Colorado Companies to Watch 2014: Bioscience and creative industries


A1 Organics


PORTRAIT: Since 1974, A1 Organics has been in the organic recycling game, successfully diverting more than 8 million cubic yards of waste from Colorado landfills, resulting in high-quality composts, mulches and other recycled materials, available to the landscape industry and others. Serving clients such as the City and County of Denver, Whole Foods, MillerCoors and others, the team expects to grow to 58 full-time employees and show 21 percent revenue growth  this year.

DIFFERENTIATOR: A1 has led the development of compost, green infrastructure, LEEDs certification and erosion control specifications and products in the state. The company created a compost classification system for Colorado that is also in use nationally. A1 launched the first food waste diversion program in Colorado and was a key partner in the creation and expansion of Denver’s curbside organics collection program.

MAJOR MOMENT: A1’s partnership with Coors Brewing Co. facilitated the construction and opening of Colorado’s first fully permitted Class 1 Organic Recycling Facility, capable of recycling commercial and municipal organic waste streams. The Lost Antlers site, completed in 1995, received national acclaim and served as a model for implementing and improving state regulations pertaining to the permitting of solid waste facilities.

COMPANY CULTURE: A1 defines its culture in two words: rural and family. Its Colorado roots trace back roughly a century to founder Duane Wilson, who remains in his home directly next door to the corporate office. His son Chuck has taken over as company owner. Strong work ethic and innovation underlie the business as well. While the “handshake agreement” is often difficult to maintain in a highly mobile and digitized world, the concept of personal responsibility and commitment based on one’s word remains entrenched at A1.

JustRight Surgical LLC


PORTRAIT: JustRight Surgical operates in the “extremely competitive” health care and social assistance market, designing, developing and producing medical instruments, mainly focusing on mini-laparoscopic products to advance surgical approaches. While JustRight must have its products approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as any medical device manufacturer must, its corporate strategy to address unanswered needs of pediatric surgeons is anticipated to grow the company.

DIFFERENTIATOR:  JustRight strives to shrink the size of surgical instruments, as surgeons have long requested smaller tools in an attempt to reduce invasiveness. This means smaller incisions, less pain and scarring, and faster recovery. The products require precision engineering and micro-machining techniques. 

MAJOR MOMENT: In September 2009, the team of founders — Dale Schmaltz, Russ Lindemann, Jenifer Kennedy, Patti Hoag, Scott Drake and Steve Rothenberg — presented the market opportunity, potential product offering, growth plan and investment needs to two seasoned and successful medical device entrepreneurs, who advised that unless they put some “skin in the game,” no one would invest a penny in their startup. This shake-up instigated a regroup and ultimately a personal investment that allowed for three products’ proof-of-concepts. “We were extremely confident in our plan, which came through during the fundraising process,” said Schmaltz, founder, chairman of the board and director of R&D at JustRight. “Our first outside capital round was oversubscribed in less than a month.”

COMPANY CULTURE: As a health-centric company, JustRight Surgical allows each team member to take time during the day to work out. During the summer, the staff selects an adventure race to compete in as a team.

Sharklet Technologies Inc.


PORTRAIT: Sharklet Technologies has developed the world’s first and only surface technology with a unique microscopic texture that inhibits bacterial growth on germ-prone surfaces. When Sharklet is manufactured into the surfaces of products, such as medical devices or durable consumer goods, bacteria is reduced, creating cleaner surfaces. Sharklet incorporates its technology directly into the surfaces of products made by well-known companies, such as office furniture manufacturer Steelcase, in an attempt to create cleaner products without the use of chemicals or antibiotics.

DIFFERENTIATOR: Until the advent of Sharklet, all “antimicrobial” technologies came in the form of chemicals, antibiotics and other kill technologies. This approach has proven challenging, particularly in health care, as over time bacteria develops resistances. Sharklet’s breakthrough texture does not kill, but instead controls bacteria.

MAJOR MOMENT: In 2010, Sharklet Technologies relocated from Alachua, Fla., to Aurora, now housed in the Bioscience Park Center adjacent to the Anschutz Medical Campus. With state-of-the-art labs, research opportunities and the highly collaborative environment that came with the move, the company has thrived.

