DOCSIS turns 20!

Bob Cruickshank, Brian Reilly, Tom Moore (CableLabs - 1995)

Bob Cruickshank, Brian Reilly, Tom Moore (CableLabs - 1995)

I spent the last several weeks with a number of people who I do not see often anymore, but who I not only enjoy very much but also respect beyond description - Bob Cruickshank, Brian Reilly, Pam Anderson, Dick Green, and John Malone - "the Pioneers of DOCSIS."  DOCSIS is the worldwide cable modem technical standard that now supports over a billion devices deployed world-wide that we all had a hand in creating 20 years ago at CableLabs.  We were being honored at the Cable Center in Denver for that achievement by Larry Satkowiak, the President and CEO and he did a nice article (included below) and video interview on the topic. What an incredible honor to be included in the event and especially to see such a great group of people that I had the pleasure to be associated with 20 years ago during the birth of internet access over cable.


The Cable Center's president and CEO Larry Satkowiak

CableFax Daily - 12/1/15

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DOCSIS!

I did not want the year to end without recognizing the twentieth anniversary of one of cable’s seminal events–the “invention” of DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification). In the last year, I talked with Dick Green, John Malone, Rouzbeh Yassini, Tom Moore, Pam Anderson, Brian Reilly and Robert Cruickshank. Some of these names are familiar to most people, while others may not be as recognizable. However, these are some of the key players who were working on the technologies that helped to reinvent the cable industry in 1995 and ushered in the “third generation” of cable. Dick Green and John Malone each played a vital role at CableLabs to move digital technologies forward. The industry was experimenting with VOIP and VOD and they were having conversations with Silicon Valley about the emergence of personal computers and a new technology called the Internet. Green and Malone were present at a meeting where Brian Roberts suggested to Bill Gates that he make an investment in the cable industry. Not long after in 1997, Gates and Roberts made history when Microsoft invested $1 billion in Comcast. From the very beginning, CableLabs was tasked with reviewing the state of the nascent Internet technology and developing standards that would be critical to the expansion of the cable industry.

At that time, there were a number of companies working on a modem that could compete with the telcos. Rouzbeh Yassini, often called the “father of the cable modem” was instrumental in the development of a cable modem that outpaced his competition. The first cable modems were the size of a small refrigerator, so Yassini’s team at LanCity diligently worked to reduce the size and increase the speed. Malone realized that entry into the new market required a large-scale effort to drive down the cost of the equipment and to justify the large investment the cable industry would need to make. It was also clear that new software specifications would be essential to delivering the new service on a wide scale. In a CableLabs board meeting, the board asked Dick Green to pursue the hardware and software necessary to make high-speed Internet capabilities a marketable reality. Green turned to Robert Cruickshank, who in turn brought together a team of people to make everything work. The team included Tom Moore, Brian Reilly, Pam Anderson, William Kostka, Jason Schnitzer, Andrew Sundelin and Kazuyoshi Ozawa. Within the space of one year, their efforts would result in DOCSIS 1.0. It was evident right from the beginning they could deliver speeds 1000 times faster than the existing telephone line modems. This was the advent of high-speed Internet.

As I talked to the many people involved in the development of the original DOCSIS specifications, I found a very humble group who were proud of their achievements, but largely forgotten by history. Most of the DOCSIS team were very young and just starting their careers. Cruickshank was working at the Laboratory of Interdisciplinary Telecommunications at the University of Colorado in Boulder when he interviewed for the Project Manager position with Dick Green. After accepting the position, Robert asked Tom Moore and Brian Reilly from the University of Colorado to intern with CableLabs to test out the theories. They were on the cutting edge of telecommunications and engaged in a discovery process that would change our world. These DOCSIS “pioneers” said they were simply building on the discoveries of those that came before them. They did not know how their work would evolve and the impact they would have on our lives. When people ask me about cable innovations, the story of the cable modem and DOCSIS gives them a prime example of how technological discovery works in the cable industry. It is a collaborative endeavor among the engineers who shared a common vision and dreamed big dreams. As we look forward to the promises of DOCSIS 3.1, take a moment to think about how far we have come in the last twenty years. It is what makes us all optimistic about the future of the cable industry.

(Larry Satkowiak is president and CEO of The Cable Center, the nonprofit educational arm of the cable industry. The Center preserves cable’s enduring contributions to society, strengthens relationships between cable and academia and unites the industry around the advancement of exceptional customer service. His recently published book, The Cable Industry – A short history through three generations tells the story of this dynamic industry from the early CATV systems to the current multi-platform services and programming we know as the modern cable industry.)

