Built on no less an objective than giving people who were previously unable to do so, the ability to walk, Valencia-based Bioness is definitely an innovative company.
Bioness' Ness L300 Foot Drop system is one of two products developed, which are unique in the pioneering world of neural modulation.
"Our focus is on reanimating nerves," explained CEO Yitzhak Zilberman. "For people with multiple sclerosis or stroke that may have an inability to move the foot, the Foot Drop system literally restores the ability to do just that."
Loss of the nerve function necessary to drop the foot during the act of taking a step is a common disorder among M.S., stroke and other patients with neural maladies, according to Zilberman.
"Our other product is for the upper extremities,the forearm and hand," he said. "The Ness H200 hand rehabilitation system uses mild stimulation to improve the way the arm works."
Also designed for those with M.S., stroke, paralysis, and other motivity challenges, the concept underlying the H200,electrical stimulation to dysfunctional nerves,is wrapped in highly advanced technology developed by Zilberman's team of engineers and scientists.
"In some cases, the H200 has actually restored some intricate digit control in the hand."
Born in Israel, and having worked in military intelligence for many years, Zilberman said much of the original research that helped bring Bioness' life-changing products to patients happened in his home country.
"It is based on work that was done in Israel in previous years," he told the Business Journal.
Zilberman began working with Alfred Mann, founder of several aerospace and medical-device firms, including MiniMed, Mannkind, and Advanced Bionics, in 1990. Bioness was also founded by Mann, who entrusted the firm's launch and future development to Zilberman in 2004.
Five years later, the 51-year-old is gratified by the growth of the firm.
"I'm most proud of the way we change peoples' lives," he said. "It sounds like such a clich & #233;, but we really do touch people's lives and change them in such a fundamental way."
Indeed, testimonials from users of both Bioness devices back up Zilberman's claim.
"I would say that life has changed so dramatically that today I could [walk] anywhere a normal person can [walk] to," reads one testimonial on the company's website. It was written by a father of five who had been paralyzed in a rugby accident and told there was a 99 percent chance he would never walk again.
Several similar reports appear on the site along with video from the users of Bioness' electrical-stimulation products.
However, the machines do more than just promote increased use of limbs; they also have a training mode. That function stimulates muscle tissue while users are sitting still or standing, providing therapeutic workouts to the limbs.
"So they can be sitting in a meeting and getting the physical therapy they need at the same time without anyone knowing it," Zilberman.
Bioness' senior vice president of marketing, Jim McHargue, points to a culture at Bioness of being unwilling to say no to any patient who wants use of a their limbs again as the driving force behind the company's success.
"Physical rehab patients have historically gotten to a point where they were taught to live with their disability," McHargue said. "I think Yitzhak had the vision to change that."
McHargue said the company has been growing at double digit rates, but has not been immune from the need to cut jobs during the recession, having had to lay off 55 locally, and more than 200 internationally this year.
"However, we are still expecting to grow this and next year," McHargue said.
MOST INNOVATIVE PRODUCT/SERVICE
Stellar Microelectronics Inc.
Gregory Horton, president of Stellar Microelectronics, Inc., recently told the Business Journal that there was nothing particularly special about the firm when it was purchased by Al Mann in 2003, an opinion that belies the company's reality today.
"It was a 30-year-old company that had been called Elmo Semiconductor," Horton said. "It had been bought by Kimball, the piano maker, but they pretty much failed with the company."
Indeed, according to Horton, Elmo Semiconductors had literally no sales when Mann brought him in to run the company in 2004.
"Al Mann believed in us when he shouldn't have," Horton said. "Because of that, we built a really strong company with a lot of substance that truly differentiates us from other domestic manufacturers."
The first part of what distinguishes Stellar from most other electronics firms is the requirement of perfection from the end users of its tiny processors, which help run everything from weapons systems to spaceships and medical devices.
"We design and build from the bare die and wire bond to a sub-straight," he said. "Our products are incredibly small, and just cannot fail. They go up into space and deep within the human body, working at ultra-fast processing speeds."
In space, Stellar's extremely small processors help provide the underpinnings of some of the most mission-crucial and life-supporting technologies NASA has.
In the human body, Stellar Microelectronics' processors keep hearts beating and ears hearing, as key components in pacemakers and cochlear-ear-implant devices.
The company's space-system components can be found in vehicles orbiting Earth today, and on the highly durable mars rovers, which constitute some of NASA's greatest claims of success in the post-Challenger, post-Columbia era.
