Wichita innovator hopes his award will boost firm

Jeremy Jones said he wasn't sure who among his peers would win the Kansas Pipeline Innovator of the Year award.

Jones, CEO of Wichita-based Nitride Solutions, was named the winner Thursday night of the award presented annually to one entrepreneur participating in the statewide, yearlong fellowship program.

"I was completely flabbergasted," Jones said on Friday. "I know that our business plan and presentation went well, but it was such a strong class I felt anyone could be called."

Jones is the first Wichitan to receive the award since the program's inception in 2006.

He competed against nine other entrepreneurs from the 2010 class, including Wichitans Tahir Ahmad, Nate Gregory and Ben Tyson.

Jones said he thinks the exposure of winning the award will help him raise the capital his company needs to begin producing high-volume, low-cost aluminum nitride substrates that are used in solid-state electronics, light-emitting diodes and ultraviolet laser diodes.

"It's up to us to leverage that 15 minutes of fame," Jones said.

He said he made several contacts with venture capitalists during the awards ceremony, which was held at the Overland Park Sheraton.

Kansas entrepreneurs who are selected to attend the Pipeline program — typically 10 are selected from a field of 50 to 100 candidates each year — are evaluated for the Innovator of the Year award as they go along in their training, which primarily consists of four three-day-long sessions. They are evaluated by Pipeline advisors and president Joni Cobb.

They are also evaluated by a group of national judges on their final business plans and a final pitch to investors. Judges for the 2010 Innovator of the Year competition were: former U.S. undersecretary of energy Kristina Johnson, Peter Brown of Grassmere Partners, Bo Fishback of Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation and Bob Blee of Silicon Valley Bank.

One other Wichita entrepreneur won an award. Gary Mason, a member of the 2009 Pipeline class and CEO of iSi Environmental Services, received a Pipeline Innovator Leadership award.