By Eric Peterson | Dec 18, 2018
Five years after CompanyWeek's launch, we profiled more than 150 Colorado manufacturers in 2018. The connective tissue is ingenuity. Sometimes, it's simply about efficiency in the face of a flood of imports. Other times, it's about rethinking an entire category from the ground up. And in rare cases, it's about creating something nobody has ever seen before.
From spacecraft to craft spirits, here are my personal favorite profiles we published in 2018 that stand out for their subjects' innovation in both products and processes.
The Littleton-based company is on the forefront of space exploration. With nearly 20 years of partnerships with NASA and Lockheed Martin, Deep Space Systems just won a contract to help ferry small payloads to the Moon with NASA's CLPS program, and founder and President Steve Bailey is one of the foremost thought leaders when it comes to getting humans to Mars. But a recent pivot into manufacturing camera systems for spacecraft has diversified the business and catalyzed growth.
From its R&D lab in Fort Collins, the startup is rethinking the wooden barrel. The rounded design that's been the status quo for the last two millennia is out, and the square is in. The modular system allows distillers and brewers to age with different woods and the patented cross-cut grooves make for much speedier aging: Director of Operations David Monahan touts a bourbon-inspired spirit that took less than two weeks in a Squarrel.
Since the 1990s, Honeybee Robotics had been the innovator making artificial hands for space exploration. From the International Space Station to Mars, the company has literally had a hand in numerous high-profile missions, and also lends its expertise to oil and gas as well as other industries. Founded in New York, the company has moved its headquarters to Longmont and also operates a facility in Pasadena, California.
Denver is home to the only true manufacturer of personal computers in the nation: System76. The Linux-focused company worked with a network of contract manufacturers, largely in Asia, before 2018. "We're a bunch of software guys cutting metal now," says CEO Carl Richell. "We're doing the cutting, bending, riveting, finishing -- everything is being done in-house."
The Boulder-based company is one of the largest cannabis manufacturers in the U.S. In 2017, it accounted for nearly 20 percent of Colorado's edibles and roughly half of the state's gummi market. Gregory Daurer's March 2018 profile highlighted CEO Nancy Whiteman's commitment to quality and consistency, and my subsequent feature on scaling cannabis manufacturing showed just how challenging expansion can be in the nascent industry.
CompanyWeek contributor John Garvey kicked off our 2018 coverage with a profile of the Louisville-based battery innovator. It relocated to its 25,000-square-foot facility in mid-2017 to scale production of its breakthrough materials that are revolutionizing lithium-ion batteries both in terms of performance and manufacturability.
The upstart Carbondale distillery is not only a pacesetter when it comes to sustainability -- the facility recycles nearly 2 billion BTUs a year, enough to heat 20 homes -- but it's also an innovator in terms of hospitality, with a boutique hotel upstairs. After launching with vodka, gingercello, and an espresso liqueur, Marble Distilling debuted a rye whiskey and a bourbon in 2018.
Adam Pitale loves a perfectly detailed car, and has since he was a kid: "It's been a lifelong pursuit," he says. He got into polish manufacturing in 2000 in Southern Colorado before moving to Colorado in 2009, then upped the ante with a move into a 35,000-square-foot facility in Thornton in early 2018. The new HQ has manufacturing and a detailing shop that's the perfect test bed for new products.
CompanyWeek's resident authority on outdoor gear, Chris Meehan profiled the Gunnison-based manufacturer of climbing and playground products in October. The emphasis is realism: ID Sculpture's faux boulders bear an uncanny resemblance to the real thing. Growing at a 20 percent-plus annual clip for six years running, the company has installed nearly 500 projects across the country since Ian Glas founded the company in 2002.
Jolene Collins moved her manufacturing operation from Denver to Pueblo County to be closer to the source. She's using local chile peppers as fresh from the harvest as possible. Beyond that key ingredient, Collins strives to keep it simple: The only other ingredients in her sauces are vinegar, palm sugar, garlic, and sea salt.