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December 2014 Issue

Cover Story

Real estate: A tale of five cities

By Mike Taylor

Following the collapse that began in 2007, Colorado’s residential real estate market has come roaring back, fueled by low interest rates, limited inventory coupled with buyer demand, and a gradually improving economy. Meanwhile, the commercial sector is at least on the mend, as evidenced by the redevelopment of Union Station in Lower Downtown Denver and other large-scale, transit-oriented developments spurred by light rail connections. According to the Colorado Association of Realtors, the median sales price for a single-family home across the state was up 8.8 percent – to

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Articles

State of the state: Technology

Technology crosses industry barriers and unites Apex attendees

By Eric Peterson

After eight years of DemoGALA, the Colorado Technology Association (CTA) rebranded its annual confab APEX on Sept. 10-11 at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center. “Why APEX?” Erik Mitisek, CTA’s CEO since April, asked rhetorically. “We wanted to extend the lens of focus and build an agenda that showcases the best of CTA.” This year has been a big one for the state’s tech community, Mitisek added, citing best-ever C-Level @ A Mile High and Women in Tech Events, the Rally Software IPO, Intuit’s acquisition of GoodApril before TechStars Boulder demo day (a first), and – last but not least – a robust wireless network at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. “Every 72 hours. . .

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Colorado cool stuff: Cat-Ears, Powerice, Matterial, Livliga

By Eric Peterson

CAT-EARS Rick Weissner liked biking with friends on weekends, but found chatting difficult. “Typically, you try to catch up, but you get a fair amount of wind noise,” says Weissner, a financial consultant. So he launched Cat-Ears in 2012 to solve the social biking conundrum. Inspired by the animal kingdom, Cat-Ears use faux fur to divert the rush of air around the ears and stifle noise. The company has since launched eight Cat-Ears products, including Ear Covers for cold-weather riding. “The business is doing well and expanding and profitable,” says Weissner, touting sales in 30 countries. “We sold a pair to a guy in Abu Dhabi.” $8 to $16 retail. Made by Cat-Ears Boulder cat-ears.com

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Sports biz: Av-onomics: Looking up

By Stewart Schley

For Colorado Avalanche fans, the best thing about the new National Hockey League season is that it’s just that: new. After closing the books on a forgettable year, the Avalanche returned to the ice with a legend in the coach’s box and a much-improved vibe among the fan base, if anecdotal chatter means anything. I know this because the guy at the neighborhood liquor store was practically salivating the other day about going to the Oct. 4 home opener against Nashville, and my Facebook friends are ga-ga over the Avs early in the campaign. If those aren’t valid indicators, I’ll eat my puck. For a more nuanced opinion on Av-onomics, we’ll have to wait until later this month when the Forbes NHL team valuation estimates for 2013 are published. But the smart guessing is they’ll show Kroenke Sports Enterprises hasn’t exactly busted the bank with its. . .

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Rundles wrap up: Proposed “C” state flag raises hackles

By Jeff Rundles

DENVER, COLORADO, JUNE 1911 – Controversy erupted in the State House today with the introduction of a bill to approve a new State Flag, which bears two blue bands on the top and bottom, a white band in the middle and a red “C” slightly off center, filled with a yellow ball. The colors are said to symbolize Colorado’s abundant blue skies, snow-covered mountains, our ruddy soil and the plentiful sunshine, but oppositionists said the “C” flag would confuse people. Gov. John Shafroth, a champion of the new state symbol, said the “C” flag was an example of modern “branding,” that will set Colorado apart from the other 45 states and will have a unifying effect on statewide marketing efforts, as each. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: SpotXchange Inc.

