2019 Innovator of the Year Awards

Welcome to the 2019 Innovator of the Year awards.

This event, and these pages, are dedicated to Long Island’s best and brightest ideas, born across a broad spectrum of inventiveness and nurtured by social need, red-blooded capitalism and old-fashioned creativity.

This year’s honorees start at the top, literally. In 2019 Master of Innovation Mitch Maiman, we have selected a mind-over-matter maestro who’s guided the next-generation product-development company he launched a decade ago to global prominence; in Stony Brook University Economic Development Vice President Yacov Shamash, first-ever winner of our John L. Kominicki Legacy Award, we salute an old friend whose contributions to the regional innovation economy will ripple for decades.

Collectively, our other 2019 honorees display an amazing breadth of innovation. The Zucker School professor developing new telehealth options for Spanish-speaking patients. The Stony Brook startup battling environmental contamination with microbiological warriors. The beauty-industry veteran who thought small and scored big.

There’s the new Edgewood video-production studio, the Smithtown medical-product ace, the Jericho digital-education expert and the Southampton “entrepreneur’s club.”

We’re saluting one of the Feinstein Institute’s all-time champions in the fight against lupus. And for the first time, we’re honoring high schoolers who are already showing off the skills they’ll need to thrive in the 21st century innovation economy – and maybe save the world along the way.

Healthy pet treats, next-level vanadium flow batteries, new employee-loyalty apps and a familiar download now one billion blocks into its anti-robocall crusade – the inventiveness highlighted in these pages knows no bounds.

As fervent believers in the power of Long Island’s innovation economy, we’re thrilled by the collective talents of our 2019 awardees. As humanitarians, we’re emboldened by their heart – each of these thinkers, tinkerers, entrepreneurs and execs is not only interested in making a buck, but in changing the world.

We firmly believe Long Island’s economic vitality depends on brilliant researchers, forward-thinking makers and risk-taking venture capitalists, just like these inspiring awardees. And we think they deserve a round of applause!

Like Innovate Long Island itself, these awards wouldn’t be possible without the encouragement and generous support of our sponsors. Their company logos and congratulatory messages grace these pages. We’d also like to offer our sincerest appreciation to the universities, law firms, accounting firms, economic-development offices, nonprofit foundations and individuals who believe – as we do – that innovation will be the bedrock of Long Island’s restored prosperity.

Thank you also to the small army of professionals who helped us pull this off, including steadfast photographer Bob Giglione, videographer and digital master John Richardson (and his entire Quick-Cast team), the topflight experts at Design Audio Visual, graphic designer extraordinaire Mike Albano and, of course, our longtime friends at the Crest Hollow Country Club.

To the 2019 Innovators of the Year: Congratulations! As we like to say, ideas are easy – the hard part is courage, determination and execution. And that’s why you’re here.
~ Marlene McDonnell, Gregory Zeller


Innovator of the Year: Aaron Foss, founder of Nomorobo
Location: Port Jefferson
The skinny: The groundbreaking robocall killer hurtles past its billionth block

On a crusade to cut the cord with pesky telemarketers, the robocall terminator has piled up some impressive numbers – 2.5 million free-service and paid subscribers and 16,000 new subscribers weekly, for starters.

But no stat is as impressive as this: One intercepted robocall at a time, Nomorobo has reached the billion-block threshold.

It’s a truly meteoric rise for the bane of telemarketers and the scourge of autodialers, which blocked a million landline robocalls before Foss even flipped the switch on his mobile versions – first iOS in 2016, then Android in 2017. Nomorobo now offers free “basic” landline protection and low-cost subscriptions for both major mobile systems.

And for some added protection, Foss’ startup has also incorporated upgrades defending against would-be data thieves and now offers all website visitors a free, real-time “Robocaller Lookup” page, tracking the nation’s most active (and current) known robo-dialers.

“It’s our job to keep making the product better and better and get more and more partnerships,” Foss told Innovate LI. “That way, we win the market and the fight against the robocallers’ new tricks.”

Innovator of the Year: MIDI Medical Product Development
Location: Smithtown
The skinny: Getting in on the ground floor of medical device innovation, sometimes literally

When it comes to innovation in medical technology, MIDI Medical Product Development has hit the ground running.

Co-founders Christopher and Gregory Montalbano opened their state-of-the-art Innovation Center in Smithtown’s Village of the Branch in 2016, welcoming the best and brightest in med-tech to ramp up design and testing for a host of new devices intended to transform the healthcare industry.

In 2017, the duo took to the road, promoting their invention hub at leading industry events across the country. Their plan: to bring attention not only to their Innovation Center, but to ignite innovation across Greater New York.

“Our vision, our ultimate goal, is to move med-tech forward in the New York area,” Gregory told Innovate LI. “Growth and expansion are always our goals.”

MIDI’s 6,500-square-foot Innovation Center has already attracted several high-end collaborative projects, including the FloorX – – an IoT-enabled, nickel-thin device capable of eradicating a host of footwear-focused pathogens with ultraviolet light.

The FlooRX wasn’t quite so sleek when inventor Rachel Dombrowsky first approached MIDI in 2018. But Dombrowsky’s Harbor Innovations had found the right partner to upgrade her effective, if clunky, prototype – replacing full-size UV bulbs with UV light-emitting diodes, adding IoT control systems and otherwise sprucing up the cutting-edge product.

The result was a thin, accessible device that earned Harbor Innovations a U.S. patent, successfully completed multiple clinical trials and is steaming toward the company’s first mass-production run.

“I have never made as good a decision as when I came to MIDI,” Dombrowsky told Innovate LI. “When I walked into their office, I knew I was in the right hands at the right time.”

Innovator of the Year: iTutor
Location: Jericho
The skinny: Online tutoring and standardized-testing prep assistance for K-12 students

iTutor, a digital platform dedicated to making education more accessible both inside and outside the classroom, supports public school districts nationwide – but its roots run deepest on Long Island.

The Jericho-based company, launched in 2013 by founder and Chief Executive Officer Harry Aurora, connects New York State-certified teachers with K-12 students from virtually anywhere – though naturally, the Long Island firm works hard to max out its local market, and already 65 Long Island public school districts have partnered with iTutor, in addition to hundreds of others around the country.

iTutor provides online tutoring and test-prep help for students facing the SATs, the ACTs and other standardized tests on various grade levels. Subjects cover the gamut – math, science, global languages, social studies and the rest.