See more at: http://www.cablefax.com/cablefax_viewpoint/happy-birthday-docsis#sthash.375UOscS.dpuf

 

Seeing The Light

Insight Logo.png

Hidden above Apeizza e Vino Pizzeria in sleepy Lafayette is Insight Photonics, staffed with two dozen world class optical physicists, one that even participated in Nobel Prize winning work at CU in 2001.  They are working on the development of akinetic swept-wavelength lasers for Optical Coherence Tomography (looking at really small things).  Their technology appears to have the potential to revolutionize a number of different vertical applications such as medical imaging, fiber sensing and even oil and gas exploration.  

Human Skin - 20um isotropic resolution - taken with a 1550nm Insight Akinetic Laser - Image Credit - Medical University of Vienna

As I learned from the Insight team last week, historically nearly all swept-wavelength light sources have used mechanical means to move optical filter elements or microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) mirrors to tune the output wavelength.  Given the need for moving parts, these systems are not only expensive but they also exhibit hysteresis, instabilities, or introduce extraneous reflections that produce noise and limit image quality.  The Insight technology is based on what they call an "akinetic" laser.  Akinetic means "absence of movement" and their laser is an all-semiconductor design that is electrically tuned meaning the only moving parts are photons and electrons.  This means the Insight laser will follow Moore's law for silicon cost curve reduction and can be software controlled.  It also opens up a whole host of new markets.

Insight Photonics Relationship Base

Their first main focus is in the area of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) in medical imaging.  There are a large number of applications here including enhanced diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration, esophageal, breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancer diagnosis, guided implantation of artificial sight and dozens of others.  They also have some really interesting opportunities in the area of fiber sensing for use in things like fracking of oil and gas wells.  The company is still in the development stage but they already have an impressive list of clients and collaborators and even some sizable commercial contracts slated for first production delivery in 2016.

Their team is first-rate and built around optical physics talent developed right here in Colorado.  Their CTO is Dr. Jason Ensher.  He earned his PhD in physics at CU, where he worked together with Dr. Eric Cornell on the 2001 Nobel Prize winning demonstration of Bose-Einstein Condensation.  After completing his PhD, he went on to a postdoc at University of Connecticut with Dr. Edward Eyler, and has since been a strong contributor in industry at ILX Lightwave, Precision Photonics, Ball Aerospace and InPhase Technologies - all in Boulder, by the way.  The founder and CEO, Michael Minneman has 30 years of high-tech management and business development and has a way of blending strong technical depth with "layman level" descriptions of the innovations- a really necessary requirement in this type of endeavor.  Their IP is based around science that was developed and licensed from Cal Poly SLO and they have over a dozen patents and patents pending.

In addition to management talent, they also have a strong group of investors and advisors that I have great respect for including Juan Rodriques (co-founder of Storage Tech and Exabyte), and Merc Mercure (founder of Ball Aerospace and CDM Optics - purchased by OmniVision in 2005).  Merc is a true rocket scientist with a PhD in Physics from CU and we serve together on the Blackstone Board and if he and Juan are willing to put their own skin in the game on this then that says a lot about the credibility of the technology at the very least.  Their key advisors include the head of photonics at USC, the dean of Engineering at UC Santa Barbara, the head of EE at Cal Poly, and the heads of biophotonics at the University of Washington, Johns Hopkins, UT Austin and Texas A&M amongst others.  

The company has been pretty frugal with their development to date being done with just under $8M of equity capital.  They are raising a C round of financing currently and have closed over $900k of the desired $3-4M.  They have an interesting "crowd sourcing like" approach to raising money, preferring to take smaller amounts from private investors rather than more traditional VC.

Insight is a new Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network company and definitely one worth watching.  The fact they built the company around talent and expertise grown right here in Colorado is pretty cool too.

Blackstone Selects Dan Caruso As Steering Committee Chair

Dan Caruso - Chairman & CEO Zayo Group

Nice plug in the Denver Post today about the addition of Dan Caruso to chair our steering committee for the Blackstone Network (excerpt below).  Many thanks to Dan for all his help in this effort and his commitment to entrepreneurship in Colorado.

 

 

Blackstone picks Zayo's Dan Caruso to help startups get to next level

By Tamara Chuang
The Denver Post

The Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, an organization created to help startups get to the next level, added Zayo Group CEO Dan Caruso as its steering committee chairman for 2015.

Caruso, who co-founded Boulder-based Zayo in 2007, led the company to one of the biggest technology public offerings this year.

"The Front Range is home to so many innovative startup companies, and we must continue to foster collaboration and growth to keep them in Colorado," Caruso said.

Blackstone also announced the first three Blackstone entrepreneurs selected to work with small businesses: George Heinrichs, co-founder of public-safety communication service Intrado, which grew to be one of Colorado's largest software companies, with 1,100 employees; Mark Hopkins, founder of Peak Industries, a contract manufacturer of medical systems; and Tom Moore, founder of WildBlue, and a principal in TimesArrow Capital, LLC.

