Bill Walton Hails Spirit of Entrepreneurship at San Diego Awards

Xconomy National — 

Connect, the non-profit group that supports innovation and entrepreneurship, named San Diego’s eight most-innovative products of 2011—and bestowed its highest honor on Gen-Probe (NASDAQ: GPRO) for its nucleic acid test for screening donated blood.

Connect gave Gen-Probe its William W. Otterson Award for its Procleix test, which won FDA approval in 2002, saying Procleix has significantly increased the safety of the world supply of donated blood by dramatically reducing the risk of contracting HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and West Nile virus from a blood transfusion. Previous recipients of the award include Intuit for TurboTax, Qualcomm for CDMA technology, and General Atomics for the Predator unmanned spy plane.

But the afternoon belonged to Bill Walton, the legendary basketball player and Grateful Dead fan, who served as Connect’s master of ceremonies at the luncheon ceremony Friday. With his extensive experience as a sports broadcaster and counter-culture icon, the NBA Hall of Famer delivered a moving tribute to the spirit of entrepreneurship and the determination needed to overcome adversity.

Almost three years after undergoing a new type of spinal surgery that San Diego-based NuVasive (NASDAQ: NUVA) helped to pioneer, Walton proclaimed himself “the luckiest man alive.” The injury-prone basketball great has said that his back pain was so intense before the surgery that he considered suicide. Now living without pain for the first time in years, Walton is a walking testimonial for NuVasive, and a life-affirming example of what a breakthrough in medical technology can accomplish.

In a commentary that was vintage Walton, “the Big Red Deadhead” intertwined the lyrics of several Grateful Dead tunes in a paen to entrepreneurship and San Diego’s Challenged Athlete Foundation. He urged entrepreneurs to defy those who say, “that will never work,” likening their experience to handicapped athletes who struggle to compete. And he reminded the audience that in “Stella Blue,” the late Jerry Garcia sang, “It all rolls into one and nothing comes for free.”

Connect says it received more than 140 nominations—a record number— from local companies for its 24th annual “Most Innovative New Product Awards.” In one category, software, there were a record 37 applications, more than any other category in the history of the event.

To be eligible, the product must have been developed in the San Diego area, introduced between March 2010 and September 2011, and generated sales revenue. More than 850 people attended the awards luncheon, which offers awards in biomedical diagnostics and research tools, medical products, software, communications and IT, cleantech, aerospace and security technologies, hardware and general technology, and action and sport technologies.

The 2011 winners of … Next Page »

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