(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a two-part series spotlighting Innovative Design Inc., an engineering design firm in West Knoxville that won this year’s “Woman-Owned Business Excellence Award” from the Knoxville Chamber.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
It’s been a challenging but successful 20-year “ride” for Knoxvillian Cindy Hollander as she has led the growth of Innovative Design Inc., an engineering design and consulting firm specializing in mechanical, structural, electrical, process and chemical engineering.
One measure of that success is a prestigious award the firm received from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in 2015. The award itself was significant, but it also underscored Innovative Design’s focus on strong customer service.
The Partnership Award, part of ORNL’s annual recognition of small businesses, was jointly presented to the U.S. ITER project, managed by ORNL, and Innovative Design that worked together as a team on the project. In its announcement of the award, ORNL said the firm used “creative solutions to assist the Laboratory in finding the right fit for positions, even if its own employees have to step in to work quickly and cost-effectively to complete a job.”
The ORNL recognition came roughly 18 years after Hollander started Innovative Design. More recently, the firm was named as one of three finalists in the 2017 “Pinnacle Business Awards” program run by the Knoxville Chamber. The category was “Woman-Owned Business Excellence Award.”
We wondered what traits helped Hollander to not just survive, but thrive over nearly two decades?
“Perseverance,” she said in acknowledging the challenges of being a woman in a largely male industry sector. That was particularly important in “convincing our customers that we are capable of handling larger projects. That was difficult.”
Yet, over time, Hollander and her team have obviously succeeded. The roughly 45 employees are divided about equally between designers and engineers, and about half of the latter category is composed of professional engineers.
Clearly, having the right workforce is critical to adhering to the company’s strict adherence to high-quality customer service. Workforce is also one of the firm’s always present challenges.
“It’s easier for us to find engineers and tougher to find competent, good designers,” Hollander says. Both she and husband Michael decry the lack of robust vocational technical training in high schools today.
Ironically, the workforce challenge also produced an opportunity for Innovative Design to support the local community. The company searched for about 18 months before hiring Kevin Fillers as Business Manager. He’s a graduate of both Pellissippi State Community College and the University of Tennessee who is also a familiar face in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Knowing the challenges of starting a business, Fillers came-up with an idea that the Hollanders have embraced as a way to help aspiring entrepreneurs and give back to a community that has allowed their firm to succeed. They call the initiative the Entrepreneur Assistance Program (EAP), and it draws on the firm’s expertise in design and engineering.
“With the nature of our larger projects, there’s (staff) downtime,” Fillers says. “If you have a need for design or even a prototype, we can help.”
This is something the company did for Grow Bioplastics, and it illustrates the way that Innovative Design can lend its expertise to help those trying to start a business. In Grow Bioplastics case, it needed a prototype.
“We created a 3D model in Solid Works and exported it to a file type which was used for 3D printing technology to make the pot that Grow Bioplastics needed for one of its pitch competitions,” Fillers explained.
Those interested in learning more about Innovative Design’s EAP can contact Fillers via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).