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Innovations Award Winners

Driven by engaged, entrepreneurial employees, employee-owned companies often emerge as industry leaders, pioneering best practices in a range of areas. The Innovations in Employee Ownership Award seeks to recognize the innovative practices that result from having an engaged workforce of employee-owners, as well as ideas that tie stock to improved company culture or performance. By sharing these ideas with the employee-ownership community, this award strives to encourage employee-owned companies to continue to innovate.

2015 Award Winners

On April 22, 2015, the NCEO and the Beyster Institute announced the winners of the 2015 Innovations in Employee Ownership Award.

Radian Research, Inc.
Lafayette, IN

Radian Research, a 100% employee-owned company that researches and develops systems for energy testing, has created an employee culture that fosters trust and innovation. By emphasizing engagement, employee-owners, irrespective of position, tenure, or department, feel empowered to improve and implement practices that the benefit of the company. The company has an ESOP Ambassador team that consists of both management and non-management employees, as well as eight "cross-functional" groups from multiple departments that discuss and restructure practices, that lead to a well of ideas that make Radian Research a leader in its field.

Omni Resources
Milwaukee, WI

Omni Resources originally started thirty years ago as an information technology staffing firm but has since changed not only its ownership structure but its entire way of doing business. In the face of difficulties during the recession and following the transition to 100% employee ownership, the company began to focus on a more sustainable and innovative business model through the development of what the company calls "Omnivation." The Solutions Group behind this process has grown to include more than fifty employees, all working on helping clients innovate their use of technology to better serve their customers. Additionally, Omni Resources strives to provide an example to Wisconsinites by creating a platform for students, teachers, and companies in their communities to engage and learn from one another.

2014 Award Winners

On April 9, 2014, the NCEO and the Beyster Institute announced the winners of the 2014 Innovations in Employee Ownership Award.

Hanover, NH

Hypertherm designs and manufactures advanced cutting products for use in a variety of industries such as shipbuilding, manufacturing, and automotive repair. Its product line includes handheld and mechanized plasma systems, as well as fiber laser and water jet cutting products, CNC controls, and CAM cutting software. The company enjoys leading global market share within the plasma cutting category and is proud to design, engineer, and assemble nearly all of its products in the United States. The award winning and 100% associate-owned company has more than 1,300 associates around the world.

Steve Silver Company
Forney, TX

Steve Silver Company, a majority employee-owned wholesale furniture distributor, has two main segments of current business: casual dining and occasional furniture. Recently, the company entered the home office and leather upholstery segments of the furniture market and plans to expand business in both. Despite turmoil in the housing and furniture market, the Steve Silver Company has experienced growth for four consecutive years with the help of innovative teaching programs and employee engagement processes that have empowered employees to implement their innovative ideas.

2013 Award Winner

The NCEO and the Beyster Institute at the University of California San Diego's Rady School of Management announced the winners of the 2012 Innovations Awards on April 26 during the Annual Employee Ownership Conference in Minneapolis, MN. Judges selected four winning companies for innovations in employee engagement, corporate giving, and wellness.

Software Engineering Professionals (SEP)
Carmel, IN

The Innovation: Software Engineering Professionals (SEP) was recognized for offering an in company version of the Kauffman Foundation's Startup Weekend. Occurring twice a year, SEP Startup Weekend allows participants to use SEP's offices and technology to work on unique and imaginative product ideas. Participants pitch ideas on Friday, spend the weekend in groups developing the ideas, and present them to their colleagues on Sunday evening.
The Company: SEP is a software and technology development company, providing complete project life-cycle support for industrial strength challenges. Started in 1988 by software engineers who wanted to create a more desirable work environment, SEP is now 100% employee-owned by its 95+ engineers.

2012 Award Winners

Environmental Science Associates
San Francisco, CA

The Innovation: Conducting a company-wide employee survey and using the results to build the company's 5-year strategic plan.
The Company: ESA is an environmental science and planning firm that specializes in all aspects of project planning, environmental analysis and assessment, and regulatory compliance. Founded in 1969, the company now has more than 340 employee-owners and 14 offices. The company became 100% employee owned in 1994.

n-Link Corporation
Bend, OR

The Innovation: Conducting an annual employee survey that is used to develop the company's goals and objectives for the year.
The Company: n-Link is an information technology and professional engineering company that provides services and commodity to the U.S. government on civilian and Department of Defense Contracts. n-Link was founded in 1994 by Sandra Green. The company became 100% employee owned in 2009.

Torch Technologies, Inc.
Huntsville, AL

The Innovation: An employee-created, employee-run, 501(c)(3) charitable giving foundation called "Torch Helps" that has 100% financial efficiency.
The Company: Torch provides a broad range of aerospace and engineering services including planning, execution, performance analysis, design and reporting. Torch was founded in 2002 in Huntsville, Alabama, and became 100% employee owned in 2011.

El Cerrito, CA

The Innovation: A wellness program that rewards participating employees with stock options.
The Company: Vigilent is a privately held firm specializing in intelligent energy management systems for data centers, telcos, and large, commercial buildings. Since its start in 2004, the company has pioneered the application of advanced, artificial intelligence technology to the real-time demands of energy usage, delivering reductions in costs and increased reliability.