Repurposing advertising in a digital landscape

By Gigi Sukin

TECHNOLOGY SPOTXCHANGE INC. No longer do we live in the glamorous 1960s Mad Men era of advertising. Thanks to the digital age, consumer attention has decreased, choice has increased and user-created content has become a reality. Moreover, the Internet has taken a piece of the pie from other traditional media. With more than 400 million auctions each day, SpotXchange is ambitiously embracing the altering landscape and repurposing ad buys, as the largest global marketplace of video ad inventory, reaching roughly 200 million unique visitors in more than 50 countries monthly. The company connects thousands of publishers with advertisers, agencies, trading desks, DSPs and ad networks. With a “rocky” start in 2001 that included multiple mortgages, a used Lamborghini and capital efficiencies, founders COO/CFO Steve Swoboda and CEO Mike Shehan were “scrappy.”. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Faegre Baker Daniels

Winners in 12 industries pursue excellence beyond the bottom line

By Gigi Sukin

CONSULTING & PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FAEGRE BAKER DANIELS Since the late 1990s, law school entry has been split roughly 50-50 men to women. Yet in an article published some three years ago titled, “Glass Ceilings and Dead Ends: Professional Ideologies, Gender Stereotypes and the Future of Women Lawyers at Large Law Firms,” University of Denver law professor Eli Wald argued that women have largely failed to emerge as equals in “big law.” He attributes this to a pervasive ideology of hyper-competitiveness, often used as justification for long hours and high pay typical of some firms. “Law firms are different from other businesses,” said Heather Perkins, the Denver office leader for Faegre Baker Daniels. The 150-year-old firm sets clear objectives to increase gender equality in the traditionally male-dominated legal profession. The Denver. . .

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State of the state: Travel

Denver startup targets travelers drawn to rewards and low rates

By Gigi Sukin

Before Expedia, Priceline and KAYAK, travel coordination required separate airline, hotel and car rental phone calls or a pre-trip trip to the travel agent to ensure a smooth journey from takeoff to landing. But with the rise of online travel tools and reviews, what will be the next big thing in the booking world to improve the ease, accessibility and cost-effectiveness for business and leisure travelers? Elia Wallen likes to think it will be Hotel Engine. Following up on the success of Travelers Haven, his temporary housing venture started in Florida in 2006 and moved to Denver in 2008, Wallen’s latest project has him building a new booking experience, cutting out the middleman and giving vacationers a new smart, social and cheap-as-possible. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Sophono

Innovating to tackle hearing health issues

By Gigi Sukin

MANUFACTURING SOPHONO INC. Approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population, or 38 million Americans, have significant hearing loss, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication. With more than 2,300 devices implanted since 2009, Boulder-based Sophono Inc. has set out to tackle the problem. The medical device manufacturer specializes in implantable, bone conduction hearing devices for individuals suffering from severe to profound hearing loss or impairment. “Our technology is really different,” said Dr. Peter Ruppersberg, who was appointed chief executive Sept. 4. The company’s flagship product, the Sophono Alpha 2 System, is the only hearing device available to treat individuals with conductive hearing loss, mixed hearing loss and single-ear deafness. Unlike other medical technology on the market, it eliminates the problematic abutment of devices by. . .

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Tech startup: LinkSmart Inc.

Creating a powerful website tool

By Eric Peterson

INITIAL LIGHT BULB Pete Sheinbaum, LinkSmart’s founder and CEO, cut his online entrepreneurial teeth with E! Online before dodging the dot-bomb by connecting with DailyCandy in 2000. He worked as COO and CEO for the women’s lifestyle e-blast and left after Comcast acquired it in 2008. Along the way, Sheinbaum learned a powerful lesson. “We were missing a big opportunity on our website,” he says. “People would come, sign up and never come back. We could build it all day and we could sell it all day, but we had trouble getting people to go there.” Digging deeper, Sheinbaum says he realized that in-text links had a click-through rate that was about 20 times that of the site’s banner ads. “Publishers have an. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

Listening to team members’ insights and boosting the burger business

By Gigi Sukin

TOURISM/HOSPITALITY RED ROBIN GOURMET BURGERS For more than 40 years, nationally recognized burger brand Red Robin has built a reputation as “the gourmet burger expert” after moving its corporate headquarters to Colorado in 1996. But the company has faced numerous challenges, including macroeconomic headwinds, intense competition and declining financial performance, requiring innovation and resolve to stay afloat. Under new leadership in the early 2000s, Red Robin decided alcohol sales were incompatible with its family-friendly image and deemphasized the beverage business. “When I came onboard, I went on a nationwide listening tour,” said Steve Carley, Red Robin’s CEO since 2010. “I went into restaurants and talked to every team member on the line and asked them: If they owned the restaurants, what would they do to improve the business? I got. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Confio Software

