East Valley companies and leaders dominated the governor's innovation awards that annually recognize cutting-edge research and high-tech firms from across the state.
Four companies and two individuals from the East Valley clinched six out of the seven achievement categories and were named Thursday night at the Governor's Celebration of Innovation Awards Gala at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.
Kinetic Muscles, a Tempe-based firm that develops compact machines that help stroke victims regain the use of their limbs, received the Innovator of the Year Award for start-up firms.
"We really weren't expecting that. That's very cool," said Ed Koeneman, the company's chief operating officer. Because a stroke often damages neurological pathways that were developed when a person first learned to use their hands or feet as a child, the company's devices helps the brain develop new paths to control the limbs, Koeneman said. "That concept — that the adult brain can reform pathways after a brain injury — that's new knowledge. Up until a few years ago, everyone thought that the paralysis that you're left with after a stroke is what you have to live with," Koeneman said.
The company's signature device, The Hand Mentor, can be used by patients at home to develop those paths through repetitive exercises.
"We started in my garage in 1999. . . . and released our first product in March of 2003, so it's just over a year and a half that we've had the product on the market," Koeneman said.
Other East Valley winners were Ira A. Fulton, chairman and chief executive of Tempe-based Fulton Homes; Mike Fong, chief executive of Calence in Tempe; General Dynamics' C4 Systems in Scottsdale; Cyclone Commerce of Scottsdale; and the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing's iCARE Research Project at Arizona State University in Tempe.
Todd Bankofier, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Technology Council, wasn't surprised that the East Valley took the lion's share of the awards.
"The East Valley has a very strong technology base rooted in defense, semiconductors, information technology and software," Bankofier said.
Bankofier and other state leaders, including Gov. Janet Napolitano, have put a priority on developing the high-technology and biotechnology sector across Arizona. Such industries create higher paying jobs and generate revenue and wealth that benefits Arizonans, the company and its shareholders, Bankofier said.
"This is a great opportunity to showcase Arizona's technology assets. (The awards) just speak to the fact that Arizona has come a long way. We are a lot more than golf courses and trail rides. We are a state of technology as well," Bankofier said.
The council was among several sponsors of the prestigious statewide awards and the gala event that also included the Arizona Department of Commerce, the High Technology Industry Cluster and the Southern Arizona Tech Council. Napolitano was not able to attend the event because of her surgery this week.
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