More than 52,000 patents have been issued to Coloradans in the past 50 years—putting us at number 18 in the country for sheer volume of inventions. Of course, that doesn’t take into account all the trademarks owned by Centennial Staters, among them the word “cheeseburger,” trademarked in 1934 by Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In. Nor does it include all of the songs (ahem, “America the Beautiful” and “Rocky Mountain High”) and literature (Plainsong and The Shining, for starters) written for and about our state. Bottom line: Colorado isn’t just a place of invention; it’s also a haven of inspiration, as the individuals, institutions, and businesses profiled on the following pages illustrate. “Innovation,” though, isn’t always about science and tech. That’s why, in our effort to showcase some of the great minds along the Front Range, we also included people who are advancing everything from education to art to what and how we eat and drink. We know there are more big thinkers out there than we had room to include here, so consider this an introduction to all the impressive gray matter powering—and inspiring—our region today.
Protecting our cities from climate change
CU professor Paul Chinowsky and his students can predict how climate change will affect cities around the world.
When Hurricane Sandy brought destruction to America’s largest city in 2012, we all questioned just what our buildings, roads, and bridges could withstand. For answers, officials went straight to University of Colorado Boulder engineering professor Paul Chinowsky and his team. In 2006, Chinowsky, along with his climate and civil systems students, pioneered a prediction model for how infrastructure will hold up to the elements—the Infrastructure Planning Support System (IPSS)—and they’ve been improving it ever since. IPSS relies on historic climate data as well as information about building materials, energy usage, and the age of the infrastructure to provide governments with a concrete to-do list for combatting the effects of climate change. The program can also assess the potential risks, both economic and practical, if municipalities choose to bypass improvements. “Roads were designed for temperatures 20 years ago,” Chinowsky says. “In the future, it will be warmer. We need to be more aggressive with maintaining roads, or the budgets will skyrocket.” So accurate are his predictions that officials from as far away as Africa and Asia have called upon Chinowsky to provide year-to-year recommendations for now until 2100. Now that’s what we call taking the long view. —Lindsey R. McKissick
Saving the developing world one light bulb at a time
Liberian children use Nokero solar lights to study.
An estimated 1.2 billion people globally rely on kerosene lamps as their main light source. The clear, flammable liquid is no friend to homes: In addition to the danger of accidental consumption and fires, kerosene emits black carbon—a gas that can be as toxic as cigarette smoke. (Studies estimate living with a kerosene lamp is equivalent to a two-pack-a-day smoking habit.) It’s also a contributor to global warming. Vail native Steve Katsaros wasn’t aware of any of this when he (literally) dreamed up the solar-powered Nokero light bulb in 2010; he just had a knack for inventing during his REM cycles. Nevertheless, his creative quirk has vastly improved conditions for the world’s 500 million kerosene-reliant homes. When placed in sunlight, the bulbs charge enough to provide four to nine hours of light. Today, Nokero (short for “no kerosene”) has sold nearly 1 million solar light bulbs—which cost $7 to $45, depending on the model, and typically last more than three years—in developing countries. Families who once spent up to 25 percent of their income on kerosene now save about $60 a year. “They can invest that extra money in agriculture, education, preventive health care, or clean water,” says the third-generation Coloradan. Next, Katsaros hopes to develop longer-lasting off-the-grid power products to help the world’s poorest populations. First he just needs a few good nights of sleep. —Jerilyn Forsythe
Changing the way we feed livestock