As a company providing wafer processing, hybrid manufacturing, and chip-on-board, electronic circuit-card assembly units, Stellar is a rarity on the American electronics scene in that the firm does it all, according to Horton.
"We've created a really good success story that none of the other companies can touch," he said. "We can go from the wafer, to the final box build, and slice it down to chips and wire again by providing warranty and service capability."
Stellar's vice president of business development, Alex Richardson, has helped Horton build the firm.
"It's exciting," Richardson said. "We are a very complementary team, and we work with a very open-door management style."
The company's growth has been in the triple digits for most of its existence as Stellar Microelectronics.
"We don't expect that to continue forever," Richardson said. "But, we still expect to grow this year."
He credits much of the growth to Mann's and Horton's vision and the depth of knowledge of the firm's engineering staff.
"Another fact we're very proud of is that we are working with veterans here," Richardson said. "We've been actively recruiting returning vets from the wars in the Middle East."
He and Horton are finding that they can improve their products, which serve industry as well as the military, NASA and the medical field, by getting ex-military employees involved in product development.
"Pretty much anything that is concerned with thermal-dynamics is a potential customer," he said. "We have lot of new ideas."
MOST INNOVATIVE PRODUCT/SERVICE
Highly innovative environmental control units put Applied Companies on the map with the U.S. military.
In fact, if ever there is a threat of a domestic biological or chemical attack, it
is possible consumers and first-responders will be able to go to The Home Depot or Lowes and pick up a version of the same protective gear that soldiers in the field rely upon for their safety.
"As a provider to the military we excel in getting the most capacity out of the least amount of energy drawn and the smallest possible package," said Paul Case, president and CEO of the firm.
Applied builds vital parts that make up the Generator ECU Tent Trailer, which is a compact unit that houses a generator, an expandable tent and gas-particle filtering environmental control unit, which can accommodate several soldiers under chemical and/or biological attack.
Some of the same pressure-canister technology that provide the necessary positive pressure to keep those units safe for personnel also help make the Patriot Missile viable.
"Part of what makes us popular with [military] procurement is that we've upped our tolerances to (between) 131 degrees and 135 degrees, while other systems only work up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit," Case said. "We've learned a lot about how to insulate against hard-blowing sand during the current wars."
As a veteran-owned company, Applied also hires veterans to give an insight the company wouldn't have otherwise.
The firm, now more than 50 years old, got its start in the air conditioning business. While Case said there have not been a lot of new developments in the basic technology of cooling or heating environments, there have been many platform changes in the past five years as technology has become greener along with evermore stringent environmental laws.
"We are looking at new ways to green our own operations, and there's more we can do," Case said. "But our first concern is always the safety of our customer, who is the soldier on the battlefield."
Case believes even the environment has to take second place to his company's mission to protect military personnel.
BEST COMMUNITY SPIRIT
L/B/W Insurance & Financial Services Inc.
When Randy Moberg did a quick survey of the contribution made by employees at L/B/W Insurance & Financial Services Inc. to charitable organizations he was surprised by the response he got.
The firm has 32 employees yet there were 35 organizations that employees donated money to and/or volunteered at.
"I was impressed with that," said Moberg, the chief operating officer. "I had no idea."
It was that level of commitment that earned L/B/W the Community Spirit Award. Both as a company and individually through its employees, not for profits in the Santa Clarita Valley benefit from the culture ingrained there.
Moberg described the Santa Clarita Valley as a "big small town" and that his company stepped up to do their part.
To that end, events sponsored by not for profits are publicized on a company message board and discussed at staff meetings.
"We allow our staff time off to participate in these activities as well," Moberg said.
The company also opens its doors to charities needing meeting and planning space.
Among the charities receiving financial and volunteer support from the firm are Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, the Michael Hoefflin Foundation, the WeSPARK Foundation, and the Santa Clarita Valley Jaycees.
L/B/W account executive Dawn Abasta-Hovhannisyan serves on the board of Single Mothers Outreach and was the main organizer of the group's golf tournament in April.
If not for Abasta-Hovhannisyan the tournament might not have happened and the company was gracious to allow her time off, said DaAnne Smith, the executive director.
Being involved in the community is very strategic on the part of the company and makes for good business, Smith said.
"In business, it is all about relationships," Smith added. "The employees are building relationships that can become partnerships."
Mark R. Madler
BEST COMMUNITY SPIRIT
The Magazine of Santa Clarita and Elite Magazine
There are enough events hosted by charitable groups that the publishers of the Magazine of Santa Clarita could be there to give coverage every night of the week.