Aurora is busy assembling an experienced Advisory Board of current and former teachers, school administrators and superintendents to enhance both student achievement – specifically, Long Island student achievement – and the company’s bottom line.

Several regional education leaders have already signed on, including former Nassau BOCES Executive Director Gene Silverman, East Moriches UFSD Superintendent Charles Russo, Central Islip School District Superintendent Howard Koenig and recently retired West Hempstead UFSD Superintendent Patricia Sullivan-Kris.

Meeting quarterly to discuss new technologies and other tools emerging around the globe, the board will work to innovate iTutor’s already robust offering of educational services.

“We have an opportunity to enhance our service offering to support student achievement even further,” Aurora told Innovate LI. “This advisory board will help us better understand the unique challenges school districts and teachers face so we can implement the right systems.”


Innovator of the Year: iCell Gene Therapeutics
Location: Stony Brook
The skinny: Taking the center stage in the search for better cancer treatment

Only iCell Gene Therapeutics could go to China.

Well, maybe not only iCell Gene Therapeutics. But the Stony Brook-based company is doing quite well working closely with China-based researchers on the development of “chimeric antigen receptor-engineered drug therapeutics,” otherwise known as “CAR” therapies, which use modified white blood cells to fight cancer.

And it’s got plenty of friends back home, too: In October 2018, iCell partnered with Stony Brook-based LineaRx, a subsidiary of Applied DNA Sciences, to pioneer a new generation of faster, more affordable chimeric antigen receptor modified T-cell (CAR T) therapeutics.

iCell will work with LineaRX on the development and commercialization of LinCART19, a non-viral, plasmid-free anti-CD19 CAR T drug candidate. LineaRX hopes to leverage iCell Gene Therapeutics’ experience in engineering novel, first-in-class adoptive-cell therapies.

iCell also works with a handful of other institutions across the region, the nation and the world, including China’s Chengdu Military General Hospital, the National Institutes of Health and the Long Island High Technology Incubator, a Stony Brook-based nonprofit dedicated to developing innovative technologies.

The FDA has granted iCell critical “orphan drug designation” for five of its CAR therapies, targeting multiple myeloma, peripheral T-cell lymphoma, acute myeloid leukemia, B-Acute lymphocytic leukemia and T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia.

iCell Gene Therapeutics is led by Chairman and Founder Yupo Ma – a board-certified pathologist and hematopathologist and recognized leukemia and lymphoma expert – and CEO Wyle Solomon, a veteran entrepreneur and venture capitalist with experience in international pharmaceutical markets.

Innovator of the Year: Betty Diamond
Location: Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Manhasset
The skinny: Relentless warrior in the fight against lupus, with multiple publications to prove it

It’s not overstating it to say Feinstein Institute immunologist and professor Betty Diamond’s dedicated research efforts are leading the fight against lupus.

Among many other accomplishments, Diamond and her team of Feinstein Institute researchers – including Peter Gregersen, head of the Feinstein Institute’s Robert S. Boas Center for Genomics & Human Genetics – developed a system for identifying a person’s risk for lupus by examining antibodies and a specific blood-based protein complex.

Diamond was one of 18 researchers authoring a paper that outlined the study’s core findings. Years of laboratory work will follow, but the risk index is already being hailed as a potential pathway to smarter and more efficient early-intervention protocols.

Feinstein Institute President and CEO Kevin Tracey, the bioelectronic medicine pioneer who knows all about leading the world in a specific expertise, praises his colleague as “a recognized leader in lupus research.”

“Her discovery of blood markers to assess disease risk also gives new insights into early diagnosis and hope for potential therapeutic pathways,” Tracey adds.

Diamond in 2018 also helped pioneer research revealing that ACE inhibitors – common pharmaceutical treatments for hypertension – could be the key to preserving brain function in lupus patients.

Innovator of the Year: James Hayward, Applied DNA Sciences
Location: Stony Brook
The Skinny: The president and CEO is leading the Stony Brook biotech’s DNA-based security solutions on a global quest

Applied DNA Sciences’ innovative biotech solutions stretched far beyond their Stony Brook headquarters in 2018, a year of impressive international growth.

The world tour started in January 2018, when Applied DNA announced it’s expanding its footprint in India with the opening of a Central DNA Testing Laboratory in Ahmedabad. The new, high-throughput facility would conduct sample testing and authentication and other forensic analyses in support of Applied DNA’s proliferating textile business across the Asia-Pacific region.

In Ireland, evidence gathered through the biotech’s SigNature DNA platform would help convict a suspect involved in a violent armed robbery. In Canada, a new partnership with Calgary-based pharmaceutical-solutions provider TheraCann International Benchmark Corp. would create ETCH Biotrace, introducing Applied DNA’s CertainT platform to the legalized-marijuana industry.

And Applied DNA also stayed busy domestically in 2018, announcing new partnerships with a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Pennsylvania and Illinois’ famous Underwriters Laboratories and attracting multiple nibbles with LineaRX – a spinoff enterprise commercializing the parent company’s extensive experience in the design, manufacture and chemical modification of large-scale DNA strands.

Looking ahead, there appears to be no slowing down. Applied DNA is currently expanding through Asia via a new Memorandum of Understanding with Sun Chemical Supply Co., a 60-year veteran supplier of chemicals, synthetic materials and equipment throughout the region.

“Sun Chemical Supply is a leader in its field,” Hayward told Innovate LI. “We believe our collaboration will drive additional adoption of our physical traceability solutions in the global textiles markets.”

Innovator of the Year: Renee Pekmezaris
Location: Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Manhasset
The skinny: Breaking down language barriers with a telehealth study specifically for Spanish-speaking patients

It’s fair to say the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute is a big fan of Renee Pekmezaris. The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research scientist was backed by the PCORI for the third time in 2018 – this time, with more than $3 million in funding, in support for a study focused on home telemonitoring of Hispanic-community patients living with type 2 diabetes.