Growing up in California, Wayne Dorband was surrounded by genius: His father was an aerospace engineer who flew with legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager; his neighbors were Neil Armstrong and Frank Zappa; his high school marine biology mentor was SeaWorld cofounder Carl Hubbs. Some of those smarts rubbed off. Dorband has become a pioneering mind in the realm of urban farming as a way to address what he considers a regional food shortage. Dorband’s Sustainable Livestock Nutrition, a portable farm, produces enough microgreens (1,500 pounds per day) to feed about 50 cattle per day without requiring irrigation. Seedlings, which are grown hydroponically, mature in eight days and provide a superior (and less expensive) food source than hay. The northern Colorado resident dreamed up the system in 2010, when Colorado’s drought put the squeeze on irrigation and hay prices jumped 200 percent to $400 a ton. “The innovator in me came out,” Dorband says. Today Dorband’s systems provide food for about 10 farms in Colorado; maintaining them requires just one percent of the water that irrigating for the same amount of hay would. What’s more, the concept has a human application: A variation of the system can also be used to grow fruits and veggies for your dinner plate, too. —Amanda M. Faison
Dr. Tzahi Cath
Bringing out-of-this-world solutions to Colorado’s water problems
After finishing his Ph.D. in 2003, Dr. Tzahi Cath undertook postdoctoral work funded by a little organization called NASA. “NASA wants water systems that help reuse and recycle water that are efficient, low-energy, low on consumables, have a small footprint, and need essentially zero maintenance,” says Cath, now an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado School of Mines. “I thought, ‘Hey, we need those same things here on Earth.’” So for the past eight years, Cath has looked for ways to reuse water during industrial processes. One promising area of study involves using an osmotic membrane—or a specialized filter—to reject harmful substances like pharmaceuticals, herbicides, and pesticides that traditional wastewater-treatment plants often can’t remove. Cath says these membranes can also help industries that use a lot of water in their operations—like oil and gas outfits or electricity companies—to reuse their H20 or clean it well enough to return it to the environment. “Water isn’t just a problem of developing countries,” Cath says. “California, Texas, Florida—they don’t have enough water. Somebody has to figure that out.” It appears as if that somebody might be right here in Colorado. —Lindsey B. Koehler
Colorado’s brainpower, by the numbers. —Dylan Owens
5280.com Exclusive: See how you stack up with this IQ test.
Rocket scientists in Colorado
Average 2014 SAT score in Colorado (well above the national average)
Denver Mensa members
Public libraries in Colorado
Colorado Nobel Prize winners (David J. Wineland, 2012; John L. Hall, 2005; Eric A. Cornell, 2001; Carl E. Wieman, 2001; Thomas R. Cech, 1989)
The number of Coloradans who have appeared on Jeopardy!
Show me the money
When it comes to creating, say, the next top-selling app, a good idea will only get you so far. Closing the gap between inspiration and actualization requires cash. Lots of it. Luckily, Colorado boasts several venture capital networks hunting for chances to invest. Meet some of them.
Foundry Group | The Boulder firm has helped companies such as Fitbit, Betabrand, and numerous IT startups get rolling. It also helped fund Techstars, an accelerator that assists companies with financing, mentorship, and collaboration projects.
Boulder Ventures | This longtime fund has invested more than $350 million in Colorado and the mid-Atlantic region; founder Kyle Lefkoff has funded more than 50 companies in his 30-year career, primarily in IT and life sciences, biotechnology, and natural foods.
Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network | An initiative from one of the world’s largest VC firms’ charitable arm, this $3 million fund invests in and mentors “high-growth” companies in fields that include tech and telecom, aerospace, and natural products.
Access Venture Partners | A 15-year-old firm with its antennae tuned to data storage, digital tech, and cloud-computing startups, Access has funded more than 50 companies, among them Inspirato and LogRhythm.
Grotech Ventures | Another multiregional VC fund, Grotech has offices in Denver, Virginia, and Maryland and invests anywhere from $500,000 to $5 million in IT companies, with a portfolio that includes CDNow, Living Social, and NexGen Storage. —Luc Hatlestad
Go Go, Gadget!
