Category Archives: Innovation

Colorado’s craft beer rules!

Some readers may argue that brewing beer isn’t really a high-tech occupation.

To that I can only say: Bah humbug!

My college roomate and I tried brewing our own back in the late 1970s — cooking the ingredients on the kitchen stove, bottling it in previously used Hamm’s bottles and aging it in a closet. The disastrous results convinced me that brewing is truly a complex, highly technical process.

And besides, how many software programs, semiconductor designs and computer systems do you think would ever have been completed without frequent sessions of “beer therapy?”

In any event, Coloradans have reason to be proud of our homegrown craft brewing industry.

The Boulder-based Brewers Association (see http://www.beertown.org/) this week released a list of the country’s top 50 “craft brewers,” a term that refers to the smaller, independent and traditional breweries that have become the fastest growing segment of the U.S. brewing industry. The association reports that sales of craft beer in U.S. supermarkets grew 17.8% in 2006, compared with just 10% for wine and a mere 2% growth for “ordinary” domestic beer from the industry’s big four producers (Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors and Pabst).

Colorado, it turns out, is home to five of the 50 largest U.S. craft brewers. Only California, with seven top-50 brewers, has more. (If all the smaller brewers are counted, Colorado actually has closer to 100 commerical micro-breweries)

Fort Collins’ New Belgium Brewing Company Inc., maker of the extremely popular Fat Tire beer, ranks as the third-largest U.S. craft brewer in terms of 2006 sales. Actual sales figures were not disclosed as part of the rankings, but a Denver Post article last July reported that New Belgium brewed about 370,000 barrels of beer in 2005, while Inc. magazine reported last year that the progressively managed, eco-friendly company had 2005 sales of about $70 million.

Following is a list of Colorado’s Top-50 craft brewers, and their rankings:

      Company…………………City……….Rank

_______________________________

  • New Belgium…………………Fort Collins……3
  • Rock Bottom Brewery…..Louisville……..24
  • Flying Dog…………………….Denver…………29
  • Odell Brewing……………….Fort Colllins….31
  • Breckenridge Brewery…..Denver………….36
  • Boulder Beer…………………Boulder…………41

Source: Brewers Association

_______________________________

“Beer made by small, independent and traditional breweries is definitely an American success story,” says Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association.

With just under 1400 small breweries the segment eclipsed 6.7 million barrels in 2006. The fastest growing craft beer sector in 2006, with a 16% sales increase, was microbreweries (those under 15,000 barrels a year). Total craft beer industry sales have grown 31.5% over the past 3 years.fattire2.jpg

The Denver Post reported that brewers contribute $3.7 billion a year to this state’s economy, although the bulk of that no doubt comes from the Coors and Anheuser-Busch operations here.

Nonetheless, my hat’s off to all the dedicated beer makers whose bubbly brews make our lives — and the technology industry — so much better (when consumed in moderation). I plan to open an ice-cold Fat Tire a few hours from now in celebration.

Buckets of cash for Photobucket?

The blogosphere and the mainstream press are abuzz with speculation about the expected sale of Denver-based photo-sharing startup Photobucket Inc., and how much the fast-growing company may be worth.

photobucket.gif

Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch blog reports that Photobucket has hired investment bank Lehman Brothers to explore a possible sale of the company, which he says could be worth $400 million or more. Pretty amazing for a company with less than $10 million in sales last year.

Arrington hasn’t disclosed the source of his revenue data and projections for the company, which leads some to suspect the bankers may have leaked the data to help prime the market for a sale. His data, which includes no profit/loss information, indicates that Photobucket’s sales climbed from $4.4 million in 2005 to $9.3 million in 2006, and should reach $32 million this year. About 74% of Q4 2006 sales reportedly came from advertising.

Commentators at ValleyWag, HipMojo and the Daily Deal’s blog doubt that Photobucket can sell for as much as $400 million. Blogger Simon Brocklehurst, on the other hand, sees potential for an even higher price. “If pushed into it by a bidding war, I’d say that someone might be prepared to pay north of $600M – maybe even up to a $1B,” he writes.

So exactly who and what is Photobucket?