While previous studies have reinforced the benefits of diabetes-focused telemedicine programs in low-income communities, no current program is tailored specifically to Hispanic communities – placing additional emphasis on Pekmezaris’ work, particularly among the 33 percent of U.S. Hispanics who will at some point in their lifetime develop type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the metabolic disorder.

Pekmezaris, also a professor in the Department of Population Health at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and Northwell Health’s vice president of community health and health services, earned two prior PCORI grants for telehealth studies: one focused on underserved heart failure, one on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Her most recent grant was awarded through a competitive review process in which patients, clinicians and other stakeholders evaluated proposals based on scientific merit, patient engagement, methodological rigor and other important criteria.


Innovator of the Year: Lisa Abbey, founder, Flygirl Beauty Brands
Location: Long Beach
The skinny: A longtime beauty veteran takes off with healthy products for busy travelers

After more than three decades of hair-styling success, Long Beach’s Lisa Abbey elevated her entrepreneurship with Flygirl Beauty Brands, a venture dedicated to making it a little easier to look good on the go.

Abbey launched Flygirl Beauty Brands LLC in March 2016, after being inspired by a frazzled customer who was disappointed by the traditional travel-size hair products typically found on drugstore shelves.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t these great hair-care lines make travel sizes?’” Abbey told Innovate LI.

Focusing on high-quality products in to-go sizes, Abbey partnered with American Culture – a Huntington Station-based, family-owned manufacturer of professional beauty products – to develop nine proprietary haircare products that, according to the innovator, offer the same benefits as the top brands, but at convenient travel sizes and at “a really great price point.”

Abbey’s product line has grown, now including a handful of third-party collaborations and three original lines: Fab On The Fly (for women), Guy On The Fly (for men) and the mousse-for-all Style On The Fly. In addition to online sales, Flygirl products grace shelves at five major U.S. airports (in North Carolina, Denver and California) – and the entrepreneur is busily looking to make new connections.

Innovator of the Year: MunchMoney
Location: West Islip
The skinny: Rewards-based foodie app launches nationally, after retooling Long Island-focused strategy

MunchMoney founder and CEO Chris Kane had an appetite for entrepreneurship – and a thirst for knowledge, allowing him and his executive team to rethink their rewards-based meal app’s go-to-market plan.

The result: a nationwide employee-engagement brand backed by 45,000 tasty friends.

The premise is simple: Employers pay $1 per employee per month for access to the MunchMoney platform, which offers deals at regional restaurants. The restaurants (who participate for no fee) gain new traffic; the employees (no fee) enjoy great deals; and the employers add a nice attraction/retention perk.

How Kane and Co. got there is less simple. Early on his career path, Kane, a James Madison University graduate, found himself longing for a simpler lunch-on-the-go – a loyalty program that echoed the simplicity of a prepaid college meal plan.

Unsatisfied with available choices, Kane teamed up with co-founders Aaron Pardes and Tony Dobbs to launch MunchMoney Inc. in January 2017. Its mission: to become “the college meal plan for real life,” according to the CEO, while “reinventing how people interact with fast-casual restaurants.”

Go-to-market proved difficult, including sputtering local partnerships, an aborted pilot launch in Hauppauge Industrial Park and other false starts. But the MuchMoney team worked on the problem and found a more fulfilling alternative, targeting B2B companies and launching their app on a national scale.

MunchMoney now boasts partnerships with some 45,000 restaurants nationwide – and “we’re really looking forward to growing as quickly as we can,” Kane told Innovate LI.

With its flagship app now available at Google Play and the App Store, the early-stage enterprise is also setting its first financing round, targeting $250,000 from angels and VC investors.

Innovator of the Year: Vengo Labs
Location: Bethpage
The skinny: The little vending machine that could

From a basement-built prototype to “Shark Tank” to promising new vertical markets, the big brains behind Vengo Labs have kept the momentum going.

In 2011, co-founders Brian Shimmerlik and Steven Bofill recruited Bofill’s father, former Northrop Grumman systems engineer Brian Bofill, for help with their bright idea: a new-age vending machine designed to dispense an array of electronics and personal products – smartphone batteries, headphones, hairspray and more – for an on-the-go generation.

From that inspiration sprung Vengo, now packing state-of-the-art motion sensors, a 21.5 inch high-definition touchscreen and patented product-delivery cartridges, all neatly configured inside a wall-mountable, 2.5-x-2-foot device that, when not dispensing stuff, is fairly perfect for digital advertising.

Since snagging national attention – and a $2 million buy-in from co-hosts Kevin O’Leary and Lori Greiner – on their 2016 “Shark Tank” appearance, Team Vengo has secured high-profile partnerships with Hershey Co., Revlon and Hyatt Hotels Corp.

Vengo’s patented product cartridges can certainly serve Snickers and such to the hangry. But the highest ceiling for the next-gen vendor might be in those electronics and personal products markets.

To that end, Vengo is busily exploring new partnerships with Blink Fitness locations across New York City – and is even giving campus life a whirl, installing vending machines across the Stony Brook University campus in partnership with North Carolina-based Canteen Vending Services.


Innovator of the Year: Unispan Records
Location: Hempstead
The skinny: Hofstra University’s student-run record label spins up several firsts in 2018

Unispan Records, Hofstra University’s in-house record label and one of the thriving beats inside the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship, is giving students a chance to climb the charts of creativity.

The unique program, created by CEO Sharon Goldsmith – senior associate dean of the Center for Entrepreneurship – invites students interested in the many different facets of the music business to build an independent label from the ground up.

Learners from all university departments can apply. Unispan welcomes 20 new participants each spring, and previous selectees and can continue working for the label – and gaining valuable music-business experience – after their semester is up, if things are going well.

Already, things are going well. Founded in 2016, Unispan kicked things off by signing Brooklyn-based rapper IzzeYe (a.k.a. RaShaan Perkins) and producing IzzeYe’s five-track EP “Allusions,” which dropped in October 2017.

Singer-songwriter KarmaRé, the second artist signed by the label, released her debut music video, “Get Over,” in January. The song is the first single off KarmaRé’s “Mood Ring” compilation, which explores the artist’s fascination with the power of crystals and the therapeutic value of songwriting.