Six of Colorado’s coolest recent inventions. —Kelly Bastone
Depending on your propensity for puppy love, this may qualify as the most awesome—or potentially most irritating—dog toy yet. While most pups turn toys into pulp within hours, Kyjen Invincibles (which debuted in 2012) feature a squeaker that keeps on squeaking long after doggie teeth have punctured the bladder. And in January 2015, Denver’s Kyjen will unveil a new line of even tougher toys based on an extensive study of canine bite patterns. From $4.99, shop.kyjen.com
Merino wool makes for cozy sweaters, but its Achilles’ heel is durability: Abrasion shreds the soft fibers. Until now. Pagosa Springs’ Voormi has pioneered surface-hardened wool with the fall 2013 High-E Hoody. Unlike most wool blends, which twist abrasion-resistant nylon and pure merino wool together into one yarn, Voormi uses all virgin fibers and weaves each one into a high-tech sandwich: tissue-thin polyester interwoven with wool next to skin for wicking; nylon interlaced with merino on the exterior for abrasion resistance; wool in between for warmth. voormi.com
The next time your phone swan-dives into the river, lake, or—worse—the porcelain pool, send it to TekDry, a Westminster company with a patented process for drying out drowned phones. By surrounding your phone with lower air pressure than what’s inside (aka negative pressure), TekDry coaxes water out without the use of chemicals—and it’s much more effective than burying your phone in rice. The key is getting it to them quickly. Currently a mail-in service, TekDry plans to install while-you-wait kiosks inside electronics stores nationwide by 2016. $70 (if your phone is saved; otherwise it’s free), tekdry.com
Boulder-based Orbotix erased boundaries between the virtual and real-life gaming worlds when it launched the Sphero toy in 2012: Using Bluetooth technology and an app installed on a smartphone or tablet, players control a robotic ball that rolls, jumps, and navigates obstacle courses. Consider it the coolest remote-control car you’ve ever owned. And it just got even better: Sphero 2.0 facilitates multiplayer and “augmented reality” games that let you direct virtual characters through real-world scenes captured by your phone or tablet’s camera. $130, gosphero.com
Like self-tinting sunglasses, RavenWindows transition to gray with rising temperatures, resulting in up to a 30 percent reduction in heating and cooling costs. Early versions were installed in 2011 in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory building (in Golden) and Building 41 of the Denver Federal Center. Handmade until September, when RavenBrick opened its first automated factory line in northwest Denver, the windows promise to be popular with green home builders and LEED-ites. $25/square foot, ravenbrick.com
Boulder’s Chui will make “knock-knock” jokes obsolete: Combining Wi-Fi, a camera, and facial-recognition software, this doorbell tells you exactly who’s come calling, so you can greet guests (or ignore them) via smartphone. You can even program Chui to cue individualized music and lighting responses or admit visitors without getting up from the couch. (Chui pairs with Web-enabled stereos, lighting, and door locks.) The first batch of preordered Chui doorbells ships to buyers this month. $249, getchui.com
Space & Aerospace
The world’s best eyes in the sky
You might have heard DigitalGlobe’s name on the news during the March search to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. (The Front Range commercial satellite-imaging company offered its services for free.) DigitalGlobe has had its multimillion-dollar eyes in the sky since 1993, and this summer it launched WorldView-3. The high-tech camera is the only machine circling the globe that can see through smoke (making wildfires easier to battle); examine moisture content on the ground (an agricultural advantage); count animals, cars, and buildings on a large scale (for environmental studies and other uses); suss out the mineral content of the Earth’s crust (which helps energy companies analyze areas without having to send people on pricey exploration expeditions); and even identify tree species. Our hope: Someday it will be able to spy—and remind us—where we left our cars in the lots at DIA. —Lindsey B. Koehler
Exploring the universe
High school physics taught us the universe is constantly expanding. Thanks to scientists like Regis University’s Dr. Frederick Gray, so is our knowledge of it. The associate professor of physics is helping improve our understanding of how the universe is put together with two projects. The first experiment, being conducted in Switzerland, uses muons (subatomic particles) to figure out precisely what powers the sun—not a bad idea since most of Earth’s energy comes from that great big lightbulb in the sky. “It’s a proxy for taking the sun and transporting it into the lab and watching the fusion reactions happen,” Gray says. He’s also working on a project near Chicago that uses muons to test what’s in “empty” space, which Gray says may not really be empty at all: “There could be new particles or forces that we have not yet discovered.” Like maybe the Jedi kind? (We couldn’t resist.) —Geoff Van Dyke
What’s behind the rise of Colorado’s white-hot tech startup scene? By Patrick Doyle
Three founding members of Boulder’s Foundry Group, a VC firm that supports the tech industry
Within the last year, Entrepreneur, Forbes, and businessinsider.com have all named Denver among the best U.S. cities for startups—sixth, second, and fourth, respectively. The debate, it seems, isn’t whether Colorado is a top 10 place to innovate, but rather where in the top 10 we fall. Of course, Colorado’s status as an innovation icon isn’t entirely new. Even before statehood, we attracted pioneers and dreamers (hello, railroad barons and gold miners) with the guts and gumption to tackle an imposing landscape in the name of industry. But where rugged individualism may have accounted for those original “startups,” our current momentum owes more to the notion of community and connectivity. “Innovation is iterative,” says Colorado Technology Association president Erik Mitisek. “You come up with an idea, you share it, smart people refine it and refine it some more. At the root of that is community generosity.”