The company — which has its technology, development and operations functions in Denver and a business and sales office in Palo Alto, Calif. — basically allows people to store a limited number of photos and videos online for free, or larger amounts for $25 yearly. The stored images can then be linked to from anywhere on the Internet, and are especially popular with users of social media websites such as MySpace and Facebook.

Photobucket’s website currently reports 39 million registered users (it’s reportedly aiming for 60 million by year-end), 17.6 million unique site visitors per month and 7 million images uploaded daily.

In an effusive article last week, Fortune senior editor David Kirkpatrick called Photobucket “the most important site on the Internet that hardly anybody understands.” Critics worry the company could be hurt if MySpace and Facebook were to stop accepting its links. But Kirkpatrick sees that as an improbable prospect, which would likely provoke a “user revolt.”

Co-founders Alex Welch and Darren Crystal were software engineers at Denver’s Level 3 Communications, Inc. before starting Photobucket in 2003. CEO Welch, 30, earned a business administration degree from Colorado State University. Chief technical officer Crystal studied electrical engineering at the University of Texas and was a network engineer for computer maker Dell Inc. before joining Level 3.

The two used savings, credit cards and money borrowed from Welch’s parents to start the company in Crystal’s basement. Welch writes in a recent article for the eventuring website of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that they got early financing from a neighbor’s friend at Guaranty Bank in Longmont, after venture capitalists turned them down. Later venture funding eventually came from New York’s Insight Venture Partners and MenloPark, Calif.-based Trinity Ventures

Red Herring magazine reported recently that Welch has a previous connection with photography. He used to work for a Colorado rafting company, taking pictures as boats floated by. Today his company operates the world’s largest photo-sharing site, which as of February employed about 60 people, including 45 in downtown Denver.

Revolutionary running shoes?

Inside Triathlon magazine has an interesting interview this week with Danny Abshire, co-founder and owner of Boulder’s Newton Running, which is trotting out a new line of running shoes at this weekend’s Ford Ironman 70.3 race in Oceanside, California.newton3.jpg

The company claims that its shoes — named for Sir Isaac Newton and his laws of physics — return an average of 58% of a runner’s energy to their stride compared with typical running shoes’ 42% energy return. In development for a decade, they use a so-called “active membrane” that stretches on impact and then returns to its original shape, pushing “actuator lugs” in the soles outward and returning energy into forward propulsion.

Most runners, however, will have to adjust their technique from landing heels first, to landing on their forefoot, which the company contends is how we all naturally run when barefoot.

Newton’s running team of elite triathletes claims to be running faster and covering more ground since switching to the new shoes.

Four models are available initially, in limited sizes and quantites, through Newton’s website, www.newtonrunning.com, and at Abshire’s Active Imprints shop in Boulder. Prices range from $155 to $175 a pair.

AeA issues U.S. tech warning

Today, for the second time in two years, the American Electronics Association (AeA) issued a strident call for U.S. education reform, greater investment in basic science and technology research and a more lenient visa system to encourage the world’s best and brightest engineers and entrepreneurs to come here to pursue their careers.

In a report entitled “We are still losing the competitive advantage” (see full pdf copy here, or executive summary here), the Santa Clara, Calif-based organzation noted that although awareness of America’s lagging tech competitiveness appears to have increased, very little actual progress has been made.

Congress introduced numerous bills during the last session calling for visa reform, increased R&D investment and improved science, technology, engineering, and math education. But as the report notes: “Not one of these bills was passed or ever seriously debated.”

In a letter accompanying the report, AeA CEO William Archey and Chairman Timothy Guertin describe the United States as “the proverbial frog in the pot of water, oblivious to the slowly rising temperature of a world catching up to us. Today, the heat is still rising and we are still in the pot. There is hope that we are finally feeling the heat and are poised to do something about it. Hope, but not certainty.”

Numerous signs of declining U.S. competitiveness are evident right here in the Mile-High state.

Continue reading

AeA recommendations

Today’s AeA’s report on U.S. competitiveness offers two tiers of public-policy recommendations, ranked in order of priority.