Cyber Security In Colorado Gets Another Boost!

accuvant.jpg

Last week Colorado's own Accuvant announced the acquisition of FishNet Security, an Investcorp company located in Kansas City.  The combined entity will have revenues of over $1.5B and an employee base of 1,400 making it the largest pure play information security company in the country.  Yesterday Accuvant Co-Founder and CEO, Dan Burns, told a group of us assembled at DU that his vision was to build "the Accenture of Information Security" and hopes to have a worldwide presence and revenues double where they are today in the next 2-3 years.  

Those are lofty goals but the company under Dan's leadership has exhibited over 70x growth since it's inception in 2002 and with the large investment by Blackstone last year to add real capital fuel to that growth and a $70-80B global market for cyber security those goals sound almost too conservative.  Pre-acquisition, the company serves over 6,200 clients including over 50% of the Fortune 500 and 50% of the Fortune 100 companies.  Eighty-five percent of their business comes from repeat customers.  That is a strong endorsement.  As Dan told us, their success is based on a security success methodology, that takes into account the clients' maturity and risk tolerance and builds a measurable and actionable framework for success.  That is built around a client-first culture and augmented with some of the industry's best talent.

To bolster that talent pool, Dan is also extremely focused on aggressive training and recruitment programs with the eight top cyber security programs in colleges such as the University of Maryland, Iowa State and University of Montana.  They have yet to tap into the talent at CU, CSU and DU but we will have to change that in the coming years.

Dan Burns, Accuvant CEO

Dan Burns, Accuvant CEO

Dan has a great pedigree and has been in information security almost his entire career.  He ran sales at OneSecure and was instrumental in their transition from a managed security services provider to a product business providing the first intrusion prevention system (IPS) to the nascent industry and also had successful stints at Exault, Access Graphics, Arrowpoint, and Netrex, where he supported some of the largest telecommunications companies in the country in building their information security programs. Dan knows cyber security and talk about the right place at the right time.  Dan likes to say, "even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and again, and this is my nut."  What a great nut it is for Dan and for the Colorado entrepreneurial ecosystem at large.  

Congrats to Dan, Blackstone and the entire team on the Fishnet acquisition and for building such a cyber security powerhouse right here on the Front Range!

Congrats to J.B. Holston!

Bob Newman Lifetime Achievement Award winner  J.B. Holston

Bob Newman Lifetime Achievement Award winner J.B. Holston

A heartfelt congratulations to my new friend, J.B. Holston who was awarded last week the prestigious Bob Newman Lifetime Achievement Award by the Colorado Technology Association. It is not the first time he has been on the podium at CTA, as they awarded him Technology Executive of the Year in 2010. I have been lucky enough to get to know J.B. through the Blackstone Network, where he is the Executive Director but his achievements and contributions to our entrepreneurial community go well beyond that effort. 

J.B. has a quarter century of success as a leader and entrepreneur in a number of thriving organizations, and is active in a range of civic initiatives around innovation, open government, entrepreneurship, impact investing, and microfinance in our state. 

J.B. Holston - Executive Director Blackstone Entrepreneurial Network of Colorado

J.B. Holston - Executive Director Blackstone Entrepreneurial Network of Colorado

J.B. served as founding CEO for NewsGator (now Sitrion) from 2004 through 2012 and before that he led a broad range of for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises including President of Ziff Davis International, where he was a member of the executive team that completed the successful LBO of the company with Forstmann, Little and subsequent sale to Softbank. He also launched Yahoo! Europe as a joint venture between ZD and Yahoo! and even held senior executive positions at NBC and GE after starting his career in Boston with BCG. He continues to serve as Chairman of the Board of Sitrion, and is on the Board of the Colorado Innovation Network, Accion, and a whole host of other organizations. 

Last but far from least, his leadership at BEN Colorado has gotten the group off to an incredible start and we are very lucky to have him in the position. Congrats J.B. for your recent extremely well deserved recognition and thanks for all you do for our entrepreneurial ecosystem!

Great Day For Entrepreneurship In Colorado

Zayo Management Team

Zayo Management Team

Dan Caruso - Zayo Chairman and CEO

Dan Caruso - Zayo Chairman and CEO

Huge congrats to Dan Caruso, Stephanie Copeland and all my friends at Zayo for a very successful IPO today on the NYSE and for building a really cool Colorado company!  Enjoy your very well deserved success!

LogRhythm - Growing Exponentially

LogRhythm Logo

I just read the Forbes article on the most recent data breach at Home Depot.  It seems that after three weeks of investigation, Home Depot confirmed that 56 million payment cards were impacted in a breach that lasted for over five months - making that the largest retail breach to date, even larger than Target’s 40 million card breach. Rumors have been circling that Home Depot’s security has had problems for years.  The New York Times quotes former employees saying that Home Depot was “slow to respond to early threats and only belatedly took action.”