The emergence of incubators such as Boulder’s Techstars, Denver’s Galvanize, and Fort Collins’ Innosphere accounts for some of our success. These hubs provide entrepreneurs with everything from legal advice to funding to mentors. And the increase in university-industry cooperatives like the Fitzsimons Life Science District at Anschutz borrows from the Silicon Valley model. “It’s anchored by research institutions like Stanford and Berkeley that have a strong relationship with the tech sector,” Mitisek points out. The arrival of Silicon Valley thought leaders such as Bryan Leach (Ibotta), Eric Roza (Datalogix), and John Levisay (Sympoz/Craftsy) also has helped elevate Denver’s tech game. These aren’t your average techies; these folks are a couple of iPhone taps away from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg. Valley-tested for at least 10 years each, such veterans bring more than street cred to Colorado:
They’re bringing dollars, too. In 2013, Colorado companies netted nearly $1 billion in venture capital funding, including a record-setting $274 million in Denver. Just five years ago, the Mile High City pulled in only $93 million.
We’ve also graduated from gathering in coffee shops to sharing chic co-working spaces outfitted with their own bars and community kitchens—an appealing atmosphere for the growing population of tech-savvy millennials looking to be surrounded, and challenged, by other ambitious, talented twentysomethings. (In 2013, Denver’s 18- to 34-year-old population grew by 2.8 percent—the fifth-biggest increase in the country.) They’re also looking for quality of life, and few cities can compete with what’s waiting outside those converted RiNo warehouse office windows.
Mountain biking and microbrews alone, however, do not a tech mecca make. That’s why the city needs to keep pushing for developments like the new Denver satellite of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office—the first such office to open west of the Mississippi River—which helps companies protect their innovations. Or CenturyLink’s August announcement that it plans to launch a one-gigabit fiber-optic network in Denver, offering the blistering Internet speeds tech companies covet. With more upgrades like these and a few big tech sector wins (read: IPOs), Denver might well move from a media darling polishing second-place trophies to the undisputed Startup King.
Lessons from Silicon Valley
A few Valley-ites turned Denverites on what we can learn from the nation’s leading tech spot. As told to Kasey Cordell
Risk-taking is embedded within the DNA of Silicon Valley. They are not afraid to fail.
—Dan Daugherty Remotely founder
The big voices of the community have to be supportive of the community. Imagine if Reid Hoffman and Elon Musk, instead of reinvesting in other companies, had just gone off to an island and enjoyed their wealth.
—Bryan Leach Ibotta founder
There are companies here incubating thoughtful folks who will be our next wave of startups. If in three years they come to me and say, This has been a great ride, but I’m going to do something on my own, I will do all I can to help. We should all encourage that.
—John Levisay Sympoz/Craftsy CEO
The work-life balance is more apparent in Colorado. On weekends we climb fourteeners, and they keep working.
—Krista Paul Usingmiles.com founder
We shouldn’t try to be Silicon anything. That’s the wrong scoreboard. We’re never going to be better at being Silicon Valley. Let’s focus on building great companies and being awesome at being Colorado. The rest will come.
—Brian Egan Evolve Vacation Rental founder
There’s a lot of mythos around startups—being there every night until 2 a.m. is a by-product of young founders and not being focused. —John Levisay, Sympoz/Craftsy CEO
Silicon Valley has done a really good job with its brand. We need to do that here with the tech industry. Denver is not really describing itself as a consumer-tech hub, but there are a lot of consumer-facing companies. It’s about changing the conceptions of people who don’t live here. You have to become the chief storyteller of the region and invoke the successes in your narrative. —Bryan Leach, Ibotta founder
Gender diversity in tech and leadership positions is improving, but not where it needs to be. The first step in the right direction is offering transparency. —DD
The people who become big voices have to be supportive of the community. Imagine if Reid Hoffman and Elon Musk, instead of reinvesting in other companies, had just gone off to an island and enjoyed their wealth. —BL
What makes Denver great is that we have work-life balance. Valley-like success has a very definite cost. There is a palpable tension when you live in the Valley, or a sense that you are on the rat wheel and you’ve got to be running 24-7 to stay there. And it creates a certain stress and pressure that is just slightly under the surface of living there that is not Denver. Be careful what you ask for. —Andre Durand, Ping founder
The audacity of the entrepreneur—in the Valley you find that in spades. Everything isGo big or go home. Everything we love about Denver—that it’s balanced and reasonable—is kind of the opposite of being audacious. If you have a company that’s really starting to take off, what sort of personality will keep it from being bought? It’s an audacious entrepreneur, not a reasonable one. —AD
It does no good to put on the “old man” hat and sit around lamenting the youth of today. It becomes incumbent upon company founders, as well as managers, to lead and create context and expectations to motivate and engage young employees to achieve more than they thought they could. —JL
Cost of living increase and gentrification is an inevitable part of geographically isolated wealth creation. —DD
Rising water lifts all boats: It’s a good thing for the market to have multiple successful companies to have a growing and robust ecosystem around technology. —JL
I’m not convinced every city in America can be a Silicon Valley. But you don’t need to be a derivative anything. —BL
It doesn’t matter if you’re in Palo Alto. If it’s a bad idea, it won’t work. —JL
When I came out here six years, my friends in Silicon Valley said, “If you go out there and it doesn’t work, there’s not a lot of depth that lets you migrate to another great startup right away.” I think we’re building that. —JL
We aren’t only importing smarts from Silicon Valley. A look at some of the Mile High’s recently acquired minds—and a few we’ve lost. —Drew Grossman
The cable-alternative Layer3 TV, which launched in Boston in 2013, opened a headquarters in Denver this fall. Details about Layer3’s programming are still scarce, but the company plans to release more information in the coming months.