Along with Goldsmith, Unispan is supported by and an industry-rich collection of executives-in-residence, including Atlantic Records VP Rigo Morales, XXL Magazine Editor in Chief Vanessa Satten and Asylum Records Senior Marketing Director Angel Martinez, among others.

Innovator of the Year: Jonathan Preminger
Location: Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, Hempstead
The Skinny: Lighting the way to cleaner lab coats

In his third year of clinical rotations at the Zucker School of Medicine, Jonathan Preminger confronted a challenge familiar to many healthcare professionals.

At the end of each rotation, he’d hang his white lab coat in a locker or closet, and return the next day with a fresh set of clothes – but the lab coat wouldn’t be as fresh, basically crawling with whatever contaminants were left behind by yesterday’s patients.

Preminger found no existing solutions anywhere in the healthcare universe, though he did find evidence that the problem was worse than he thought, including one study that said 60 percent of doctors wash their lab coats somewhere between every 60 days and never.

Determined to create an answer, the innovator united with a friend in the medical-device field and formed SteriLux Systems LLC, with a plan to disinfect white coats and other healthcare garments using ultraviolet light technology.

After one year of development, the startup introduced SteriLocker, a patented garment sterilizer for healthcare settings. Akin to a locker or small closet, the device can fit into numerous convenient locations – an actual closet, for instance – and promises full sterilization within minutes, utilizing UV light.

Pockets don’t have to be emptied, as they do with traditional laundry or dry-cleaning options, and SteriLocker even sends a message to the user’s smartphone when the garment is cleaned, keeping the device available to entire teams of white-coats.

After capturing third place in the 2018 Hofstra-Digital Remedy Venture Challenge, Preminger – who graduated from the Zucker School of Medicine in May 2018 – is now looking to hit the commercialization gas.

“The system is designed to reduce infections and improve patient care while saving healthcare facilities time and money,” the inventor says. “I could see every day while in the hospital that this could make a difference.”

Innovator of the Year: William Banai, Half Hollow Hills High School East
Location: Dix Hills
The Skinny: A young man of principles

William Banai is, quite literally, among the best in the world when it comes to understanding business principles.

That he probably has homework tonight is to be expected; in that way, William is like most other high school juniors. But in 2018, the student achieved something most high school sophomores – or anyone else, for that matter – ever do: official global recognition, in this case as a business-principles savant.

The honors came in April, in Atlanta, at the 2018 DECA International Career Development Conference, where William earned a “Top 10 In The World” award in the Principles of Business Administration category.

Competing against students from around the globe, William completed a rigorous 100-question exam and delivered two topic-specific, leadership-focused speeches – each with only 10 minutes’ prep time – to earn his top spot.

Noting “a great hands-on experience,” the young innovator recommends that future competitors “start as early as possible” on their DECA presentations.

“No organization brings the healthy mix of business and competition to life better than DECA,” he adds. “From marketing to sports management, students have a unique opportunity to explore the always-relevant realm of business and prepare for their futures.”

DECA Inc. is a nonprofit, career-focused student organization with a 60-year history and more than 215,000 members in the United States, Canada, China, Germany, Guam, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Spain. The 2019 ICDC, scheduled for April in Orlando, will network more than 10,000 students and thousands of teachers, advisors and business leaders for college and career exhibitions, business-themed competitions, 21st century skill-building workshops and, for the teachers and advisors, new professional-development opportunities.

Innovators of the Year: Danielle Kelly and Audrey Shine
Location: Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School and the Friends Academy of Locust Valley
The Skinny: Friends team up to conquer global clean-tech competition

When the seventh-annual Spellman HV Electronics Clean Tech Competition wrapped up in July 2018 at Stony Brook University, an international collection of forward-thinking youngsters earned recognition – but it was a team from Long Island that captured the glory.

Sponsored by Hauppauge-based Spellman High Voltage Electronics Corp. and managed by the nonprofit Center for Science Teaching & Learning in Rockville Centre, the seventh-annual brain-a-thon attracted fiercely intelligent competition from the United States, Singapore, Peru, Ireland and Australia, all strutting their next-gen understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and focusing those considerable skills on real-world environmental challenges.

In the end, the team of Danielle Kelly, representing the Friends Academy, and Audrey Shine, a student at Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School, finished on top, taking first place – and the $10,000 top prize – with a project focused on enhancing the efficiency of hydrogen fuel cells.

More specifically, “Application of Graphene Oxide/Amine Functionalized Graphene Oxide onto Polymer Electrolyte Membranes and Electrodes to Optimize Hydrogen Fuel Cell Performance” suggested improving hydrogen fuel-cell performance by using graphene oxide, a chemically exfoliated (and much cheaper) alternative to graphite oxide, which is good at stabilizing emulsion systems but difficult and expensive to produce.

It’s some seriously advanced stuff, but right in the wheelhouse for big thinkers Danielle – who said winning was great, “but the true value of the experience was collaborating internationally to solve the pressing and universal issue of climate change” – and Audrey, who actually captured top honors at her second straight Spellman HV Electronics Clean Tech Competition, also finishing first in 2017.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to collaborate with young scientists around the globe,” Audrey notes. “I am incredibly honored and grateful.”


Mitch Maiman
Co-founder, President and CEO, Intelligent Product Solutions
The skinny: Nobody understands innovation like Mitch Maiman, a 40-year-veteran engineer wrapped in a savvy businessman who’s led his 2008 startup to global standing.

Four decades later, the maker can’t stop making.

Creativity that started in the late 1970s, when he designed digital watch cases for a Queens-based watchmaker, continues unabated today. It’s in Mitch Maiman’s bones, it seems, in his blood.

Decades past his master’s of science degree (mechanical engineering) from Columbia University and his MBA from Farleigh Dickinson University, years removed from his run as Symbol Technologies’ vice-president of engineering, Maiman’s deep product-design knowledge and mind-over-matter philosophy still serve him well.

And they serve Intelligent Product Solutions, the company Maiman launched a decade ago alongside Paul Severino. Now a subsidiary of Florida-based Forward Industries, IPS is still a first, best hope for inventors, entrepreneurs and established corporations looking to step up their product’s game – and that’s largely due to Maiman’s infatuation with ideation.

“I love innovating,” he says. “I love brainstorming. I love ideation.”