Truth of the matter is companies like Home Depot, Target, eBay, C&K Systems/Goodwill, Destiny, gaming site Call of Duty, travel site Viator, Aventura Hospital, and the dozens and dozens of other companies in the press over the last few months for security problems are not asleep at the wheel nor are they reluctant to respond.  The problem is data security and network integrity is a very difficult and rapidly evolving problem.  Andy Grolnick, the CEO of LogRhythm in Boulder, recently described the situation as "the perfect storm" where the once well delineated corporate network perimeter is now gone and everything is connected.  Compounding the problem is the exponential growth in amount and importance of digital assets leading to unprecedented bad-actor sophistication and an increasingly complex threat landscape at exactly the time when compliance is front and center.  A very tenuous situation to be sure and a difficult one to respond to.

That perfect storm is where LogRhythm is focused and although a young company and still private (although that won't be true for ever) has become a world class alternative against much larger players like IBM and HP in this space.  Andy describes a world where defenses like firewalls, intrusion prevention systems (IPS), VLANs, and other preventative technologies that were considered sufficient even a few years ago are now completely inadequate.  Today companies are dealing with internal compromise, zero day attacks, targeted malware, spear phishing, socially engineered attacks and advanced persistent threats (or APTs).  There is no question that most if not all networks have been compromised to some extent and now the task turns to identifying and arresting those breaches through sophisticated monitoring.

LogRhythm provides a next generation security analytics platform based on real-time processing, machine analytics and forensic analysis looking at the network, hosts, file systems, logs, etc.  The end result is actionable intelligence and incident response for APT detection, malware, compromised hardware, fraud detection, insider threats, compliance violations, compromised user accounts, anomalous database activity and a whole host of other nefarious behavior.  They present the customer with user-friendly actionable intelligence in the form of real-time dashboards, risk prioritized alerts and reporting and also provide automated workflow and incident response and case management. 

Their solution is rapidly becoming the gold standard for dozens and dozens of commercial enterprises, healthcare companies, retailers, financial institutions, and government and military customers.  Their customer list is impressive, the company is growing exponentially and has almost 400 employees in Boulder and growing offices in the UK, Germany, Paris and Singapore.  Their solutions have received Gartner's 2014 SIEM Magic Quadrant award, Frost & Sullivan's 2013 Global SIEM/LM Market Penetration Leadership award, SC Magazine Best Buy award, DCIG 2014-15 Buyer's Guide Best in Class SIEM Appliance award, and CDM Forensics Solution 2014 Best Product award.

Chris Petersen, CTO and CoFounder

They also have impressive management.   Andy Grolnick, the President & CEO since 2005, has 25 years of experience growing high tech businesses, with executive leadership roles in marketing, product development, sales and general management Iomega, OpenLogic (where he was a member of the founding management team), Quantum, Rivio and HP.  Chris Petersen, a cofounder and company CTO is an industry thought leader and respected authority on cyber security.  He has over 20 years of experience in cyber security and information assurance including the development of the Price Waterhouse Enterprise Security Architecture System, leading an engineering group at Ernst & Young that produced one of the industry’s first managed security services and the leading information assurance portal, eSecurityOnline. He was instrumental in bringing to market Counterpane's Managed Security Service and led Product Marketing for the Dragon Intrusion Detection system at Enterasys, helping drive it to a market leading position. He also served as a faculty member for the Institute for Applied Network Security.  He is also a Colorado State University alum!

LogRhythm is well positioned in a field that is in the press daily and increasingly the focus of boardroom discussions around the world.  They are growing rapidly into a world leader in SIEM 2.0 and we are lucky to have such a successful and visionary company in the front range.

 
 

JustRight Surgical - Perfect Example Of Disruptive Innovation

Just Right Logo

While at my 25th Harvard Business School reunion last weekend, I heard a nice presentation by Clayton Christensen on disruptive innovation.  He is one of my favorite academics and his books (Innovator's Dilemma, Innovator's Solution and others) are iconic in business strategy.  Hearing again his theories on disruptive innovation reminded me of a Boulder based startup I recently encountered and what a perfect example they are of Christensen's disruptive paradigm.

Just Right Vessel Sealer

Just Right Vessel Sealer

Just Right Surgical provides miniature precision surgical devices targeted primarily at the pediatric surgery market.  The company is run by Russ Lindemann (past President of Valleylab and 19 years in the surgical device industry) and founded by the engineering design team of Dale Schmaltz and Jenifer Kennedy.  Dale has 20+ years of medical device development experience, over 50 patents, and a dozen successful medical device products on the market. While at market-leader Covidien, Dale led product development teams and championed the LigaSure™ vessel sealing technology from concept to a $500 million business. Jenifer built and ran the Applied Research Group at Valleylab in the 90's (before being acquired by Covidien) and invented the first vessel sealing technology using RF energy and her IP allowed Covidien a nearly competitor-free environment in this arena over the last 13 years.

