Made in Colorado 2014: Aerospace; Energy/Environment;
Unmanned aerial vehicles (drones)
Chris Miser’s Air Force background led directly to his founding Falcon UAV in 2007. “I designed and developed unmanned aircraft for the military,” he says of his service. “I know how these will be used in a tactical sense.”
When Miser left the Air Force in 2007, he asked himself, “What’s the next big market?” His answer: “The civic market.”
It follows that Falcon UAV markets its unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to law-enforcement agencies, farmers, surveyors and other civilian customers. Compared to a survey crew’s “crude” glimpse, a UAV can give planners, farmers, oil-and-gas crews, and conservation organizations the “entire picture,” says Miser.
To date he has sold nearly 20 systems to customers that include the Mesa County sheriff’s office. His differentiator from the big aerospace companies also making UAVs? Price. “They had all the military contractors try to sell them $100,000-plus systems.” A Falcon UAV system with two UAVs and a ground control station costs about half of that.
“Every law-enforcement agency would have a helicopter and a plane if they could afford it,” adds Miser, citing search-and-rescue and firefighting as key uses.
But Miser, who works with a small crew and builds many Falcon UAVs himself, says “The big thing is surviving until the market hits.” He expects the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to come up with UAV rules by 2020.
“By that point, the industry will have solved itself,” says Miser. “It’s like the Internet. The industry made itself.”
Sierra Nevada Corp. Space Systems
Spacecraft and satellites / sncspace.com
Louisville and Centennial (based in Sparks, Nevada)
Don’t be fooled by the California mountains in its moniker: About 1,200 of Sierra Nevada’s 3,000 employees are Colorado-based. Here we have the home of its space operations, more than any other state and notably up from 200 in 2009.
And SNC Space Systems is omnipresent in the current conversation about space exploration. The company made systems in the Curiosity Rover on Mars and is now testing the Dream Chaser, the potential heir to the Space Shuttle. It also is the largest manufacturer of small satellites in the industry.
“We’ve been to 12 planets, the sun, and the moon with products made in Colorado,” says Corporate VP Mark Sirangelo, who heads up the division.
“It’s quite the project,” Sirangelo says of the Dream Chaser. “It’s now in the final stages of being approved as a replacement for the Space Shuttle. It’s been built and it’s been on a test flight.”
He likens the Dream Chaser to “a space sports utility vehicle,” noting, “The Space Shuttle was much more like a moving van. We’re a lot smaller - about one-tenth the size - but we have the same amount of room for people. It’s a lot more efficient.”
It’s also owned by SNC, and NASA will contract with the company on missions. “That’s a good thing for Colorado,” says Sirangelo. “We can market this to other customers.”
After certification by NASA and the FAA, the Dream Chaser could lift off for its first mission in 2017, Sirangelo says. SNC worked with Lockheed Martin, University of Colorado and United Launch Alliance on the spacecraft, partnering with “over a dozen Colorado universities and companies” in all.
Sirangelo also touts the company’s groundbreaking satellite “assembly line” in Louisville. “We are producing a satellite that’s three to four times more capable and three times less expensive,” he says.
Also serving as Colorado’s chief innovation officer, Sirangelo aims to make the state “the Silicon Valley for space technology.” And it’s well on its way. “It’s not there yet, but it’s pretty likely the next American to go to space will go through Colorado.”
Energy / Environmental
Coolerado’s genesis has its roots in the Cold War-era research of Valeriy Maisotsenko, who discovered a thermodynamic cycle developing cooling systems for tanks in the Ukraine. He defected to the U.S and came to Denver in the early 1990s, then teamed with four partners to co-found Coolerado in 1999.
“They worked directly with [the National Renewable Energy Laboratory] NREL to develop and commercialize the technology,” says CEO Tom Teynor.
The end result? “We provide air-conditioning-quality air, but we provide it at swamp-cooler prices.” First shipped in 2004, Coolerado units can use as little as 10 percent the electricity of traditional AC. The company today has more than 2,500 installations in 30 countries, and exports more units than it sells in the U.S.