The first tier suggests immediate changes that already have been introduced in various bills and appear to have widespread bipartisan support. The second tier is more challenging, having generally not yet been introduced as legislation, or having the same degree of bipartisan support. Nonetheless, the group describes these longer-range measures as “equally critical” to long-term American competitiveness.

1st Tier Recommendations:

  • Dramatic improvements in U.S. education
    • Improve K-12 math and science instruction
    • Sustain, strengthen, and reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act
    • Promote undergraduate and graduate science, technology, engineering, and math education
    • Create a Human Capital Investment Tax Credit to promote continuous education
  • Support and increase research and development
    • Increase federal funding for physical science, engineering, math, and computer science basic research through the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense
    • Strengthen the R&D tax credit and make it permanent
  • Enact High-skilled visa reform
    • Lower barriers for high-skilled individuals to get temporary work visas
    • Give green cards to all U.S.-educated master and doctoral students

2nd Tier Recommendations:

  • Create a more business-friendly environment in the U.S.
    • Reduce the “onerous and disproportionate” tax that small- and medium-size companies incur by complying with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
    • Address rising health-care costs through initiatives such as electronic medical records
    • Fully fund the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reduce lag time between patent filing and approval
  • Engage proactively in the global trade system
    • Advance free and fair trade policies and agreements and conclude the Doha Round of global trade talks
    • Renew the President’s trade promotion authority
    • Promote stronger worldwide enforcement of intellectual property protection
  • Promote broadband diffusion
    • Offer industry incentives to promote broadband diffusion
    • Ensure affordable broadband access for every American within five years

A parting thought from the report:

“When one of America’s strongest competitive advantages in the global marketplace is a knowledge-based economy, it does not bode well for the future when the United States neglects the infrastructure that supports its wealth creation.”

Boulder baseball breakthrough?

Baseball season’s just around the corner, and a press release from Boulder’s RevFire Corp. is on the wires today, touting the RevFire training and evaluation tool for pitchers. The company’s patented system enables precise and reliable measurement of the spin rate of pitched softballs or baseballs.

Many baseball teams use radar guns to measure the speed of pitches. But until now there were no tools to measure spin. Strong spin is required to put ‘movement’ on a fastball or to throw effective curveballs, sliders, sinkers, or screwballs.

RevFire has developed a handheld monitor to precisely measure both the spin rate and speed of pitched balls. The monitor does not need to be pointed, and can be held by a coach or placed anywhere within 40 feet of the catcher.

The company’s $398 system relies on specially constructed leather-covered balls that are official size and weight with yarn-wound cores, but cannot be hit by a bat or used in games (presumably because that could damage the embedded chips inside). The RevFire balls cost $40 each and have black stitching to distinguish them from typical red-stitched game balls.

No word from the company on whether any of the pros are using the system at spring training camps, but a recent Northern Colorado Business Report article reports that Oklahoma State University has purchased the RevFire system for its softball team.

RevFire quotes Mike White, a member of the USA National Men’s Fastpitch Softball team as saying that he envisions spin rate measurements becoming “as common in judging pitchers in the future as MPH is today.”

RevFire founder and president David Marinelli is a former design engineer for AT&T Bell Labs and Ball Aerospace. He says that the highlight of his baseball career was pitching for his St. Linus grade school team in Dearborn Heights, Michigan “many years ago.”

Boulder innnovator’s insights

The Creative Generalist blog yesterday posted a fascinating interview with Adrian Chernoff, the Chief Creative Officer of Ideation Genesis, an innovation company based in Boulder.

Chernoff — a mechanical engineer whose varied career has included stints at General Motors, Disney, NASA and the Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories — has generated 50 U.S. patents and 12 international patents. He’s worked on everything from new and improved rubber bands (Rubber Bandits™) to theme park rides to cars of the future, and says he’s currently developing a new drink product.

For some thought-provoking ideas on creativity, the process of innovation and the importance of patents, check out this timely article. Also, check out Chernoff’s Muzz.com website, which celebrates the contributions of people like the Muppets’ Jim Henson and inventor Nikola Tesla, whose ideas have changed the world.

New factories are always helpful. But let’s never forget that it’s creative, entrepreneurial individuals like Chernoff that will truly power Colorado’s tech economy into the next century.