Husband-and-wife team Moe and Linda Hafizi don't just publicize these events, they also host and financially support them.
"We just love the community," Linda Hafizi said. "The residents of the Valley rely on us right now because we cover so much."
The monthly magazines are a perfect vehicle for non profits to promote their events and fits in with the Hafizis business model of networking with those in the community and involved with local charities.
The Magazine of Santa Clarita is distributed to 80,000 homes, giving almost blanket coverage in the city. The higher-end color glossy Elite magazine has a press run of 50,000 copies sent by direct mail and subscription.
While the Magazine of Santa Clarita offers editorial space to advertisers the Hafizis keep closer control on Elite's editorial content.
For many years the cover of the Magazine of Santa Clarita has been given over to a charity organization that is having an event the month the issue is released.
May, for instance, has Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital to promote its golf tournament. The June issue cover gets turned over to the Boys and Girls Club, which is having an auction that month that is their largest fundraiser.
The Hafizis started their first magazine nearly 20 years after having produced real estate magazines. Seeing a need for a lifestyle-type publication for the Valley, the Hafizis began their new venture with the first issue at 28 pages.
Involvement with charitable groups has long been an interest of the Hafizis.
Linda Hafizi serves as chairman of the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation board of directors and co-chaired the "Dancing With Our Stars" event that raised $80,000 for a dozen charities. In 2006 and again in 2008, the couple opened their home to silent auction-centered fundraisers that brought in a combined $210,000.
Having come to California from England, the Hafizis may have been impressed with what a giving and close community Santa Clarita is, said Diana Vose, the director of the Newhall Memorial Health Foundation.
"They see the non-profits working together and people helping one another that they want to be part of the process of giving back," Vose said.
Mark R. Madler
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANY
The story of Wildcat Technology is both a story of technology and marketing, combined with a dash of good timing.
Wildcat's menu of services runs the entire IT gamut, including network design, build and support, web services, e-marketing, strategic planning, "virtual CIO" services, network security, training, disaster recovery and a continuing list that would be much too long to print here.
"I was an electrical contractor and saw the big guys bidding on these electrical jobs using the most basic handwritten bids, and I knew I could do better," said Wildcat founder and president, Joe Messina.
His desire to use what then was cutting edge technology, i.e., first-generation PCs, Messina blew the competition out of the water by submitting "computer-generated" bids, with printed columns and details of his proposals outlined in a relatively sophisticated manner.
"The process got me interested more in computing and the rest is history," he said.
That history included a pit stop at a large local broadcasting organization, where Messina honed his tech skills and introduced some systems that are still in use as broadcast industry standards today.
In his career at large corporate concerns, Messina detected an attitude that the higher ups barely tolerated the tech crew and treated then as a necessary evil.
Furthermore, Messina recalled, as soon as he would make a network profitable, the company would be sold and he would be laid off.
As a result of Messina's frustration, in 1992, Wildcat Technologies opened its doors.
"Wildcat comes form the old wildcatters of Texas," he said. "They would do it there way, and they came back with everything or lost everything. But at least they said, 'let's take a look down there and see what we get by drilling.'"
Wildcat Technology was one of the first firms to offer pre-purchased hours for IT services.
"I won't say we invented it, but we were one of the first to sell clients blocks of time, and companies liked being able to budget their IT needs that way.
Randy Moberg, COO of L/B/W Insurance in Valencia is one of those clients.
"I've known Joe Messina for five years, and we consider Wildcat to be a business partner, not a vendor," Moberg said. "He and a couple of key people are working with us to create a brand new disaster recovery plan, and that transaction has been more like a project being carried out by someone on our team, not a service being provided by a vendor."
As a community member, Moberg said Wildcat is indispensible. To back up that claim, he points to the pro bono work the company is doing for a local nonprofit.
"They really are a part of this community, and the same innovation they give clients is what they give without compensation to the charities they do work for."
BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE
Gothic Landscaping Inc.
There aren't many unhappy customers of Gothic Landscaping Inc. but when there are the brothers who operate the company have a process in place to head those problems off at the pass.
They can take a negative and turn it into a positive and keep that client on for their landscape and construction management services.
"People are surprised when the CEO of a company calls them but they are pleasantly surprised," said Jon Georgio, president of Gothic.
Founded in 1984 by the late Louis and Judy Georgio, Gothic is headquartered in Santa Clarita with additional offices in San Diego, Nevada and Arizona. Jon Georgio and Michael Georgio operate the landscape business while brother Ronald oversees Gothic Grounds Management.