There’s plenty of that going around at Maiman’s Hauppauge-based company, which designs and develops machines, software applications, user-experience/user-interface processes and all manners of electrical-engineering products, with special attention paid to wearables, medical devices and the burgeoning Internet of Things (which extends internet connectivity to traditionally “dumb” devices, such as coffee cups and doorbells).

Maiman’s maker mothership – staffed with 100-plus next-gen designers and engineers, plus a complement of seasoned administrative staffers – doesn’t stop there. New vending devices, updated security protocols, ever-smarter touchscreens and a growing range of energy-storage technologies are also in play, a consumer and industrial mix that proved very attractive to Forward Industries, which acquired IPS at the end of 2017.

Instead of relocating the talented IPS team, Florida-based, globally active Forward Industries left Maiman’s startup right where it was, and left Maiman (along with Chief Operating Officer Severino) in charge. From Long Island, the new subsidiary would add its unique knowledge and skills to Forward’s global assortment of engineers and builders – and IPS would explore a new world of opportunities.

While understandably excited about the exposure IPS would gain as part of Forward Industries’ international network, Maiman promised his startup would “absolutely” remain on Long Island and continue servicing its regional clientele, which of course it has – very good news for the build-a-better-mousetrap set.

The company’s extensive client base includes a fairly incredible list of names-you-know – Google, Pepsico, Motorola, Honeywell, Zebra, Hamilton Beach and many others, all of whom turned to IPS at some point for design assistance.

But it’s the small-time upstart with the big idea and the profound need for engineering assistance that’s always been at IPS’s heart. The St. James firm with the remote app that sniffs out kitchen fires. The New York City charity monitoring global wells. The list goes on – regional thinkers, big and small, who needed help turning ideas into viable products, and found it at IPS.

With Maiman at the wheel, IPS has also been a magnet for out-of-town innovation, attracting a steady flow of brilliant ideas from across the nation. The award-winning “smart safe” from Westchester County. The “smart lighting” system for the Hollywood production company. The NYC med-tech’s “smart bottle” for pills. The interactive kiosks for Virginia-based IntelliDyne.

And sometimes, even before Forward Industries came knocking, the innovators in need hailed from around the world: the partnership with Belgium-based AB InBev, for instance, resulting in BeerBox, an internet-enabled automatic vendor.

The seemingly endless stream of inventiveness, stemming from all national (and occasionally international) corners, has kept IPS in a virtual growth state. The company only occupied 80 percent of the 14,000 square feet it acquired back in 2008, but has grown to fill the space completely; earlier this year, it spilled over into a 6,000-square-foot satellite facility in Ronkonkoma, where it conducts prototyping and light manufacturing.

Corporate collaborations have also helped the startup along. A Consulting Engineering Services partnership with Arrow Electronics, first signed in 2016, continues to give IPS wings. And of course, the Forward Industries merger was the cherry on top of the founders’ vision, bringing the world to IPS’s door, and vice-versa.

Maiman, at the time of the acquisition, was understated (“We met and sparks flew”). But Forward Industries CEO Terry Wise basically gushed, trumpeting IPS’s “expertise and strong track record in designing connected/IoT products” and predicting “exciting times ahead.”

Following Maiman’s guiding principles, IPS has continuously displayed a next level of ingenuity – not just “can-do,” but “can-do-better.” The diversity of its customer base, its success on Forward Industries’ larger canvas and the sheer creativity it brings to each new challenge all speak for themselves.

And they speak to the mindset of its longtime CEO, who’s attached his name to a dozen U.S. patents and still gets a kick out of brainstorming – even if his time on the production floor has been limited by more mundane responsibilities.

“I always wanted to be an engineer, but fate played a hand and I’ve been relegated to being the CEO – the one job at IPS that nobody wants,” Maiman notes. “But if there’s anywhere at IPS where I still get to participate, it’s the brainstorming.

“I really get turned on by the ideation work, and by meeting with new clients,” he adds. “Every time I meet a new client, it’s a new problem to solve.”

That kind of thinking, combined with IPS’s impressive record of success, leaves Innovate Long Island hard-pressed to think of anyone more worthy of the Master of Innovation title than Mitch Maiman.

“Innovation comes in lots of different forms,” the master notes. “But in the end, innovation is really about coming up with novel solutions to problems. About solving puzzles.

“And I love puzzles.”


John L. Kominicki Legacy Award

Yacov Shamash
Vice President for Economic Development, Stony Brook University
The skinny: After 18 years, Stony Brook University’s economic-development guru rides into the sunset atop a long list of achievements.

On April 1, Yacov Shamash will step aside after more than 18 years as Stony Brook University’s vice president of economic development.

Characteristically, he makes way for the sake of progress. The university’s Office of Economic Development is folding into its Office of Research, creating an entirely new economic-development protocol for the Long Island jewel of the SUNY system.

Don’t write off Shamash just yet. After “laying a strong foundation for the next phase” of the university, according to President Samuel Stanley Jr., he’ll be guiding Stanley and other SBU administrators on economic-development matters as an executive advisor.

But April 1 marks a truly transitional moment. Not only does SBU charge forward with the opening of two new offices – Industry-Research Partnerships & Business Services and Incubator Management & Operations – it pauses to acknowledge the contributions of a man who led the university through nearly two decades of growth.

“Yacov was instrumental in the creation of all of the incubator services across Stony Brook University,” notes David Hamilton, executive director of SBU’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program. “He was critical to the creation of CEBIP back in 2011 – visionary, in the sense that a clean-energy incubator program could make sense as a virtual incubator, which was key.

“That allowed us to work with pre-seed, smaller startup companies that don’t necessarily have the funding to rent incubator space … giving them access to Stony Brook University and Long Island resources they might not otherwise access.”

Hamilton, who also directs operations at SBU’s Advanced Energy Research Technology Center, called Shamash a “huge advocate of the future.”

“Over his two decades, he understood the shifting focus and saw where economic-development was going,” Hamilton adds. “Yacov developed an incredible and extensive set of programs, all designed to help Stony Brook researchers and the Long Island business community take their technologies forward.”

No doubt, Shamash has been busy. From the vice president’s office, he’s supervised SBU’s three business incubators, two New York State Centers for Advanced Technology, the NYS Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology, the SBU Small Business Development Center and numerous workforce-development programs at the Center for Emerging Technologies.

