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2021 Entrepreneurial and Sammy Award Winners Announced

The Richland Rotary’s 2021 Entrepreneurial Awards ceremony was held on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. After more than a year of virtual meetings it was a pleasant experience to hold a socially distance hybrid in-person/virtual experience for this year’s awards. Many of the awardees were able to join Rotary in-person to be honored for their work over the past several years, and participants zooming from home and work were able to feel more connected to the live experience as we shifted back and forth from live presentation into video interviews with the candidates.

The Entrepreneurial Awards are a Tri-Cities mainstay, beginning in 1996 at the urging of AM Sastry, an employee of PNNL and Richland Rotarian. Sastry approached the club about recognizing the amazing, creative and talented group that are entrepreneurs within the bi-county region. At the time this work was a focus area of the region’s economic development efforts. Today TRIDEC, Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Tri-Cities Research District, Fuse SPC and the Port of Benton remain active engaged sponsors selecting the five entrepreneurs and a Sammy Award Winner.

The Sammy is named for Richland Rotarian and Community Godfather, Sam Volpentest – known as Mr. Tri-Cities – who dedicated 48 years of support to economic development of our region and cofounded TRIDEC. The Sam Volpentest Entrepreneurial Leadership Award – Sammy – must be a leader in the community who guides and inspires others, have contributed to entrepreneurship in the community, and is a creative and self-motivated visionary.

Empowered Health Institute

Dr. Jessica Schneider leads this company that follows the philosophy that health is more than the absence of disease. Their model uses a root cause approach to address medical concerns in a membership based model to provide primary care, health coaching, family medicine, and health-focused wellness programs to their patients.


Todd Brix, CEO of OCOchem, said they were demonstrating steadfast and innovative support to Washington’s sustainable future. Relocating to Richland from Western Washington, this business is currently located in Energy Northwest’s Applied Process Engineering Laboratory, where they utilize an electrochemical process to bond CO2 to hydrogen to store energy.

Growing Forward Services

Many have come to know this innovative entrepreneur through his books, speeches, and corporate facilitations. After a career as a teacher, principal, and family pastor for over twenty years, this entrepreneur put his natural skill to the test by offering a suite of seminars, team building retreats and one-to-one leadership coaching – sparking success and notoriety in his interviews of local leaders in his podcast Tri-Cities Influencers.

Northwest Paddleboarding

This mother-daughter owned full-service paddleboard business has offered mobile rentals of paddleboards, kayaks, and lessons. Dozens have joined them for Moonlight Paddles on the Columbia River, and in 2018 they opened their brick and mortar storefront adjacent Howard Amon Park. This business has showcased resiliency and fortitude during the coronavirus shutdown; tripling the size of staff to keep up with new procedures and manage their online store.

9th Street Studio

9th Street Studio has aided in the main street improvement of Downtown Benton City, purchasing their building in December of 2020. Their main focus was in obtaining a visual connection with a main street entrance to their business. Since their move, they have made numerous interior and exterior improvements to the space.

Sam Volpentest Entrepreneurial Leadership Award (Sammy Award)

This year’s Sammy Award winner was unfortunately unable to join us in-person, but the Port of Benton Team was able to connect with him ahead of time and record a video clip of Diahann presenting the award to Gary along with Port of Benton Commissioner, Jane Hagarty. When Sam was getting ready to retire, he handpicked Gary to succeed him at TRIDEC. Gary worked tirelessly to promote economic development in the Tri-Cities region and is among one of the most important cogs in the wheel that makes this region grow. “I was ‘flummoxed!’ Gary said, “Please mention my heartfelt Thank You. However, I also need to say that every one of the accomplishments Sam mentioned, I didn’t do alone. It took a small team in every instance.”