Since the company started, there has been a commitment to the mission statement of using personalized service and problem solving to create partnerships with the client base.
The Georgios do this by making service representatives available around the clock and conducting monthly and annual surveys of the client base.
The surveys ask such questions as whether the client found value in the product they purchased; rating the response time, the quality of the installation and the supervision level on the job.
The motivation for conducting business this way was an early realization that Gothic would grow based on the impression given in the field, Jon Georgio said.
A happy customer on one large project would then make Gothic the preferred vendor on subsequent projects.
There are a lot of other companies that can supply landscaping, erosion control, maintenance and management, so Gothic needed to be ahead of the competition in other ways.
"The only differentiating thing is the quality level and the service level," Jon Georgio said.
Gothic focuses on getting a job done on schedule and getting it right the first time, said Tom DiPrima, an executive vice president for Southern California with residential builder KB Home who has been doing business with Gothic since 1992.
The company is guided by a belief that the customer is the lifeline and is a credit to the training and hiring practices.
"You see it when you meet with the owner and you see it with the guy installing the tree or the irrigation system," DiPrima said.
Mark R. Madler
California United Bank
David Rainer, CEO of Encino-based California United Bank, says the bank had its eye on Santa Clarita Valley from the get-go.
"When we set up California United Bank four years ago, we determined Santa Clarita Valley would be one of our primary markets," says Rainer. "We are committed to grow and have received a lot of support from the community."
The bank has branches in Encino, Valencia, Los Angeles and Westlake Village. And Rainer is quick to point out that William Sloan has been the guy responsible for heading-up the bank's efforts in Santa Clarita Valley.
"Bill Sloan has done all the work putting us on the map up there," says Rainer.
In the first quarter of 2009, California United's total assets grew to $412.6 million, total deposits were $280.5 million, and it was considered "well capitalized." In the first quarter California United Bank also generated millions of dollars in new loan commitments.
Rainer says California United Bank is a community business bank that specializes in providing services to small and mid-size companies that don't want to go to a big bank.
There are no "800" numbers and it's a place where clients can sit down and talk with their banker, he says.
"We are so fortunate to have such a great business partner in the Santa Clarita Valley," says Cheri Fleming, owner of Valencia Acura. "Their customer service is beyond our wildest dreams. They're also community partners who understand the culture of Santa Clarita Valley."
California United Bank also has its eye on opening a branch in the South Bay.
Rainer says community involvement is a cornerstone of the bank's culture. Employees are encouraged to participate in local charitable causes and work on boards of local organizations.
California United Bank has nine employees in the Santa Clarita Valley and a total of 50 employees at all branches.
"We've got the best banking team in the Santa Clarita Valley," says Rainer, "and community involvement is part of who we are."
ECONOMIC IMPACT AWARD
Six Flags Magic Mountain
It's one of the largest employers in the Santa Clarita Valley. This year some 20,000 people will apply for a job there, and 4,500 will be hired. Six Flags Magic Mountain attracts millions of people to the area every year, many who stay at local hotels, shop at local stores and eat at local restaurants.
Although there is no definitive dollar amount that can quantify how Six Flags impacts the local economy, many say there is no denying that it is significant.
"From the city of Santa Clarita 's standpoint we know for certain that Six Flags Magic Mountain fuels our tourism industry here," said Jessica Freude, an economic development associate with the city. "They have historically been our biggest supporter of tourism in our Valley, they help to attract 3 million people annually to the Santa Clarita Valley and that has a substantial impact to our community and the businesses here."
Like Six Flags Magic Mountain President Jay Thomas, who began his career at the park loading people into the Roaring Rapids ride as a summer job, many young employees will also have an opportunity to learn valuable skills at the park, Thomas said.
"We're really investing time and energy into teaching and educating our young employees to be phenomenal leaders in our organization," he said. Recently Six Flags Magic Mountain held an offsite leadership training seminar at College of the Canyons.
"What we're teaching them are basically life lessons that they'll be able to take with them regardless of where they work in the future."
Not all employees are young, however. Thomas said about 10 percent of the park's employees are retirees, who have taken jobs at the park as a way to supplement their income while doing something fun.
Six Flags Magic Mountain also has a philanthropic arm called Six Flags Friends, which supports different community organizations.
"We're heavily involved in the community; in fact I'm on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club, The Child and Family Center Foundation Board, the Young Life Board (A Christian organization for kids), The Single Mothers Outreach Board I'm on eight different boards just here in this community alone. It's about giving back from a philanthropical standpoint," Thomas said.