A Fortune 150 company that guides innovation for intelligent systems, data centers, and power management (among other things), Arrow moved its headquarters from Long Island to Englewood in 2011.
The irregular pattern on shark skin repels bacteria from forming on these prehistoric neatniks. Florida-born Sharklet harnessed that idea and created an adhesive, bacteria-battling “skin” that can be attached to high-touch surfaces where bacteria congregate (such as iPhones and hospital surfaces). The 14-person company moved to Denver in 2010.
The solar energy company closed its Boulder office but is maintaining operations in Austin, Texas, and New Paltz, New York.
This Denver app development firm might plant itself just beyond city limits to avoid a 3.62 percent sales tax on mobile app and Web development—services that are tax-exempt in most other metro-area cities.
Making beer taste better (it’s possible)
In our brewtastic city, there may be no greater disappointment than ordering a well-crafted dose of malt and hops and instead getting a glass of something that tastes like you’ve just licked a shower curtain. Chances are, that plastic-y brew is the result of a dirty tap line. Most tap systems are constructed using PVC tubes, which can absorb the flavor of whatever passes through them. Over time bacteria also tend to breed inside PVC. But Denver manufacturing firm Eldon James has an answer for odious ales. The 27-year-old company—which found a crossover application for its medical tubing in the beverage world—plans to eradicate off-tasting beer with its new “Beverage Ultra-Barrier,” an antimicrobial and PVC-free brand of tubing that doesn’t absorb odors and keeps bacteria from getting busy. After running tests at Germany’s renowned Weihenstephan Research Center, Eldon James debuted the line at a trade show in Munich last fall to an overwhelmingly positive response. New Belgium uses Eldon James tubes at its Fort Collins brewery, and Coors is considering retrofitting its Golden plant with the bacteria-resistant lines. Oh, and this summer the company received something of an endorsement from Colorado’s brewer-in-chief, Governor John Hickenlooper: The three-tap system at the governor’s mansion is now PVC-free. —Chris Outcalt
Paying you to shop
Ibotta gives new meaning to “pay-per-view”—as in, view our ad, and we’ll pay you. An alumnus of Harvard, Oxford, and Yale Law School, CEO Bryan Leach knew there had to be a better way to advertise than what he calls the “interruption model.” “We had to figure out the alchemy such that it’s actually worth your time to invest in 60 seconds of learning about a brand,” he says. The shopping app Ibotta (pronounced “I-bought-a”) is the culmination of that work. Ibotta entices users to unlock cash rewards at stores such as Whole Foods Market by playing a game or watching a video about a product. Four million people and 125,000 retail locations have signed up for the free app, which has raised $33 million in funding since 2011. How it works: Once you complete your game or video, you’ll receive a small rebate (usually $1 to $2) when you buy that item. Take a picture of your receipt and upload it to the app. Ibotta credits your account with the money you saved (cash out with PayPal or Venmo). In total, the company has handed out $12 million, with many users earning payouts of $150 to $200 per year—enough to make Ibotta an “Igotta” for today’s Carrie Bradshaws. —Mary Clare Fischer
Building the city’s smartest (rental) home