He “isn’t really a force of nature,” notes SBU Economic Development Director Ann-Marie Scheidt, though it sometimes seems that way.

“His first name is enough,” Scheidt says. “There are hurricanes, there’s Madonna and there’s Yacov.”

Until 2015, Shamash served as dean of SBU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences – an office he filled for more than two decades, partially overlapping his 2000 promotion to VP – and is credited with leading the successful fundraising efforts that helped establish the university’s civil engineering program.

“Yacov advanced Stony Brook University in areas that place it in a uniquely high place in the eyes of the engineering world,” notes Michael Faltischek, who sits beside Shamash on the AERTC Board of Directors – one of several collaborations between the veteran attorney and the longtime economic-development ace.

Shamash’s understanding of the mighty role engineering plays in the economic-development arena has always been hugely beneficial, according to Faltischek, Innovate Long Island’s 2018 Master of Innovation.

“All new ideas come out of engineering, or need the support of engineers, whether it’s software programming, hardware development or new technologies,” Faltischek says. “And all of that is driven in large measure by things like CEWIT, which are Yacov’s babies.”

As busy as he’s been promoting SBU’s engineering and economic-development efforts, Shamash’s extracurricular schedule is no slower. A fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and author of more than 130 scientific papers, he sits on the Board of Directors of the Long Island Angel Network and the Long Island Software & Technology Network – he’s a founding member of both – and of numerous private companies, including Keytronic and Netsmart Technologies.

Shamash has also been the linchpin of a new regional consortium of legislative, academic and commercial partners focused on New York’s critical role in the ongoing development of offshore wind-power technologies.

“He was instrumental in the creation of that consortium,” Faltischek notes. “And things like that are so important, because they elevate Stony Brook University and attract top students, particularly in the engineering field, not only from Long Island but from around the world.”

Shamash’s hardworking time on Long Island complements a long career of research, instruction and program development. The academician, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from London’s Imperial College of Science and Technology, held faculty positions at Florida Atlantic University, the University of Pennsylvania and Tel Aviv University before becoming director of Washington State University’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

At Washington State, he spearheaded the establishment of the Center for the Design of Analog/Digital Integrated Circuits, a registered National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center – precisely the sort of visionary thinking he’s always displayed at SBU, according to AERTC Chairman Robert Catell.

The energy industry veteran – who also chairs the New York State Smart Grid Consortium, where Shamash fills another influential board seat – said the outgoing VP has brought “extraordinary leadership” to his roles as economic-development guru and engineering school dean.

“Yacov has shown a unique ability to connect the world of academia to the world of business, and has contributed greatly to the growth of the Long Island business community,” adds Catell, also an Innovate Long Island Master of Innovation (2017). “He’s a genuinely nice person who cares deeply about his family, and I’m proud to call him a dear friend.”

It’s perhaps those out-of-the-office qualities – his faith in others, his almost preternatural understanding of networking, his genuine spirit – that will be missed most by his colleagues, according to Scheidt.

“Two of the qualities that have defined his leadership of the university and region are vision – how can all of Long Island’s potential best be fulfilled? – and honor,” she says. “The word is his bond.

“Yacov’s greatest gift to Long Islanders is faith in ourselves,” Scheidt adds. “He is a truly exceptional leader because he inspires all of us who work with him to achieve far more than we would have believed possible.”



Innovator of the Year: Allied Microbiota
Location: Stony Brook
The skinny: Battling environmental contamination with unique microbes and enzymes

Allied Microbiota is an early-stage bootstrapper on a primary mission to remediate soils and sediments tainted by toxins. Founded by Frana James and Raymond Sambrotto, the startup found itself in fairly elite company last year, when it was named a finalist in the prestigious 76West competition.

Allied Microbiota uses microbial products to treat toxic pollutants, including PCBs, in soil and sediment. And while it didn’t take top honors at 76West, the science is sound, developed over a course of years by Sambrotto, who spent a decade pitting microbes against various pollutants.

Advancing as far as it did in the competition added to the strong start for the Columbia University PowerBridge NY program graduate, currently basking in the business-development glow of Stony Brook University’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program.

With several patent applications in the works and an ambitious field-testing program underway with New Jersey-based environmental engineering firm Clean Earth, the cofounders – along with new Director of Technology Michael Chin – are now field-testing and fine-tuning solutions for a market that, according to James, is ripe for such products.

“Once we show the technology can work at that scale, commercialization is the next step,” the entrepreneur notes. “Our plan is to start manufacturing on a larger scale [in 2019].”

Innovator of the Year: StoreEn
Location: Stony Brook
The skinny: Advancing the clean-gen science of revolutionary vanadium-flow batteries

Italian import StorEn is looking to revolutionize the energy market with its evolutionary vanadium-flow batteries – rechargeable units that use vanadium ions in different oxidation states to store chemical potential energy.

A client of Stony Brook University’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program and graduate of the university’s 2017 Innovation Boot Camp, the startup (which originally launched in Italy) achieved statewide recognition in 2018 as one of eight finalists in the 76West Clean Energy Competition. It didn’t win, but just being there affirmed the promise of its vanadium-flow batteries – and its plans to shrink the typically large power sources for residential and light-commercial use.

The plan now: Extensive R&D focused on improving electrical performance and further reducing environmental footprints, resulting ultimately in an economically viable solution. Already, the company is benefitting from the experiences of co-founder and CEO Carlo Brovero, who started his corporate finance career in the merchant banking division of London’s National Westminster Bank in 1991.

Like Brovero, StorEn’s other four co-founders – filling the company’s CTO and senior engineering slots – are Italian nationals, with educational and professional backgrounds covering programming, fuel cell technology, cogeneration tech and other engineering and energy-related disciplines.

Innovator of the Year: Javier Izquierdo
Location: Hempstead
The Skinny: Hofstra University assistant biology professor on a sustainable-biofuel crusade

Scientist Javier Izquierdo has crossed continents – and disciplines – on his multifaceted microbiological mission.

Born in Venezuela, the assistant biology professor teaches both undergraduate and graduate biology courses at Hofstra University, where his own research is focused on metabolic diversities and microbial processes. In the biological world, this is heavy-duty stuff – and in Izquierdo’s case, it’s opened a unique door to the world of sustainable energy.