And Six Flags Magic Mountain continues to grow, he said. After a significant capital investment, the park will debut its new ride, Terminator Salvation.
"We continue to partner with key brands to bring added value to the guests," he said.
A third Johnny Rockets recently opened at the park as well as a full service Cold-Stone Creamery among other additions.
BEST EMPLOYER - SMALL BUSINESS
UltraViolet Devices Inc.
Daniel Goetz, president and CEO of Valencia-based UltraViolet Devices Inc., believes being a great employer boils down to a few simple things: great product and investing in workers and the community.
"UltraViolet Devices is a company that believes in its workforce, a very empowered workforce," says Goetz, who has been with the company since its inception in 1992. "We have very low turnover. Most of our employees have been with us for 10 years or more."
UltraViolet Devices is a manufacturer and supplier of purification products for surface, air, water and effluent treatment. The company has built one of the world's most comprehensive research, development and engineering capabilities in its field.
Located in the Valencia Industrial Center, UltraViolet Devices started with a dozen or so employees, peaked at 100, and now has 75 employees, says Goetz. The company provides educational reimbursement for workers and plenty of opportunities for professional advancement.
It is also ISO 9001 certified, which refers to a quality management standard related to product and service that's recognized worldwide.
Goetz said the company is committed to giving back to the community, by providing leadership assistance, contributing financially to local organizations, and participating in charitable events.
Dr. Dena Maloney of College of the Canyons says UltaViolet Devices has been involved in many local initiatives such as the Santa Clarita Valley School & Business Alliance, the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industrial Association.
The company is also particularly committed to education when it comes to workforce development, she adds. "UltraViolet Devices has been a major contributor to leadership in the Santa Clarita Valley," says Maloney.
Larry Mankin, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, remembers calling up Goetz a few months ago and asking if he could bring a delegation from China over to see an American manufacturing facility.
Goetz obliged and gave a whole parade of folks the tour on short notice. "UltraViolet Devices is a company that's solid and contributes to the community financially and by offering people to be involved in local causes," says Mankin
Goetz says another way the company gives back is by producing top-quality products. "I believe the products and technology are environmentally sound," says Goetz. "We're doing good for the world and our employees."
BEST EMPLOYER - LARGE BUSINESS
College of the Canyons
The 1,298 employees of College of the Canyons participate in professional development programs, they receive highly competitive compensation and benefits, and they enjoy access to a fitness center.
However, the most important reason why College of the Canyons is a great place to work, according to faculty and staff, has more to do with the level of fulfillment that employees feel while doing their jobs there.
"I've been here for over 20 years, that's half the life of the College, and I can tell you that probably the most important thing that I love about working here is our mission," said Sue Bozman, Vice President District Communications Marketing and External Relations for College of the Canyons. "I put in a lot of hours, 12-13 hour days, I go home tired but thinking 'wow, I made a difference today', and that's really a key thing."
One of the fastest-growing community colleges in the nation, College of the Canyons is recognized for its leadership in correlating education with economic development, job retention and job creation. This mission to really meet the needs of the business community and prepare students for success differentiates COC form other colleges, Bozman said.
"We're not an ivory tower of higher education; we're really trying to reach out into the community."
Diane Fiero, Assistant Superintendent/Vice President, Human Resources for College of the Canyons said faculty and staff take their mission seriously. She said the College partners with a variety of organizations, schools and industries in the Santa Clarita Valley to make sure students have the up-to-date education and skills training they need.
"Our employees take great pride in the work they do and the institution they serve," she said. "We offer the opportunity to perform meaningful work that benefits our students, the ability to interact with highly educated faculty and staff and attend countless campus activities."
Dianne Van Hook, Chancellor for College of the Canyons, agreed.
"The people of COC make this such a special place where dreams become reality," she said. "Almost half of our current full-time employees are alumni, so they have a passion to give back to this college that gave so much to them and it shows in their attitude and how they strive to serve our students and the community."
At College of the Canyons, employees have access to numerous resources including nutrition education and low-calorie meals. Ten pages of the college's strategic plan are dedicated to human resources and improving the effectiveness of employees. The college's Professional Development Catalog has 96 pages of training available ranging from mentorship programs to ergonomic safety training.
The college has created an inspired working environment. During the fires that decimated parts of Santa Clarita, the campus created a fund that provided housing for a displaced nursing student for several weeks. On another occasion, an employee's husband was diagnosed with a serious illness, and the employees of COC donated nearly two years of personal time so that she could spend time with him.
-- Marc Emmer contributed to this article