Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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May 23, 2017 | Tom Ballard

PART 1: Cindy Hollander started Innovative Design Inc. without the normal credentials

Innovative Design Inc.(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first 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

Twenty years ago, Knoxvillian Cindy Hollander embraced entrepreneurship in a big way, starting an engineering design firm as a non-degreed person.

That’s right. She did not have a college degree and was entering a mostly male-dominated industry. In addition, Hollander was the mother of young children. Those challenges would deter many individuals, regardless of gender, but they certainly did not stop her.

Now, two decades later, that start-up named Innovative Design Inc. employs about 45 people, has clients as far away as California but most are within 200 miles of Knoxville, and just relocated to its own space in the Hardin Valley area.

“I was tired of paying rent; I wanted to own my own building,” Hollander told us when we interviewed her, husband Michael, and Kevin Fillers. Cindy is the firm’s President, Michael is Executive Vice President, and Kevin serves officially as Business Manager although he’s involved in many areas of the firm.

The new headquarters is the firm’s fifth location. For the first two years, Innovative Design was in an office on Kingston Pike that housed its small staff.  Later, it relocated to another building in the same general area, then to an office on Peterson Road, and the latest move comes after being housed in an office building in the Turkey Creek area.

As its name implies, Innovative Design is an engineering design consulting firm specializing in mechanical, structural, electrical, environmental, and process-related projects. It tries to strike a good balance between the industrial and government sectors.

“Our deliverable is design,” Cindy says in her forthright and focused manner that constantly emphasizes the firm’s commitment to delivering the highest quality of customer service.

Michael, a Professional Engineer who had his own consulting firm, joined Innovative Design in 2003, shortly after he and Cindy married.

“I twisted his arm,” Cindy says in describing how she recruited him to join the small company. “He helped us grow into a full engineering services organization.”

What’s their secret to the growth the firm has enjoyed? The core value is customer service.

“We’re responsive,” Cindy says. “Our competitors are frequently slow to get out there, and we do great quality work.”

That customer focus translates into an important characteristic of Innovative Design’s engagement with its clients.

“We listen to the people in the plants and capture their vision because they know what they need,” Michael says. He started his career in manufacturing plants, so he is very oriented to their needs.

It’s also hiring good people and supporting them.

“That’s her strength,” Michael says. “Cindy has always let the employees spread their wings.”

The Hollanders also emphasize the importance of staying on the cutting edge of technology such as utilizing 3D laser scanning and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) in their projects.

“3D CAD allows you to see interferences and clearances in the industrial world,” Michael adds.

NEXT: Lessons learned, an important recognition, challenges, and an opportunity to give back.

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