Izquierdo’s efforts to better understand and even improve local plant health have given him insights into potential biofuels produced from agricultural waste – akin to biofuels produced from animal wastes, only plant-based and more easily sustainable.

The scientist’s cross-disciplinary approach incorporates microbiology, ecology, evolutionary science, molecular science and genomic techniques, all working together to help him decipher the effects plant microbiomes (pathogenic microorganisms inhabiting the plants) have on their hosts – and to leverage them into new, sustainable bioproducts, including biofuels.

Long Island, which boasts “a broad, diverse set of environments,” is the perfect place for this research, according to the oft-published scientist, who earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Case Western Reserve University and a PhD (microbiology) from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Among other current efforts, Izquierdo is currently leading a field project studying which microbes promote the growth of Ammophila breviligulata – also known as American beachgrass, a key tool for natural dune replenishment. That work is funded by a three-year, $476,000 National Science Foundation grant the scientist secured in 2017.

“We have an opportunity to solve real problems here,” notes Izquierdo, who’s also worked at Dartmouth College’s Department of Energy-funded BioEnegy Science Center and North Carolina State University, where he investigated thermophilic microbes able to convert cellulose to fuels.


Innovator of the Year: Ashley Heather, i-Hamptons
Location: Southampton
The skinny: Elegant co-working spaces and networking for East End entrepreneurs

Some head to the Hamptons to escape work. But The Spur is introducing Hamptons elegance to the workplace, with its innovative mission – business-development support for the East End entrepreneur – spreading fast.

The “private co-working and entrepreneur’s club,” helmed by i-Hamptons founder Ashley Heather, launched in 2018, first inside the friendly confines of the Southampton Country Club and later at “The Spur @ The Station,” a renovated space near the Long Island Rail Road’s Southampton stop, which opened in May.

And Heather, it appears, is just getting started: In early 2019, the innovator announced plans for “Spur East End,” a second location in East Hampton offering co-working spaces for up to 50 people at a time, a conference room for 20 and even complimentary breakfast during the workweek, along with the requisite A-list elbow-rubbing.

In addition to the topnotch amenities, the allure – particularly strong on the East End – is the “member’s only” exclusivity. Heather, who runs New York City-based digital agency White Space Group, notes The Spur’s unique look and feel were intended to create an “inspiring” environment for entrepreneurs, who often find themselves working out of home office (or the local Starbucks).

As for the future of East End co-working, Heather – who labels “Spur East End” a by-popular-demand development – has no intention of stopping in East Hampton.

“Our next step is to … expand into four locations on the East End,” he told Innovate LI. “Then we will look at other resort towns around the nation. But first, we want to be 10 minutes from every entrepreneur on the East End.”

Innovator of the Year: SnappyXO Design Innovation and Robotics Camp
Location: Plainview
The skinny: A high-tech summer camp inspiring the next generation of Long Island STEM students

In 2018, the SnappyXO Design Innovation and Robotics Camp gave Long Island students a chance to spend part of their summer learning the ins and outs of complex robotics, through a host of STEM-based educational programs meant to inspire the next generation of innovators.

The two-week, immersive project was the brainchild of Plainview-based Composite Prototyping Center (which hosted the kids), Dix Hills-based Mechanismic Inc. and the Stony Brook University-based Manufacturing & Technology Resource Consortium, one of 10 statewide Empire State Development Corp.-designated Manufacturing Extension Partnership centers.

Anurag Purwar, Mechanismic founder and research associate professor in SBU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, served as instructor, utilizing Stony Brook’s innovative MotionGen robotics programming app and Mechamismic’s novel robotics kit, SnappyXO, to provide a hands-on learning experience.

Students were each given a robotics kit and instructed on the basics of integrating software and hardware components in their robotic creations – a hands-on introduction to microcontroller programming, electronic-circuit design, sensors, actuators and other advanced-robotics concepts.

Basically, everything a growing child needs to construct walking, “two-wheel differential drive” and more complex automatons. But while the theme was centered on robots, the true focus was the development of a future workforce ready for multiple industries – one keen on robotics and related STEM disciplines, matching the camp to the primary mission of both the MTRC and the Composite Prototyping Center.

“The goals for this camp are to expose students to the design-innovation process, mechanisms, machines, practical electronics and microcontroller programming,” Purwar told Innovate LI. “(All) in the context of robot design.”

Innovator of the Year: Cradle of Aviation Museum
Location: Garden City
The skinny: Cranking up the Long Island nostalgia (and the drama) as the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo moon landing approaches

We went to the moon in 1969, and 50 years later, that small step for man still inspires all mankind.

In July 2019, the world will celebrate NASA’s momentous achievement – but the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City has already blasted off.

The museum’s Countdown to Apollo at 50 celebration will ultimately cover the better part of a full year. It has already included numerous touchdowns by actual NASA astronauts, along with a series of educational and inspirational exhibitions meant to remind visitors how far we’ve come, and how far we can still go into the final frontier.

In October 2018, the museum welcomed “Space: A Journey to Our Future,” a traveling NASA show (sponsored locally by the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation) featuring never-before-seen artifacts from almost every Apollo moon mission, drone simulators and a full-sized prototype of a potential Mars habitat.

Upcoming events in the ongoing countdown include a special June 6 dinner featuring multiple Apollo astronauts, as well as the family-friendly Apollo Moon Festival on July 20 – the golden anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic lunar stroll.

Some 400,000 men and women in 48 states worked at companies large and small to help complete the Apollo missions – but it was Long Island-based Grumman Aerospace that took the lead, building the Lunar Module with the assistance of hundreds of regional subcontractors.

That makes Long Island, and the Cradle of Aviation Museum, a logical landing zone for 50th anniversary Apollo observances.

“The 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 serves as a watershed event for the Cradle of Aviation Museum and for Long Island,” notes museum President Andrew Parton.

Innovator of the Year: LG Studios
Location: Edgewood
The skinny: A video-production mecca spearheaded by Lorraine Gregory Communications, Mirrorland Productions and the Drake Media Network

Sometimes, three heads are better than one.