JR Baby

They left to start Just Right Surgical because the devices available on the market (vessel sealers, staplers, etc.) were designed primarily for adult patients and there was nothing available for pediatric surgery. When you are operating on an infant that can fit in the palm of your hand, having a tissue stapler that is over two feet long just doesn't work very well.  Turns out the pediatric surgery market, although almost $700M annually, is only 1/10th the size of the adult surgical market and market leaders like Covidien are unwilling to engage in the R&D necessary to develop miniature instruments because they view that development as cannibalistic.  As Christensen would describe it, this is just the opening that a disruptive innovator is looking for - targeting a largely un-served adjacent market vertical with products that offer a new and never addressed dimension of value, and most importantly a segment of the market that the market leader is unwilling to address.  There are approximately 950 board certified pediatric surgeons operating out of 220 Children's Hospitals in the US and they are desperate for better tools.  They are so frustrated with the current alternatives that many have become champions for Just Right and have purchased JR's sealer and stapler sight unseen given the lack of alternatives.

That by itself is a pretty compelling opportunity.  The truly disruptive part comes from the fact that once these miniature devices exist, there is no reason not to use them for less invasive adult procedures as well and there the market is ten times as large.

Really cool company right here on the front range.  They have raised over $22M, have a great board, have obtained FDA clearance on four products and have built a formidable IP portfolio.  I am excited to see them put Christensen's theories to work in the surgical device market!

ViaWest Acquisition Doesn't Mean Goodbye

viawest patch.jpg

Earlier this month I was both excited and worried to hear of the $1.2B ViaWest acquisition by Calgary-based telecom company Shaw Communications.  Excited to have another entrepreneurial success story for the state and excited for the founders Roy Dimoff and Nancy Phillips, and worried at that same time that this acquisition was following the same path as many of our Colorado startup successes becoming a "branch office" for external powerhouse parent companies.  

ViaWest was started in 1999 by Roy and Nancy.  They both have strong entrepreneurial backgrounds in the state and over the past 15 years have built a world class managed services, co-lo, cloud and data center company and garnered investment from leading PE names like Oak Hill Capital Partners and GI Partners. Based in Denver, they operate 27 cutting edge data centers thoughtout the western US with over 600,000 square feet of raised floor space and long list of fortune 500 clients.  ViaSat has been a large client over the past half a dozen years and we find their services impeccable.  

Roy Dimoff (Chairman) and Nancy Phillips (CEO) - ViaWest

Nancy Phillips, serves as the company President and CEO has been a strong entrepreneurial contributor to our state.  She is an incredibly generous person, donating lots of her time to the Blackstone Network (where we serve together on the board), the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT); the Colorado Technical Association (CTA) and the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST). 

So success couldn't come to a nicer more deserving team and I was ecstatic to hear from Nancy this week that the entire management team was committed to staying in place here in Denver and running this expansion vertical for Shaw as a contained entity.  That is great news as ViaWest is an iconic entrepreneurial success story for Colorado and it is great to hear Nancy will stay committed to all she does for our community.  Congrats Nancy and the entire ViaWest team on your great success!

Wanted - Android Programmers For Knitting Website

John Levisay and Sympoz Management Team

How do you engage cutting edge, millennial, engineering, programming and media talent for a website that creates educational programming on cooking, wood carving, and knitting and caters to the female 40-70 year old demographic?  Sounds difficult at best, and to add to that, let's locate that company in downtown Denver.  Difficult to build a successful company around that formula?  Believe me, I was skeptical until I learned more about Sympoz (which does business under the "Craftsy" brand name) from John Levisay the CEO.

John is soft spoken and understated but has a very impressive background including a lengthy stint at eBay, where he ran eBay Motors and grew it to a $14B/year business.  He knows a little about building an online business and the talents necessary to support it so you are compelled to listen to his idea even though at the onset it seems hard to believe.

Craftsy On-Line Cooking Class

His vision centers around a website branded "Craftsy" - that produces and distributes very high quality video-based instructional classes by top, well respected instructors focusing on niches such as cooking, cake decorating, sewing, quilting, knitting, embroidery, drawing, painting and photography.  A typical class consists of two to three hours of HD video content, transcribed, annotated, supported with book marks and note taking capability and ranging from beginner to master level expertise in the given field.  The studio quality film is shot onsite at the Craftsy studios in Denver by professionals and is high quality.  The kicker is the classes sell online on an a la carte basis for anywhere from $15-40/ea.  That seems expensive until you realize what it would cost (in time, money and possibly travel) to get that same level of specialized instruction in a more traditional way.  Their focus is on dedicated enthusiasts, or hobbyists that will pay for high quality curated content generated by subject matter experts.