Easing clients’ “pain-points”

By Gigi Sukin

SOFTWARE CONFIO SOFTWARE “There’s this general philosophy right now among many entrepreneurs that business is an art; it’s the idea model – stumbling across something that’s not repeatable. I disagree. I’d say it’s a science,” said Matt Larson, Confio’s CEO and founder. “What we set out to do is turn out products that are used everywhere, that become ubiquitous.” What Confio’s products address are “Big Pains in Big Markets.” Methodically acknowledging fundamental pain-points experienced by companies across multiple verticals, Confio has fashioned three product lines: IT Collaboration and Database Performance, Database Virtualization and Database Storage. “Even if we only did a good job at that, we could grow to be a big company,” Larson said. These product lines and. . .

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State of the state: Dining

Chowing down with Cheba Hut founder Scott Jennings

By Eric Peterson

Scott Jennings opened the first Cheba Hut, a marijuana-themed sandwich shop, in Tempe, Ariz., in 1998. Now there are 16 locations, including five in Colorado and several on the way for Madison, Wis., and San Diego. Each Cheba Hut shares commonalities – psychedelic rock posters, Kool-Aid on tap, local art works (Denver’s is bookended by John Denver and John Elway), and the stock menu; although each shop has a unique “Secret Stash” of sandwiches only available at that particular location. Nebraska-born and Fort Collins-based, Jennings is now plotting to open 225 franchisee-owned stores by 2025. He’s bringing in a new CEO to lead the charge because “sometimes it’s best to get out of your own way.” CoBiz:. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: GroundFloor Media

Flexibility from the groundfloor-up cultivates company culture

By Gigi Sukin

MEDIA / ADVERTISING / PR GROUNDFLOOR MEDIA (Watch a video about GroundFloor.) In the August 2013 issue of Outside magazine, GroundFloor Media, the Denver-based marketing communications firm, was named the No. 1 Best Place to Work of 100 national finalists. It should come as no surprise that GroundFloor tops such a list. Mindful of the evolving work force, the firm celebrates and strives for healthy and innovative work-life balance strategies. “Depression-era folks worked for survival; baby boomers worked to be secure and make money, but they wanted something better for their kids. Those parents started telling their kids, ‘You can be whatever you set your mind to, so don’t settle,’” said Ramonna Robinson, GroundFloor’s president. “With the way things work now, it is so hard to separate life and work. We take that into account and are. . .

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The Economist: Inflation revisited

By Tucker Hart Adams

I wrote briefly about inflation several months ago in my column on the end of quantitative easing. But now that the Federal Reserve is moving closer to reducing its purchases of government securities, let’s take a closer look at the inflation question. Remember that the Fed tries to accomplish two things: sustainable job growth and stable inflation. It does this through buying and selling treasury securities, which has an immediate impact on bank reserves and interest rates. Most of the focus over the last few years has been on interest rates, which have stayed at record lows for an extended period of time, as the Fed increased its holdings of treasury and agency securities to $3.5 trillion. Prior to the Great Recession and accompanying financial crisis, that figure was below $1 trillion. Inflation has been well-behaved recently. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), the inflation. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Birko

Leading the way for food safety

By Gigi Sukin

MANUFACTURING BIRKO In 1953, out of a garage in Ogden, Utah, Florence and Ward Smith produced an alkaline wash to sanitize and whiten edible tripe. Sixty years later, their granddaughter Kelly Green now serves as chairman of the board and the third-generation owner of Birko. In its history, the organization has established a solid reputation as a leading provider of food safety solutions for the meat, produce and brewing industries. “We think Birko is one of the best-kept secrets in the food industry,” said Green of her family’s Henderson-based business. “We help protect the food chain behind the scenes so that products are getting to customers in a safe fashion.” Attributing a great deal of its success to solid chemistry, the firm also prides itself on social responsibility that falls in line with Birko’s daily routine and overarching values. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: WhiteWave Foods

