The Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University announced Storm Smart Executive Chairman Brian Rist as its 2019 Distinguished Innovator of the Year.

The announcement was made during the organization’s annual awards ceremony held at the Bonita Bay Club on Tuesday, April 30.

The SBDC’s Distinguished Innovator of the Year is bestowed upon a local business owner who has, “adopted or created their own technologies or cutting-edge approaches resulting in accelerated business growth and profits.”

The win was the second award received by Rist from the SBDC in just the last few years. In 2017 he was named the organization’s Advocate of the Year. Rist says being recognized as the 2019 Innovator of the Year was a special honor and one which serves as a reminder of the bigger picture for the Southwest Florida business community, “I was deeply honored to be thought of by the SBDC as one of the leading entrepreneurs of Southwest Florida. In the room, last night was many of my peers and great business leaders of our area. It was an inspirational evening, and one which reinforced the plight we have to continue to build this area as an economic force in Florida and beyond. I look forward to working with the SBDC and everyone involved to continue the efforts to make the initiative a reality.”

Rist has been a longtime business advocate for the area since opening Storm Smart in 1996. Over the years he has become widely known as an expert in the field of hurricane protection and preparedness, using the status as leverage to bring attention to the local economy.

Through his company, he pioneered the use of fabric-based storm protection with Storm Smart’s line of Storm Catcher wind abatement screens, which has brought worldwide attention to both Storm Smart and the local business community.  While the use of screens to protect homes from storms and other weather has become commonplace in today’s world, it hasn’t always been the case, “When we started selling screens as storm protection, most people thought we were something of snake oil salesmen,” explains Rist.

While the early years of the product were spent convincing customers the screens not only  provided storm protection but, could be used in everyday life, today, the use of screen as storm protection has become an immensely popular form of storm protection used by hundreds of thousands throughout the world, “It is amazing to see how many homes utilize our screens. What is even more amazing is the screens have become more of a lifestyle product which happens to protect from storms and hurricanes,” says Rist.

Propelled by its line of Storm Catcher screens, Storm Smart saw record revenue growth in 2018, something Rist feels will continue for years to come with more new and innovative products, “We are just getting started. Our company is constantly looking at different ways, products, and services to grow our business. We hope to double what we are doing now in just a few years.”

In addition to naming Rist the Innovator of the Year, the SBDC also announced Rafael J. Feliciano, owner of Food Idea Group as their 2019 Advocate of the Year, and Ryan Carter, owner of Scotlynn USA Division as the 2019 Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year.