They are supported by world class investors that I know and trust including Brad Feld (Foundary) and Kirk Holland (Access Venture), but if you are still skeptical, you are not alone - I was too.

Turns out Craftsy is one of Colorado's true on-line entrepreneurial success stories and very few people even know they exist.  They have over 4 million registered members and that number is expected to almost double by the end 2014.  They are heavily integrated into social media platforms like Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest and have over 8 million fans.  Their customers spent more than a million hours taking classes on Craftsy in Q1/2014 alone and the company is headed towards over $40M in revenue this year.  Their customer base is also very loyal and hooked on the content.  Of those members that consume a first course, over 55% will go on to pay for the second.  That statistic only improves with consumption.  Of those that consume 5 courses, over 80% will go on to consume a 6th.  That is a sticky website considering that each course costs north of $25/ea.

Craftsy is the quintessential example of a company that may not generate a lot of cocktail party buzz but is hitting it out of the park delivering an important and sought after service to a very under appreciated and willing-to-pay demographic.  Congrats to John and team (and Kirk and Brad as investors) for creating a really cool company and adding to our Colorado entrepreneurial success stories!

 

Feelin the Love!

Heard a really cool pitch this week from Maddy D'Amato and Alex Hasulak, the founders of Love Grown Foods located right here in Denver.  The couple graduated from DU and started building their company in 2008.  Their mission is simple - make really delicious food (mostly breakfast cereals today but their plans are bigger), that is made from healthy ingredients available to everyone affordably, while educating the kids on the importance of eating healthy.  Sounds familiar and indeed this could be the mission statement for hundreds of health food start ups in this country.  What sets them apart is the almost perfect blend of talents between the founders, their herculean commitment to their mission and culture, and boundless energy combined with passion beyond belief.  

Like all successful health food products, they have good distribution through high end specialty chains like Whole Foods and Alfalfa's.  What sets them apart is their commitment to affordable pricing and wide scale distribution through mass market stores such as Costco, Kroger's, King Soopers, Loblaws and Sobeys (in Canada).  That creates tension with their specialty retailers which is challenging but shows their strong commitment toward making their product available to the masses which is a core part of their mission and that passion and commitment comes through loud and clear in talking with Maddy, who is their Chief Love Officer and infectious beyond belief.  

Maddy D'Amato and Alex Hasulak

Maddy D'Amato and Alex Hasulak

To add to the story, Maddy (who like all entrepreneurs perpetually has 100 things to accomplish and time for only 10) donates a large amount of time in the class room educating kids about their eating habits. That is commitment to building culture and brand from the bottom up.

My good friend, KC Gallagher, is one of their early angels and has been there for them from the beginning.  He is iconic in Colorado, not only as an investor but also for his entrepreneurial  talents and especially his incredible philanthropic efforts.  He felt the love early on and his vision appears to be paying off in their success.

image.jpg

That is a good enough story in itself, but the real kicker could be their new product - Power O's. Building off the trend to replace wheat, corn and sodium in chips with healthier bean based alternatives, the Love Grown Power O's are "cheerios" made from navy beans, lentils and garbanzo beans that taste really good, are full of fiber and protein, low on sodium, are gluten free (without tasting that way) and are good for you.  Unlike their other products which are tasty and made from healthy ingredients but are in a crowded space with limited competitive advantage, their Power O cereal could be truly disruptive.  Time will tell, but either way I think they are well on their way to building a successful company and you definitely want to pull for them and for what they add to our community, state and especially the health of our youth!

Mark Hopkins

''Successful entrepreneurs aren't created by happenstance; they learn from others, look within, develop their raw potential, and create their own pathway to prosperity. Mark Hopkins shows the way.'' --Nathan Thompson, founder and CEO, Spectra Logic

That is a nice quote and just one of many in the editorial reviews of Mark Hopkins book, Shortcut To Prosperity.  Mark published his book over  a year ago but I didn't become aware of it until recently when I got to know Mark personally.  

Mark is not only an accomplished author, but also a very successful entrepreneur, and venture investor at Crescendo Capital Partners. Mark started his career at Hewlett Packard and Emerson Electric before founding PEAK Industries, a medical device contract manufacturing company, in 1996. The company grew to $75MM in sales, and sold to Delphi Medical in 2005.

Mark Hopkins

Mark is a great role model for entrepreneurs in all stages of their development but especially for our younger generation.  He is also a strong contributor to our entrepreneurial ecosystem in Colorado.  He is a master entrepreneur in the Blackstone Network and we have worked together on projects there and he not only contributes loads of time at CU he is also very involved at DU as well.  It is great to have people like Mark here in Denver/Boulder!  Check out his book - it is excellent.

