Alameda businesses honored for innovation

Alameda businesses honored for innovation

Janice Worthen

Video courtesy of the East Bay Economic Development Alliance.

The East Bay Economic Development Alliance, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this October, honored three Alameda-based businesses at its 2015 Innovation Awards ceremony on February 19 at the Fox Theater in Oakland.

Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER), a company started in 1992 by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle, received an Innovation Award for engineering and design, while Abbott Diabetes Care, a company with a history spanning more than a century, was honored in the life sciences category. A third Island business, Natel Energy, was named a finalist in the clean tech category.

The three businesses had a fair amount of competition: The alliance received 178 nominations this year for businesses in its eight categories. A large group of judges from virtually every part of the business world, including Chris Martin of Pandora, Mike Fernald of the San Francisco Business Times and Trina Ostrander of Bayer HealthCare narrowed the pool of nominees to 16 finalists before choosing eight winners.

When asked what qualities she thinks won the judges over, DOER President and Chief Executive Officer Liz Taylor let her company’s work speak for itself.

“DOER creates technology that allows us to explore the 70 percent of the planet that we don’t have much access to, the oceans,” Taylor said. “We also develop systems that can inspect and repair infrastructure including water tunnels and pipelines that most people rely upon every day but don’t think about. I think the judges recognized the importance of our work and the effort it takes to design systems able to withstand enormous pressures in the deep sea.”

The alliance’s executive director, Darien Louie, said it started the award program in 2012 “as a very public way to honor significant use of innovation in various industries in our region,” innovation that might go unnoticed as “tech giants” in San Francisco and Silicon Valley draw the media’s focus.

Louie said the East Bay is the only Bay Area region with three national laboratories and she pitched the East Bay’s diversity, “high quality of life, direct domestic and international transportation infrastructure, and affordability” as “assets that make operating innovation businesses here to be a smart business decision.”

Louie added that the alliance’s annual awards ceremony teaches its audience about the companies driving innovation in the East Bay, the ways these companies affect the local economy and the creative qualities of the people doing business in the area. Louie provided a list of qualities that she feels makes a company innovative: risk taking, willingness to embrace partners and resources, looking for solutions that are sustainable and attracting diverse talent.

DOER moved into Alameda Marina in 2003. Taylor said that Alameda was on the table for a base of operations early on because the deep maritime roots in the community and tightly knit, family oriented vibe fits well with the company’s philosophy of “make a dollar while making a difference.”

Taylor also described the company’s reception by Alameda Marina’s original owner John Benson and harbormaster Wayne Milani, who Taylor said deemed their company worthy of Alameda and encouraged the company’s growth by allowing them to move from a small building in the marina to a larger one.

“They realized the value of investing into a community by nurturing small business,” Taylor said.

Taylor identified two DOER achievements she is particularly proud of.

“Last summer, we helped a group of researchers figure out how to make their micro ROV capable of going down an ice bore hole using some of the technology we developed at DOER,” she said. “In January, those researchers made history by finding the first fish ever documented under hundreds of meters of ice. None of the scientists expected to find much if any life and were stunned to find fishes there.”

Taylor said the company also helped a large construction company figure out how to inspect a subterranean tunnel that was more than eight miles long. DOER’s technology, she said, made it possible for the company to finish the job with no accidents and ahead of schedule.

Besides designing and building a variety of remotely operated vehicles and applications and providing many marine-based services from consulting and field support to search and recovery, DOER also participates in various projects such as Google Earth Oceans, and it provided support for an expedition documenting the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the form of a remotely operated vehicle that can dive as far as 6,500 meters below the Gulf of Mexico’s surface.

Taylor pointed to the company’s eagerness for collaboration and “public/private partnership opportunities” as something that sets her company apart.

“Our agility and flexibility to respond to customer’s needs is something that seems increasingly rare, not just in the subsea industry, but in many business sectors,” she said.

Abbott Diabetes Care also received its first Innovation Award. According to its website, Abbott is a global company that has a presence in more than 150 countries with around 70,000 employees. The company designs and creates medical products, including a variety of glucose monitoring devices, for people with diabetes and for hospitals. An Abbott representative could not be reached for comment on the honor.

Natel Energy, a young company in comparison with DOER and Abbott, was started in 2009 and focuses on making advancements in hydropower. This is the company’s first nomination for an Innovation Award, and Chief Executive Officer Gia Schneider hopes they earn another nomination as the company continues to grow.

Schneider said the company recently closed its first sales, and its first commercial project will be online this summer. The company has developed a new technology, Schneider said, that bundles large numbers of separate, low-pressure water flows in order to generate electricity cheaply.

“Practically speaking, this means that tens of thousands of low irrigation drops and existing low dams and weirs can be turned into renewable energy projects,” she said.

The benefits of such technology, Schneider said, include an improved water infrastructure, reliable electricity that is free of carbon emissions, increased soil moisture, and aquifers that are recharged over time. Because her company’s technology slows “the runoff of water across the land,” it can also help provide relief for areas affected by drought, she said.

“Our vision is to transform hydropower into a truly sustainable energy source that complements wind and solar,” Schneider said.

Schneider singled out Alameda Point and the Island’s business community as two things that drew the company to Alameda.

“There’s a great mix of companies here, and the space was also well-suited to enable us to grow,” she said.

Comments

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Tue, Mar 10, 2015

It's really exciting to see Alameda companies being recognized. Hopefully, this recognition will prompt other innovative companies to move to Alameda.