Maintaining its mission and leveraging its size, scope and scale

By Gigi Sukin

CONSUMER BUSINESS WHITEWAVE FOODS CO. (Watch a video about WhiteWave.) In a 2003 TED talk, famed entrepreneur and blogger Seth Godin mentioned the dairy-free product Silk to emphasize a point about modern marketing. WhiteWave Foods Co. “put a product that does not need to be in the refrigerated section next to the milk. ... Sales tripled. Why? Milk, milk, milk, milk – not milk. For the people who were there and looked at that section, it was remarkable.” Without a monstrous ad budget or gorilla marketing methods, WhiteWave managed to get people talking, drinking and eating. “We’re founded on innovation. We’ve created almost every category in which we play,” said Molly Keveney, the company's vice president of communications and community affairs. Sure, WhiteWave strives to make delicious, responsibly produced food and beverages. . .

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Three keys to the ski economy:

Snow, snow, snow

By Jeff Rundles

In the real estate business, the conventional wisdom is that there are three essential elements to success: location, location, location. For the ski industry – a major component of the Colorado economy – there are also three ingredients to success, and they are just as simple: snow, snow, snow. Oh sure, there are other factors in building a sustainable and growing skiing economy, like the burgeoning development of summertime activities on the mountain terrain, the explosion of full-season and packaged passes, managing changing demographics, marketing the world over, site improvements and transportation; and they are all issues tackled daily by ski industry professionals like the moguls on a black diamond run. But they pale in. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Project Angel Heart

Collective use of head and heart to impact in-need Coloradans

By Gigi Sukin

NONPROFIT PROJECT ANGEL HEART (Watch a video about Project Angel Heart.) According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a psychological theory proposed in 1943 that established a framework for human motivation, one of the most fundamental physiological necessities is nourishment. Yet if you were unable to feed yourself, what would you do? Luckily for Coloradans, the staff and volunteers of Project Angel Heart prepare and package meals and deliver food to more than 900 clients, all of whom face a limited ability to shop or cook for themselves due to life-threatening illnesses. And it’s not the stereotypical slop often depicted in hospital cafeterias and nursing homes; instead an average of 18 to 20 meal variations each day are tailored to meet the dietary and medical needs of each client. “With their basic nutritional needs met, our clients usually find their. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Oakwood Homes

Community builders thrive through real estate downturn and beyond

By Gigi Sukin

REAL ESTATE / CONSTRUCTION OAKWOOD HOMES The credit crisis resulting from the bursting of the housing bubble is considered the primary cause of the 2007-2009 recession in the U.S. Suffice it to say, it was a challenging couple of years in real estate. But Oakwood Homes managed to make it out of the economic downturn and in fact made a sizeable comeback, opening eight new sales offices in the last 12 months and expanding into Colorado Springs, Omaha and Salt Lake City, with additional markets on the way. How did the Denver developer do it? It wasn’t all easy. “We had to lay off over 80 people,” CEO Pat Hamill said. “We tried to maintain open communication both internally and externally. Lots of companies went out of business entirely during this disruptive time.” But Hamill maintained faith in the community and continued to pay attention to the. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Graebel Companies Inc.