 

Brad Feld's Startup Communities

image.jpg

Although we serve on several boards together, I haven't gotten a good dose of Brad Feld, one on one for quite some time.  We had dinner last week and it was great to hear his enthusiasm for the vibrancy of the tech startup community in Boulder these days. Brad is a true venture capital visionary in every way through his involvement with Mobius Venture Capital in the valley and now with Foundry in Boulder (he was early in Zynga amongst his many other wins). When he isn't running marathons or serving on the many boards that help our state and country he is helping build the entrepreneurial ecosystem in his own backyard. He is a great asset, not only for venture but for Colorado in general. Check out his book, "Startup Communities" and his unique perspective on Boulder as a template. Great stuff!

Libby Cook

Libby Cook

Libby Cook

One the many benefits of joining the recently formed Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network of Colorado Board is having the opportunity to meet Libby.  She is a great contributor to the board, CU, the State and the entrepreneurial community.  She was a founder of Wild Oats and still plays a major role in the health food industry as a mentor and angel investor.  She also has a cool philanthropic pursuit named the Philanthropiece Foundation.  It was originally formed in 1997 as the Wild Oats Community Foundation,  providing low cost holistic health care and education services to needy neighborhoods in the United States and in addition to operating the Wellness Centers, the foundation has been engaged in the community of Boulder, Colorado, collaborating on several educational and community initiatives.

Libby gives a lot of her time as she currently chairs the Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Enterprise (CASE) at Colorado State University, and actively serves on advisory boards for the University of Colorado School of Law,  Silicon Flatiron Center’s Entrepreneurship Initiatives at the University of Colorado, and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives, in addition to the Blackstone effort.

Cool lady - check out her activities to better the State and the world.

Dan Caruso's Envysion

image.jpg

Let me start with the obvious, Dan Caruso is a brilliant entrepreneur, in an elite group certainly in the state and even the country, probably in the world. First, as one of the founding employees of Level3, then with the ICG turn around and now Zayo.  Dan prints money for his employees, himself and his investors and builds sustainable world class enterprises in the process. With ICG, he took a $15M investment from Columbia Capital and returned them over $200M eighteen months later - that's amazing.  And by all accounts, he is doing the same thing at Zayo which will likely have a market cap of $6-8B when they go public in the next year. Dan Caruso is a brilliant entrepreneur.  

Dan is also one of my favorite people in the whole world - intense but easy going, laser focused but open minded, tough as nails but generous, intelligent but practical. Dan is a unique individual. 

With that said, when he first told me about his vision for Envysion seven or eight years ago, I didn't get it. A company focused on putting video survelance as a service into retail outlets using newly installed broadband pipes - where was the value add?  Why couldn't the company just do that themselves?  More importantly, if it was something the retailer decided not to do themselves, how hard would it be to convince them to completely change their work flow to include video as a management tool if you did it for them?  The whole proposition seemed difficult at best. 

Well I was wrong as I learned in a briefing recently from Dan and Matt Steinfort, (Envysion co-founder and CEO). Envysion is thriving. They have almost a hundred employees in Louisville, strong financial backing from CapitalOne and Parthenon Capital Partners and multi-year contracts with large clients such as Chipotle, Big Lots, Einstein, Taco Bell, Chick-fil-a, Cinemark and Verizon and show healthy growth and profitability.

The key value add (that I was missing before) comes from Envysion's ability to tie video surveillance to critical company data, providing operators with instant and actionable insights (through innovative analytics and targeted audits) improving their operations and saving them money.

Chipotle is a case in point. They use the Envysion system in every store they have nationwide and it is a critical part of their management process.  One of their Key Performance Metrics is how quickly they can get a customer through the line and they use the Envysion video in detailed time and motion studies to carve seconds from that process.  They use it to compare one store to the next, or single store performance throughout a day.  They use it to make staffing decisions or flag performance issues.  In short, it is a fully integrated part of their work flow analysis and they pay Envysion a bundle for that insight.  That is cool.

Aside from Dan's brilliance, a lot of credit has to be given to Matt Steinfort for his persistence and strong execution.  He has built a really talented management team and impeccable customer service.   Congrats to Dan and Matt for building a great company and proving me wrong!

Amy Stursberg - Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation

Amy Stursberg - Executive Director Blackstone Charitable Foundation

Amy Stursberg - Executive Director Blackstone Charitable Foundation

Had the great pleasure on Monday to meet Amy Stursberg - the Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. 

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation was founded at the time of Blackstone's Initial Public Offering in 2007, and is focused on directing its resources and applying the intellectual capital of the firm to foster entrepreneurship globally.

The Foundation has committed to a five-year, $50 million Entrepreneurship Initiative to create connected networks, or “ecosystems”, of master coaches in regions across the nation and around the world. Their generous donation to fund the creation of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network of Colorado (an initiative that I serve on the Board of) is a great blessing for our state and we are all indebted to Amy, and John Gray at Blackstone for such a generous gift and the vision to help us create such a cool network.