This ex-Googler’s (employee number 304) home-automation solution for landlords, Remotely, makes property management as easy as Instagraming. Remotely eliminates the cost and hassle of changing locks or codes every time a new renter (short term or long term) comes along. For about $800 per unit, Daugherty’s installs hardware to program lights, thermostats, and locks; a $9.95 per month fee gives property owners (and tenants if the landlord chooses) access to an app that can control everything, well, remotely. As a result, tenants save roughly 20 percent on utility bills—and landlords can charge more in rent for this ooh-ahh extra. (On average, Daugherty says they collect about 10 percent more.) But the real upside is peace of mind: Landlords and tenants can see when the plumber visited with just a few taps on their phones, or schedule the lights to turn on every night from the top of Breck’s Imperial Express. These aren’t just smart homes; they’re the valedictorians. —Jessica LaRusso
Rocky Vista University
Prepping surgeons sooner
Students at Rocky Vista University, an eight-year-old osteopathic school in Parker, are on the cutting edge of medical education—literally. These first-year pupils are the only rookie med students in the country who get to practice their surgical skills using one of four state-of-the-art “cut suits”—lifelike, wearable torsos that simulate trauma to the body, like a ruptured aorta or heart attack. Rocky Vista invested in the $70,000 suits after a faculty member spied them at a conference in 2012. The cut suits come with blood-filled arteries, a pumping heart, and even skin that bleeds when cut, giving students realistic experience early in their education (so realistic, in fact, that one parent fainted during an orientation visit). The suits also afford students an early start: Most of their peers at traditional allopathic medical schools don’t get any (official) surgery practice until their second year of school. “After a week of intensive practice with the cut suits, our students are getting more experience than those in a monthlong rotation in general surgery,” says Dr. Cheryl Lovell, president of RVU. “We’re changing the way med education takes place and how physicians are being prepared.” —JF
5280.com Exclusive: Three more developing medical innovations from Colorado.
Sussing Supertasters | Last year hundreds of visitors to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science stuck their tongues out at science—and for it. The museum invited visitors to the Genetics of Taste Lab to take part in a study aimed at determining if supertasters (individuals with extreme taste sensitivity for bitterness) have denser taste bud arrangements. They don’t. But beyond disproving this theory—researchers published their findings this spring in the journal Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience—DMNS showcased how citizen scientists can actually help make research more accessible and even fun.
Uncovering Cancer’s Commander | Here’s what we know about the p53 gene: It suppresses tumors. What we don’t know, despite 30 years of intensive study is how.But we’re on our way to understanding a lot more about just how the p53 gene functions—and therefore potentially more about how to kill cancer cells—thanks to the work of University of Colorado professors Joaquin Espinosa and Robin Dowell. Using a technique known as Global Run-On Sequencing (GRO-Seq), which requires the use of supercomputers, the researchers were able to identify other genes and proteins that p53 controls, moving us a step closer to more effective cancer treatments.
Stopping Cystic Fibrosis | Every year about 1,000 children are diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that often leads to a lung-clogging overproduction of mucus, making it difficult for kids to breathe. Many of them won’t live past 40. More will live now thanks to the efforts of Children’s Hospital physician and University of Colorado Medical School professor Frank Accurso, one of the foremost researchers and advocates for the drug Kalydeco, which reduces mucus production and buildup in about six percent of all CF patients. Accurso is working with the Zertex Pharmaceuticals and the U.S. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on a combination therapy using Kalydeco that he hopes will aid 60 percent of all CF patients.