2011 Award Winners

Cal-Tex Protective Coatings, Inc.
Scherz, Texas

Cal-Tex Protective Coatings, Inc. develops, manufactures, and markets automotive aftermarket products that protect vehicles from environmental damage and theft. The company weaves innovative ideas throughout its operations, from a self-directed care team that helps employees in times of need to book study groups. For ESOP month, the company launched an extensive six-week program called "ESOP for iPads," a team-based learning event that included educational sessions and competition.

Carl Warren & Company
Placentia, California

Boasting a 97% client retention rate, Carl Warren & Company is an employee-owned, award winning third party claims administrator with 24 locations throughout the United States. The employee-owners at Carl Warren & Company have joined together to find process and technology solutions to make sure the company "goes green" while generating the profits that make ESOP accounts grow. The result has been paper reduction, increased use of recyclable products, and a smaller corporate carbon footprint.

Meier Architecture * Engineering
Kennewick, Washington

Meier Architecture * Engineering is an architectural and engineering consulting firm serving clients in the United States and internationally. Meier has implemented several programs to enhance and improve its ESOP, including Meier University, all-staff annual training, an employee mentorship program, an idea vetting process, the ESOP anniversary celebration, a new hire orientation, a quarterly newsletter from the Effective Employee Ownership Committee, lunch with the president, a corporate library, and continuing education.

2010 Winners

BL Companies, Inc.
Meriden, Connecticut

BL Companies delivers integrated architecture, engineering, and related services to public and private clients for land development, building design, and infrastructure projects. Founded in 1986, BL Companies has 170 employees with seven offices in Connecticut, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. A number of practices at BL Companies -- including rigorous leadership development, structured business and ESOP communications, and constant training -- help create a culture of innovation. Company leaders believe that these mutually reinforcing activities are necessary to gain sustained benefit. In their words, "we are proud of our progress, but we believe we are never done."

Pala Group, Inc.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Pala Group has performed work throughout the United States since 1973 as a diversified construction services company with customers from the Fortune 100 and contracts in refineries and chemical plants throughout the Gulf Coast and Midwest. Following a recent transaction, Pala Group is 100% owned by an ESOP with 394 participants. The company's core innovation is a simple but intricate ESOP learning lab. Used as part of an intensive dialogue session, this interactive computer model jump-started the Pala work force's transition from employee to owner by allowing participants to run the company virtually and experience the potential results of stock ownership for their own ESOP accounts.

Walman Optical
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Founded in 1915 by J.A.L. Walman, Walman Optical's multiple operating divisions engage in manufacturing and distributing contact lenses, proprietary frames, buying groups, instrumentation, coating, and equipment. An ESOP for over 20 years, it became 100% employee-owned in 1998. The judges were impressed by the Innovation and Sustainability Committee at Walman, which started work in October 2008 with a goal of reducing energy consumption by 20% and converting 30% to renewable fuels. The committee split into three teams, which together created a dramatic reduction in energy use, volume of waste, use of materials, and shipping costs, making the company more profitable and environmentally sustainable.

2009 Winners

Namasté Solar
Boulder, Colorado

An innovative company in an innovative field, Namasté Solar is the leading installer of solar electric systems in Colorado. On an ongoing basis, the company offers full-time employees an opportunity to purchase shares through a restricted stock program. From its compensation system (ten salary tiers ensure that the highest salary is no more than twice the lowest) to a transparent decision-making system that combines the virtues of democracy with business efficiency, Namasté Solar provides a glimpse of what tomorrow's company may look like. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Namasté was recently hosted by President Obama during the signing of the historic stimulus bill.

Litehouse, Inc.
Sandpoint, Idaho

Litehouse, Inc., is a company with lots of history. Now in its 50th year, Litehouse is both savvy and playful, as evident from its sales of over $140 million and its internal communications program, which makes tough-minded business lessons memorable by immersing them in a context that celebrates fun. Based in Sandpoint, Idaho, Litehouse makes salad dressing and other food products, but the company may stand out most for its relentless pursuit of business literacy among its work force, including an in-house re-creating the theme of the "Love Boat" for educational purposes. 30% of Litehouse shares are owned by an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).

Cooperative Home Care Associates
Bronx, New York

Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) is a South Bronx-based, worker-owned cooperative that provides home care services throughout New York City. With 1,550 employees, CHCA is currently the nation's largest worker-owned cooperative. CHCA has worked closely with SEIU Local 1199 in creating a formal Labor/Management Committee as a strategy to involve more employees in organizational decision-making. This initiative complements their efforts to provide home care workers with high-quality jobs characterized by above-market wages and benefits, full-time hours, opportunities for promotions as well as extensive training and support-all in contract to standard practices within New York City's home care industry.

Auburn, Washington

ESOP-owned since 1992, Parametrix has long been a pillar of the employee ownership community. This year, Parametrix is being recognized for an internal education program designed to reach out to all employees with a focus on recent hires. Some of the unique features of this program are a multi-media outreach (participants receive a audio-visual invitation), a combination of hard numbers and thoughts on what ownership means, and an in-depth business simulation so people understand the impact of their role at the company. Based in Auburn, Wash., Parametrix provides consulting services for engineering, planning, and environmental sciences.

Prior Year Winners

2008 Winners

Cedarwood School

ATA Engineering, Inc.


2007 Winners

Cal-Tex Protective Coatings

New Belgium Brewing

North Highland


Pizzagalli Construction

2006 Winners



HDOS Enterprises

SmithBucklin Corporation