Amy is a great person and truly dedicated to the mission of fostering entrepreneurship globally and it was a treat to get to know her and work together on this important effort!

Art Zeile and Hosting.Com

Art Zeile - CEO Hosting.Com

Art Zeile - CEO Hosting.Com

I received a nice update from Art Ziele, the CEO of Hosting.Com last week and it is great to hear how well things are going for him and his company.  Art, of course, is iconic in the entrepreneurial community in Colorado and has worked directly with dozens of private equity and venture capital firms, raising hundreds of millions in debt and equity during his career . He has served on the boards of Intrado, iTriage and SMS Management Services and prior to Hosting.Com, was the CEO of QTC Management, co-founder and CEO of INFLOW and a founder of LINK-VTC (acquired by Global Crossings in 1995).  He attended the Air Force Academy and the JFK School of Government at Harvard (where my wife worked when I was there at school and we both loved) and been contributing in Colorado in so many ways ever since. 

Hosting.Com is thriving.  They provide Infrastructure as a Service/IaaS to over 3,000 clients worldwide including NBCUniversal, Cricket, Brookstone, Stanford, the Dallas Cowboys, Humana, the NFL, Smuckers and more and have data centers in six cities across the US.  They are increasingly focused on highly reliable web hosting for high target sites like CNBC, which are prime targets for hackers trying to disrupt their business or take down their website based on what the broadcast personalities may say from one night to the next.  It was quite impressive to hear how they were able to protect CNBC during a recent all out hacker assault. 

Art has also committed to help the Blackstone Network in whatever way he can and we appreciate his willingness to contribute and the great credibility he provides.  Thanks Art for doing all you do!

Urgent Rx on a Critical Mission

UrgentRx

Heard a pitch last week by Jordan Eisenberg, the founder and CEO of UrgentRx.  First of all, what a dynamic and infectious individual.  He is the epitome of the energetic, wear every hat, do everything entrepreneur and you can see how with his energy level.  He was on his way back from the east coast with no sleep when we met and you would have never known it.  Jordan is a serial entrepreneur/inventor and worked on CollarCard, BottleCard (acquired), was the creator of Buddy Network (acquired) and worked with Maurice Kanbar (founder of Skyy Vodka) amongst other successes. 

He is totally pumped about UrgentRx and after hearing his pitch, it would be hard not to be. The idea is simple - UrgentRx is a line of fast-acting, portable over-the-counter medications that provide easy to take (no water - rip the package open and pour it in your mouth), pleasant tasting, FDA compliant medication for headache, upset stomach, an allergic reaction...you name it.  The packaging is high impact and catchy and the product has been selling really well to their primary demo - "Go Getters/Grinders" (males/;females, 25-45 years old, busy with work and family, needs easy on the go solutions).

That's enough, but the really unique thing about UrgentRx has been their incredibly creative "incremental merchandising" approach.  Getting shelf space in any store, let alone the right store is next to impossible for new brands these days.  Their solution - patent-pending, high-impact displays that take up only dead space - the pole next to the register at checkout, a magazine rack border, stuck to the soft drink dispenser - you get the idea.  That is creative and just the kind of idea that good entrepreneurs come up with when established entities see a road block. 

These guys are building a pretty cool brand and doing well.  Not the kind of thing directly in my investment wheelhouse but you have to give them credit and I will enjoy watching their success!

Novinda - Cleaning Up the Coal Industry

image.jpg

I was introduced to Ed Williams this week, who is the CEO of Novinda.  Ed is a very successful entrepreneur and Novinda is an interesting story. Their heritage is in advanced materials and their focus in the last two or three years has turned to developing a portfolio of patented products that address mercury emissions in coal burning power plants.

The US market alone for mercury control consumables is a billion dollar annual opportunity if the April, 2015 required implementation date of the EPA's new MATS (Mercury & Air Toxics Standards) holds. The Company's primary technology, Amended Silicates HgX, provides 40-75% operational cost savings for mercury control under the new regs and is being tested in over 50 plants in the US currently. Now they are reliant on the regulation implementation to kick in and are out raising a $5M bridge to full scale production and sales in 2015.

Ed adds to the story as an accomplished manager and serial entrepreneur.  He ran an $800M division of Apple, served as the CEO of Firefly Energy and has been successful in a number of other early stage development companies.

As an investor, the somewhat binary nature of their trajectory dependent on regulation over the coming year or two is somewhat unsettling but the story is interesting and the opportunity is large. The greenhouse problem is global, not local. The less coal we us in the US, the more cheap coal there will be for China and India to consume and it doesn't much matter where in the world it is consumed, everybody feels the impact so cleaning up coal is a necessary reality for all of us regardless of how prolific natural gas becomes in the US and Novinda appears well positioned in one segment of that important game.  

Novinda could become quite large, very fast if regulation stays on their side which would be great for them and also for Colorado - definitely one to watch.