products, services or business that already have or will have a lasting economic effect on the state,” said Robyn Laur Russell, director of the Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center.

She said the intention of the program is to foster and reward innovation in creating a novel product, service or internal process solving a problem or internal deficiency in such a way that there’s potential for lasting economic impact. Successful innovations must potentially foster economic growth by generating revenue and/or jobs, she said.

Across the state, 16 entrepreneurship centers participate in the Innovate Illinois program. Each center selected one early stage and one later stage winner to advance to this week’s semi-finals. At Champaign, judges will select 12 finalists, six in each stage, to advance to the Nov. 10 finals in Chicago. There, a grand prizewinner in each category claims a $30,000 cash prize and there’s a $10,000 prize for the top runner-up in each phase. It’s all in keeping with the mission of the state’s entrepreneurship centers, helping entrepreneurs and high-growth businesses as they create viable, sustainable, profitable enterprises.

PayPerWatt and Eco-Brine are competing in the early stage contest while MegAssist Solutions, LLC and Load Locker Inc. are later stage contestants.

Dr. Marc Miles, an Energy veterinarian, owns MegAssist Solutions, LLC. He originally created the Miles Equine Gizmo (MEG) for use in his on equine veterinarian practice. The mobile hydraulic device supports and stabilizes a horse without the use of force, thereby allowing horses to undergo a variety of medical procedures in a safer, more efficient manner than traditional methods offer.

James Earles and Chris Clifford are co-creators of PayPerWatt. The Alto Pass company will assemble and market electric vending meters that allow businesses to solicit or service electric cars so car owners can purchase electric fuel on the spot using cash or credit cards.

Craig Howard, Timothy Ross and Dave Dallas are co-owners of Eco-Brine, a Mount Carmel company. The company’s goal is to effectively and efficiently modify oilfield salt brine, a waste product of the oil drilling industry. They will chemically re-master it into a product that can be used for ice control and for dust suppressant products and then market it for those purposes.

Jeff Cunningham owns the Nashville-based Load Locker, Inc. The company offers cargo management systems for pick-up trucks and for enclosed and open trailers. The system, easy to self-install quickly, features dovetailed tracks with attached locking two by four slide mounts and tie-downs, allowing you to easily lock in cargo of any size or shape.

Southern Illinois has already left its mark on the Innovate Illinois competition. Clipius Technologies Inc., a Carbondale company, won the $10,000 runner-up award in the early stage business category of the 2008 competition. The company, with Ajay Mahajan as president, features as its signature product an antimicrobial coating for implants like spinal screws.

For more information about the Innovate Illinois program, check the Web site The Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, a non-profit affiliate of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, manages the program on behalf of the state of Illinois.

To find out more about SIUC’s Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center, call 618/453-3805 or look online at