LG studios, which officially opens this month, is a collaboration of Lorraine Gregory Communications, Hauppauge-based production studio Mirrorland Productions and the Drake Media Network, owned by popular talk show host Donna Drake.

The professional video-production facility – constructed inside Lorraine Gregory Communications’ Edgewood warehouse – features several amenities, including multiple studios, “green screen” technologies, large and flexible spaces, production offices and even a dedicated makeup/hair/wardrobe room.

Built for Lorraine Gregory Communications clients pursuing 21st century marketing programs, as well as a variety of Mirrorland and Drake Media projects, the versatile facility reflects long video-production experience, including some shared histories.

Both Lorraine Gregory and Mirrorland have worked on “The Donna Drake Show” (known previously as “Live it Up! With Donna Drake”). And Lorraine Gregory CEO Greg Demetriou is no stranger to the small screen himself, hosting the popular “Ask a CEO” video blog.

With the help of Mirrorland’s Ken Bogardt, Demetriou and Drake decided to bring their myriad production efforts under one roof. The result: A unique production facility ideal for everything from talk shows to commercials (a growing interest shared by Mirrorland and Drake Media).

“For a lot of these, we’ve been renting studio space in New York City,” Drake told Innovate LI. “Now those productions will come to Suffolk.”


Innovators of the Year: Peyton and Melanie Marsh, City Leaf Farm
Location: Valley Stream
The Skinny: Innovative indoor “vertical farming” redefines “farm-to-table”

City Leaf is an urban hydroponic farm offering quality organic microgreens and “specialty greens” by request for restaurants, caterers and private chefs – a little enterprise with a big idea of promoting sustainable, efficient and innovative farm practices.

Founded by ecologically conscious husband-and-wife team Peyton and Melanie Marsh, the 2017 startup ultimately aims to move cities toward sustainable practices, while improving the urban availability of fresh-grown produce.

The hook is hydroponics, the science of applying filtered, nutrient-rich water to soil-less plant roots. “Hydroponics” comes from the Greek root words “hydro,” for “water,” and “ponos,” for “work,” literally translating to “the water does the work” – though in the case of City Leaf, it’s the Marshes who’ve done the heavy lifting.

Among other efforts, they’ve created a closed-loop water system flowing with natural vitamins and minerals, as well as control systems for their indoor farmstead’s temperature, humidity and light levels.

The result: year-round growth of micro broccoli, mizuna mustard and a host of other microgreen crops – from red Russian kale to Rambo radish – as well as “specialty microgreens” like micro basil and micro cilantro.

The farmers’ goals are noble – not only building their own business, but promoting healthier eating while minimizing environmental impacts, connecting people to their food sources and creating ever more resilient and sustainable agricultural practices.

“We are conscientious of our ecological footprint,” notes Peyton, who’s completing his business degree at Hofstra University. “Our farm reduces energy and water consumption wherever possible.”

Innovator of the Year: Margaret and Bruce McDonough, Talk Treats to Me
Location: Lindenhurst
The skinny: Healthier treats for man’s best friend

When it comes to healthy food alternatives for pets, Margaret and Bruce McDonough mean business.

After losing Saiorse, their beloved yellow lab, in 2011, Margaret determined that imported pet treats packed with unnatural ingredients were partly to blame. Leaning on her expansive catering experience and leveraging various industry contacts – including relationships with Bohemia-based Restaurant Depot and Farmingdale-based Crescent Packing Co. – she partnered with her husband, Bruce, on a new endeavor: organic, single-ingredient pet treats.

“We’re dealing completely with people food,” McDonough told Innovate LI. “All we do is slice it and dehydrate it. We don’t add preservatives, we don’t add anything – just pure human food, pure meat, pure vegetables.”

Offering creative treats like Doggie Ice Cream and a fruit-and-veggie selection featuring watermelons, pineapples and yams, the innovators have also found fans among cats, ferrets and even horses.

They shy away from big-box vendors that don’t align with their wholesome, chemical-free mission, and instead have grown largely through word-of-mouth and legwork, making the rounds at farmer’s markets across Long Island.

Proud to now be on shelves at more than 65 brick-and-mortar stores between Montauk and New York City, the McDonoughs are also working to build up Talk Treats to Me’s mail-order business.

Innovator of the Year: Taylor Knapp, Peconic Escargot
Location: Cutchogue
The Skinny: In a farm-to-table era, an entrepreneurial chef opens the first U.S. escargot farm

About seven years back, North Fork chef Taylor Knapp wanted to cook up a special escargot dish – but found access to fresh snails lacking on the East End.

And not just on the East End, his research would soon show, not just in New York State, but up and down the East Coast and everywhere else in the United States.

A fresh domestic escargot source simply didn’t exist. Canned escargot was available. Frozen could be found. But for Knapp, a big fan of locally sourced ingredients, the prepackaged stuff wouldn’t do.

When a fellow chef jokingly suggested he raise his own snails, Knapp’s inner entrepreneur “got to thinking,” and “Peconic Escargot was born.”

“It dawned on me: The best chefs in the country are sourcing these incredibly fresh fruits and vegetables locally,” Knapp says. “Seafood caught that morning. Free-range chickens and grass-fed beef. And then they’re opening up a dusty old can of snails.”

A successful $30,000 Kickstarter campaign in 2013 got the ball rolling nicely for Knapp and his business partner, Sean Nethercott. But as a first-of-its-kind business, Peconic Escargot couldn’t follow someone else’s roadmap to success – it had to find its own way.

Raising a French species known as Petit Gris – “little grey snail” – Peconic Escargot feeds its predator-free livestock a diet of wild-foraged greens including dandelion, burdock and clover, exactly what the critters would eat in the wild.

The result: plump, juicy escargot and fresh snail caviar, ordered online by amateur cooks (home delivery and local-farm pick-ups available) and by wholesale customers including restaurants and distributors.

Being the first USDA-certified fresh-snail farm – and, basically, the only never-canned-or-frozen escargot game in any U.S. town – has served the startup and its “head snail wrangler” well.

“All of their beautiful, natural and wild flavors are intact,” Knapp says. “And because they’re not pre-cooked, you get to start at the beginning with how you choose to prepare and season them.

“We think that’s pretty important.”