The 40-employee company has targeted five key markets: data centers, industrial and food-processing facilities, big-box retail, military and hospitals. “Where there’s a high heat load, like a data center, or a lot of outdoor air, like a hospital, that’s Coolerado’s sweet spot,” says Teynor.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder saves 93 percent of its cooling costs, and other customers have saved $500,000 in infrastructure because they didn’t need the capacity to handle traditional AC. “Sometimes the payback is immediate,” says Teynor.
Accumulators / steelheadcomposites.com / Golden
When 9th Street Investments helped finance Loveland’s Lightning Hybrids, there was only one supplier making the requisite hydraulic accumulators that recycled brake power into the engine.
“We decided it was a supply chain risk,” says Andrew Coors, who subsequently left 9th Street to take the reins of the resulting spinoff Steelhead Composites as CEO and its first employee.
“It stores a tremendous amount of power and almost instantaneously re-applies that to the engine” says Coors. “A hydraulic system is almost instant power.”
Unlike less efficient hybrid systems that charge electric batteries - which only capture about a quarter of the braking power - accumulators can recycle 75 percent of the energy and make a vehicle 40 percent more fuel-efficient. Major car manufacturers have taken notice; still, you won’t see a consumer vehicle with a hydraulic accumulator until about 2016. “We’re very encouraged,” says Coors.
The 12-employee Steelhead Composites is currently making accumulators for Lightning Hybrids, and recently expanded into battery accumulators. Tanks for natural gas vehicles are in the prototype stage.
“We have some great technology that will increase range for natural gas vehicles,” says Coors. “We’re happy at Steelhead to serve many different markets in the alternative fuel space and the emission saving space.”
Don’t expect manufacturing to stray too far from Golden. “We are going to be doing all of the manufacturing in Colorado on machinery made in the U.S.A. and with materials that are 100 percent made in the U.S.A.”
Medical & Bioscience
Medical device components / mountainsidemed.com / Boulder
“I’m from a manufacturing family,” says Pete Neidecker, executive VP of Mountainside Medical. “My father started manufacturing in Colorado in 1959.”
Pete’s father, Peter C. Neidecker, had a wire and spring company, National Wire Specialties, that supplied Gates Rubber beginning in 1959.
Peter created a definitively Colorado product: “The ski-ticket wicket in the 1960s,” says Pete. “He called it the Colorado Penguin.”
Pete joined the family business in the 1980s and pivoted the company in 1995. “We started transitioning out of industrial and into medical,” says Pete.
After a merger, an acquisition, and a two-year non-compete clause, Pete co-founded Mountainside with his wife, Susan, in 2006. Susan serves as president and CEO.
As a contract manufacturer for numerous top medical-device makers, Mountainside has boomed, with facilities in Boulder and Louisville, and $13 million in revenue in 2013, up from $250,000 in 2006. About two-thirds of its 95 employees work in production.
Today the company is one of the most respected contract manufacturers in the medical-device industry. Its bread and butter is components for laparoscopic surgical tools and orthopedic instruments, says Pete. “We’re kind of like the guys who put the dashboards in Fords,” he says.
Last year, Mountainside opened a snazzy “development center” for its clients in Boulder. It’s a break-even proposition, Pete says, but worth it. “Once they develop it, we’ll build it in our factory, and that’s where we’ll make our money.”
Medical diagnostics / corgenix.com
Founded in 1990, Corgenix is a worldwide leader in diagnostics that assess a patient’s risk of cardiovascular disease, developing, manufacturing and commercializing laboratory-testing products. “We have over 50 products that are cleared with the FDA,” says CEO Doug Simpson
The market includes university and hospital labs and pharmaceutical companies. The company has enjoyed annual growth of 10 to 15 percent in recent years. Simpson projects Corgenix will be in “hiring mode” in 2014 and beyond.
Almost all of the company’s 43 employees are in Colorado, and its state-of-the-art, 32,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Broomfield is licensed by the FDA and ISO-certified, attracting such big-name partners as Eli Lilly and Co.
“They’re a pharmaceutical company, not a diagnostic company,” says Simpson. “They don’t want to build a facility for diagnostics. I think we’re going to see more collaborations between Corgenix and big drug companies who need companion diagnostic products.”