COMPANY CULTURE: Sharklet lets entrepreneurial spirit dictate its atmosphere, more so than that of traditionally strict, science-driven enterprises. Recognizing that it must disrupt markets, the team embraces a “think different, dream big” collective mentality.


Ad Light Group


PORTRAIT: Ad Light designs, fabricates, installs and services a broad range of interior, industrial and graphic projects, from large scale electrical signage and custom lighting, to glass and photopolymer ADA signs. Major clients include Sports Authority Field, Snooze AM Eatery, Colorado History Center and more.

DIFFERENTIATOR:  Only one other company in the country is able to construct a product similar to Ad’s, thanks to a unique production process for ADA-compliant etched glass signs and decorative glass.

MAJOR MOMENT: In 1998, two years after the present owner purchased Ad Light, a large and untouched market was identified, including national retailers, auto dealerships and banks, all in rapid expansion mode at the time. Installation capabilities were in high demand and presented major opportunities; thus, investments were made to purchase equipment and hire knowledgeable and experienced installation experts in Colorado. As a result, the company – founded in 1951 – doubled in size in a mere two years.

INNOVATION: Ad Light incorporates the newest LED technology into both its electric signage and decorative lighting. A visible example is showcased in the lobbies of the new Byron Rodgers Courthouse, featuring combined artistic etched glass with LED edge lighting.


Atlas Advertising


PORTRAIT: Atlas Advertising is a marketing and technology company that specializes in connecting companies to locations that fit their expansion or relocation needs. Within the past six years, Atlas has become an expert at how companies use Web technology to discover, evaluate and select locations for business clients.

DIFFERENTIATOR: To develop a successful product-centric culture, Atlas has evolved its processes from a “one off” service-agency style to a SaaS “platform thinking” approach. The team has supported this by building a multi-tenant software architecture that enables the rollout of new online features for multiple sites at once.

MAJOR MOMENT: As a service company, Atlas’ average revenue-per-customer has been more than $35,000 annually. But in 2011, the company pivoted, deciding to target more customers at a lower price point – dropping to $5,000 a customer. With this change, Atlas was required to deliver services through software and serve more people to survive. But it paid off when the marketing and technology business achieved triple-digit annual growth.

COMPANY CULTURE: To reward retention, Atlas offers employees an additional one-week vacation and $2,500 for a five-year anniversary trip, and two extra weeks after a decade of service. This year Atlas committed to team building, with Fitbit challenges and cash bonuses for winning teams, as well as vacation bonuses for employees who meet step, calorie, sleep and other goals. With incentives and increased care and concern for employees, Atlas found that 100 percent of its people were satisfied with their work in 2013 and three-quarters of the team believed the culture improved year-over-year.

InLine Media Inc.


PORTRAIT: Launched in 1994, InLine provides advertising, media buying, planning and strategy to a variety of industries, including restaurants, telecommunications and health care, to support their marketing and advertising programs.

DIFFERENTIATOR: InLine invests in experienced media professionals and fosters long-standing client relationships. In addition, the company employs outside research data and uses two media planning and reporting software systems, each designed to manage technical differences.

MAJOR MOMENT: In 2011, Inline’s largest client, Ultimate Electronics, filed for bankruptcy protection, and on top of that, the agency was sued for preference payments. Though things looked bleak, the team regrouped. Within 15 months the firm acquired new business that more than replaced its loss.

COMMUNITY: In 2008, an employee asked to have a more significant and consistent level of giving, introducing InLine to St. Clare’s Mission, an organization that serves the working poor and homeless in the Baker neighborhood of metro Denver. Four years ago, St. Clare’s called InLine, asking for assistance with its empty community closet. The team enlisted more than 200 media representatives to collect the necessary items, hosting the first of its “Heart Warming” parties in 2010. The outpouring filled an entire van with goods for the St. Clare’s community. The tradition continues, as the staff and clients look forward to the event and opportunity to share on a personal and meaningful level.

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