Monday, November 19, 2012 Launches Phonebooth's SMB Innovator Awards

CED Member recently launched the SMB Innovator Awards, and last week announced the judges for the $20,000 top prize, to be awarded to the small business with the most innovative idea, process, strategy or technology.

Bandwidth has been in headlines quite a bit in recent months. At the beginning of October, Bandwidth moved its corporate headquarters to NC State's Centennial Campus, filling the facility that housed once housed Red Hat's corporate headquarters (our savvy readers are already aware that Red Hat relocated to downtown Raleigh).

Bandwidth also reported strong employee growth numbers, and participated in the CED All Things Tech Job Fair in September, ahead of the CED Tech Venture Conference. Bandwidth's CMO, Noreen Allen, reports that Bandwidth is "on fire" and has hired more than 130 people since the beginning of the year and currently has 35 open positions.

Most recently, Bandwidth was recognized as the 2012 NCTA 21 Award Winner for "Best Private Company."

CEO David Morken remains active in the Triangle as the company experiences rapid growth. Morken is one of the distinguished panelists at CED's upcoming Emerging Trends Breakfast on December 4, 2012, where he will speak on Bandwidth's growth trajectory and operations processes.

We caught up with the Bandwidth team to learn more about the Phonebooth SMB Innovator Awards. Read our interview with Noreen Allen, CMO of, below:

CED Team: What are the goals of the SMB Innovation Awards?

Allen: The whole goal of this thing is to recognize some of the most innovative startups out there. When we talk about innovation, we’re talking about innovation from a technology perspective, but also from a systems perspective. How is the startup innovating within their business?

CED Team: Help us understand what you mean by “innovation”? Is this in technology, hiring practices, management style?

Allen: SMBs demonstrate innovation in many ways—and it’s not just about impacting the bottom line.  Phonebooth created the SMB Innovator Awards with the understanding that innovation manifests itself in many ways, such as the products that businesses develop or sell, the tools they use to operate their business, the risks they take to grow the business, the way they treat their customers, manage their staff and impact their communities.

Phonebooth recognizes companies that have taken risks or gone out on a limb to do things differently because they didn’t want to settle for the status quo. And when the company can demonstrate results from that innovation, whether through employee or customer satisfaction, increased revenue, community impact or in other areas, those are the game changes we seek to reward.

CED Team: All the public-facing material says ‘any industry’ – from which industries does Bandwidth / Phonebooth expect to see the most submissions?

Allen: I don’t think the industry matters that much, I think it is the quality of the innovative idea. Entrepreneurs should spend time in their application sharing how they are innovative within their small business. Because the program is focused on small business innovation, we expect submissions to originate from small businesses with a large amount of representation in the marketplace. Truly, any business in any industry is eligible for nomination.

CED Team: What types of companies have applied so far?

Allen: We’re seeing a good mix of businesses, ranging from retail, food and beverage, software companies, real estate firms, law firms, etc. There have been a wide range of industries represented so far, which is exciting to us, because it speaks to the broad range of the SMB industry.

CED Team: Sounds like the program is off to a great start. Why focus on small businesses? Why now?

Allen: SMBs got a lot of attention during this whole election process, and there are a lot of exciting things happening within small businesses in this country. Technology has made it so much easier for folks to get a business off the ground. Years ago, getting a business off the ground required significant capital on the front end to invest in systems and software. A SMB would have to invest in servers and all this capacity. Today, you can get your business set up online, get your servers on the cloud, use SaaS products to help run your business, and use web applications, many free, to help with marketing channels.

We think that it is time to celebrate the SMB and think that this contest, this awards program, is a great way to show off all of the innovation that is happening within small businesses.

CED Team: You’ve just announced the judges – how were these judges selected?

Allen: Phonebooth sought out judges for the SMB Innovator Awards who understand the dynamics of starting a new business and can recognize innovation through the various stages of business development. That’s why we targeted small business reporters like Kevin Casey, SMB Writer at InformationWeek and Regina Ciardiello, editor of SMB Nation.

We also looked within our own community to secure a small business champion that could lend the panel additional insight from a government perspective and we are happy to say that North Carolina Commissioner for Small Business Scott R. Daughertry has agreed to serve. Commissioner Daugherty knows about Phonebooth’s business, but more importantly he understands the challenges and triumphs that small businesses experience – and the innovation that is often required – for them to succeed.

CED Team: Tell me more about the judging process – what will these judges look for in an ‘innovative’ company?

Allen: Because we expect up to 1,000 or more entries, a panel of Phonebooth judges will work to narrow down the candidate pool prior to engaging our guest judges’ panel. Judges will assess the level of innovation associated with each candidate’s business proposition, evaluate the ways they claim to practice innovation and review the overall results that innovation has produced for the company over time.

CED Team: How would entrepreneurs and startups nominate themselves or their peers?

Allen: All nominations are accepted, and third-party nominations are weighted just as much as self-nominations. We encourage anyone who recognizes an innovation within a small business to nominate that business for the SMB Awards. Nominations can be completed online.

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