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Pipeline embraces expression, expansion at Innovator of the Year

Kyle Johnson of AudioAnywhere accepts the Innovator of The Year award from judge Suren G. Dutia on Thursday night at Pipeline’s marquee annual event.

From interludes for performance art to an auction of high-dollar paintings and sculptures, Pipeline‘s Innovator of the Year (IOTY) celebration oozed artistic expression. But there was no tableau more telling nor sound more significant than the site of the dozen people that took center stage at night’s end and the label Pipeline CEO Joni Cobb assigned to those 12: Pipeline’s first regional class.

Pipeline, the Kansas-based entrepreneurship immersion program for high-growth innovators, officially closed the book on its 2011 class and kicked off its 2012 campaign with an art-infused dinner, auction and awards ceremony at the Overland Park (Kan.) Sheraton on Thursday night. 

It culminated in the announcement of the 12 innovators who will comprise Pipeline’s 2012 class, which is the largest class in the program’s history and the first to include entrepreneurs from outside Kansas’ borders. Those milestones came about because of Pipeline’s April announcement that it would expand its scope from Kansas to a larger region with the help of an $800,000 challenge grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and subsequent support from other sponsors in Missouri and Nebraska.

“It has representation from our entire region,” Cobb said of the 2012 class. “But let me be clear, they have all earned it. There were no quotas. … They all competed on a level playing field, and we are just so thrilled to have them.”

The entrepreneurs who will make up the 2012 class are:  

The unveiling of those 12 followed a big announcement about one other innovator. Kyle Johnson, a member of the 2011 class and the co-founder and CEO of AudioAnywhere, won the award for Innovator of The Year. Johnson, who endeavors to “save the music industry” with his ad-backed, social, streaming music service, provided one of the highlights of Thursday afternoon’s pitch session by unabashedly challenging a judge to answer a question he had just posed to Johnson. Accepting his award a few hours later, Johnson said he felt fortunate to be chosen from among a group of high-caliber entrepreneurs.

“This means a lot because this organization is so special and it is a community,” he said. “These people up here on stage with me deserve the award just as much because of the amount of energy that they put into their businesses.”

Pipeline president and CEO Joni Cobb addresses the crowd at Thursday night’s Innovator of The Year event.

Pipeline also paid special tribute to a couple of innovators from previous classes. Nate Gregory of MoJack (Wichita) received the Innovator Growth Award. Toby Rush of EveVerify (Lenexa) took home the Innovator Leadership Award.

Pipeline gave Entrepreneurial Leadership Awards to the sponsors that helped enable the regional expansion: Peter and Kate Brown of the Grassmere Foundation; the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Pipeline alumni; and a group of Nebraska funders that includes the University of Nebraska, Paul Hogan of Home Instead, the Scott Technology Center, Rod Markin of Prairie Ventures, David Milligan of Advent and Jim and Karen Linder.

The event also featured the work of Kansas City-based performance art troupe Quioxtic Fusion. Five pieces of art that were collaborations between Pipeline entrepreneurs and regional artists netted between $3,200 and $10,500 apiece in an auction.

Among the speakers to take the stage throughout the night was Picasa founder Lars Perkins, who provided an outsider’s view of the region. “You’ve got something that’s very unique here because you’ve really created a community, and it’s very touching to see the support that you provide to these entrepreneurs,” Perkins said. “This is a very, very unique program, and it’s been a great experience to be a part of it.

“And so although only one gets to be the winner, everybody wins.”

The night’s big winner, Johnson, echoed that sentiment.

“Really, this is special,” he said. “And you really cant expalin it with an evening event. You have to be part of it. … Pipeline is truly special, and we’re blessed to have it in the Midwest.”

 

Image credits: Photos by Kenny Johnson

Disclosure: Silicon Prairie News is a media sponsor of the Pipeline Innovator of The Year event.