Innovation and expansion keep Graebel on top of its global game

By Gigi Sukin

SERVICES GRAEBEL COMPANIES INC. (Watch a video about Graebel.) Graebel has its eyes on the prize; and the prize is the whole wide world. With its headquarters in Aurora, Graebel is the only privately owned company that serves as a single-source solution for relocation logistics, thus offering operational efficiency, accurate, timely and streamlined communications with its Fortune 500 clientele scattered around the globe. Innovations that have kept Graebel on top of its global game include: the relocation industry’s first mobile apps, requiring secure password-protected access to client portals, surveys and estimates conducted in customers’ homes. But it’s not just fancy tech tools that have gotten Graebel to global relevance. In a four-year span and amid the Great Recession, Graebel transformed a Colorado-based business with zero offshore brick and mortar. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Level 3 Communications

Changing communications from Colorado

By Gigi Sukin

TELECOM LEVEL 3 COMMUNICATIONS (Watch a video about Level 3.) Level 3 Communications currently has more than 10,000 employees around the world. After a 2011 acquisition of Global Crossing Limited, Level 3 nearly doubled the size of its employee base and increased revenue by $2.6 billion to $6.2 billion with its unrivaled IP/optic network and global reach. Along with the closing, Level 3 got to thinking about its company culture. “The things that knit us all together are the corporate social responsibility piece and the customer experience piece,” said Laurinda Pang, chief human resources officer for Level 3. Its global Level 3 Cares program, launched shortly after the acquisition in January 2012, “allowed us to formulate and structure a consistent three-part program,” including: education, sustainability and service for the underprivileged. Moreover,. . .

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Medicine in the information age

IT industry steps up to curb health care inefficiencies

By Eric Peterson

The Institute of Medicine found that 30 percent of U.S. health care spending in 2009 was waste. That’s $765 billion. And skyrocketing costs have ballooned at a rate that’s more than triple that of wages over the past decade. Many believe information technology is health care’s last hope for reducing waste and capping costs. With more than a trillion dollars worth of fruit hanging from branches of all heights, health care most definitely has the tech world’s full attention, and there are a host of federal financial incentives set to go into effect soon. Amid this landscape, it’s no surprise Colorado is home to a notable and growing cluster of health care IT companies. Some provide tools to the masses to help manage. . .

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Executive edge: Lloyd Lewis

Arc’s CEO makes business personal at his nonprofit

By Lynn Bronikowski

When Lloyd Lewis goes to work as president and CEO of arc Thrift Stores, he is inspired every day by his son, Kennedy, who was born in 2003 with Down Syndrome. “A lot of parents go through a grieving or a disappointment process; some get angry; some get depressed,” Lewis said. “But I fell in love with him from the beginning.” Lewis, who was the chief financial officer of a high-tech company at the time of his son’s birth, threw himself into scientific research advocacy, joined the arc of Colorado board of directors and attended a national Down Syndrome convention. “I decided I really wanted to use my business skills to help people like my son,” said Lewis, who joined arc as CFO in. . .

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Energy: Gushing fruit

Surging oil and gas production has far-reaching economic impact

By Lee Buchsbaum

The marriage of multi-stage hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques has unleashed a veritable gusher of oil and natural gas in Colorado. With more than 51,000 wells, the state ranked fifth in the nation for gas and ninth for oil production in 2011. Last year, Colorado’s producers set records as they extracted almost 50 million barrels of crude and 1.7 million cubic feet of natural gas from the state’s rich oilfields. Historically a significant part of Colorado’s economy, the industry today provides substantial economic benefits throughout the state due to its integrated supply chain, high-paying jobs – often in otherwise agriculturally dependent rural areas – and its national and global reach. According to. . .

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2013 Top Company winner: Mercury Payment Systems

Aggressive growth in payment processing from Durango

By Gigi Sukin

FINANCIAL SERVICES Mercury Payment Systems (Watch a video about Mercury) Matt Taylor is betting on brick and mortar. “We want to help merchants feel empowered to attract, retain and excite customers,” the CEO of Mercury Payment Systems said. As such, “Main Street countertops must be equipped with the right kinds of mobile technology to interact with consumers during and beyond the point-of-sale.” Mercury is one of the nation’s fastest-growing payment processers, with more than 500 point-of-sale (POS) software vendors and 2,500 POS value-added-resellers. The Durango-based business, the 25th largest merchant acquirer in the world, made a mid-August announcement of its partnership with e-commerce heavyweight PayPal that will effectively allow Mercury’s base of more than 80,000 merchants to accept PayPal payments in their Main Street shops as. . .

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