Making baby-making easier
When it comes to conceiving, the cliché holds true: Timing really is everything. Women are most fertile for just a few days during their cycles—about two days before and after they ovulate. Boulder neuroscientist Lauren Costantini believes the small window accounts for a portion of the six percent of married American women under 44 who aren’t able to conceive after trying for one year. To remedy this, Costantini and her team at Prima-Temp have developed a way to pinpoint when the fertility window opens: OvuRing, a device women can insert into the cervix (without a doctor’s assistance) that continuously monitors the body’s internal temperature and sends an alert to a smartphone when it detects a slight dip in temp, which happens about two days before ovulation. (This dip happens only for a short time, which is why it’s hard to track using traditional thermometers.) The pre-ovulation stage is the best time to have sex because sperm can stay in a woman’s body for up to five days. “As soon as she ovulates, there are sperm available to make the magic happen,” Costantini says. Prima-Temp plans to market OvuRing ($50 to $100) as a conception tool when it’s released in early 2015, but Costantini expects that many women in relationships will use it as pill-free birth control. (The Vatican’s research center is even interested in conducting a clinical trial with OvuRing to see if it could be the Catholic Church’s solution to family-planning debates.) The technology also has potential applications for tracking athletic performance and diagnosing infections based on temperature patterns. —MCF
Denver Health COMBAT study
Stop blood loss, save lives
As many as a third of severely injured trauma victims die from rapid blood loss. Denver Health, though, is participating in a research study that looks at improving those odds with cutting-edge plasma transport and delivery systems. Plasma encourages clotting, thus slowing bleeding and improving patient outcomes, but to be viable long-term, it also must be frozen. In February, Denver Health’s 30 ambulances began carrying a special water-bath system—developed by the trauma department and implemented by paramedics—that allows paramedics to thaw blood plasma quickly in the field and deliver it to patients. The Control of Major Bleeding After Trauma (COMBAT) research is part of a U.S. Department of Defense–sponsored study. Only a few other hospitals in the nation are taking part. Denver Health was selected to participate based on its experience in trauma and past research. The water-bath system gives paramedics the ability to thaw plasma on an as-needed basis; other studies pre-thaw the plasma and then discard what they don’t use after 24 hours. The DoD will assess the results on an ongoing basis, and if Denver Health’s system proves effective, it could become a part of emergency medicine programs around the country. —KC
Saving your life before you’re even in danger
As any child of the 1980s can tell you, when it comes to defeating an enemy, “Knowing is half the battle.” (Thank you, GI Joe.) When that enemy is your own genetic predisposition to various diseases, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus’s David Schwartz may be medicine’s modern-day GI Joe. The department chair has led the hospital’s effort to invest more in personalized medicine, a relatively new field that uses molecular analysis of individual patients to determine what’s likely to kill you—and what’s the best way to treat it. Say you’re Angelina Jolie and you discover you’ve inherited a mutation in the BRAC gene, one that’s associated with an increased risk of breast cancer; you might decide, as the Hollywood star did, to undergo a preventive double mastectomy. And if you already have breast cancer, physicians like Schwartz can use your genetic information to determine the most effective treatment plan. Schwartz has been instrumental in establishing a new partnership—with a $63 million research budget—between UC Health, the CU medical school, and Children’s Hospital Colorado. The Center for Personalized Medicine and Biomedical Informatics—one of about a dozen such centers nationwide—will create a DNA bank that enables researchers to analyze massive data sets that can help home in on personalized treatments and provide early detection. “In five to ten years,” Schwartz says, “we could be providing whole-genome sequencing routinely in clinical settings, costing no more than $500 [per patient], to identify disease at early preclinical stages.” —KC
A model clean-tech citizen
CSU professor Bryan Willson inside the school’s Engines and Energy Conversion Lab
When the Smithsonian debuts its “Places of Invention” exhibition in 2015, Fort Collins will be featured as a bastion of “clean energy and socially responsible innovation,” alongside other centers of innovation like Silicon Valley and Hollywood. The recognition has been a long time coming: Since 1992, Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Lab has developed environmental solutions that have taken the equivalent of at least 150 million cars off the road. A recent expansion added 65,000 square feet (with room for 250 researchers and industry veterans) to the clean-tech hub along the Cache la Poudre River. Downstream, you’ll find the think tank Innosphere. Add to that FortZed—a partnership between CSU, the city, and the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster that was founded with the goal of making downtown and the campus a net zero–energy district—and New Belgium’s efforts at reducing beer-making’s environmental impact. The upshot? Expect the Smithsonian to have plenty of fodder for its exhibition. —KC
Ellen & Jason Winkler
Creative urban developers
When Ellen and Jason Winkler moved their event and action sports production company, Wink, to Denver from Wyoming in 2010, they mostly wanted to create a fun office in the 30,000-square-foot building they had purchased at Kalamath Street and Sixth Avenue. Then they approached other outdoor-lifestyle companies (Icelantic, Jiberish, and Backbone Media among them) about renting the extra space in the building—which had been vacant for five years—and Battery 621, a shared space for like-minded creatives, was born. Simultaneously, a dilapidated, visible corner of the city was revitalized. Now the Winklers are going even bigger on nine neglected acres just past where Broadway turns into Brighton Boulevard. Industry, a sleek, 140,000-square-foot shared workspace designed by Ellen, anchors the community, hosting tech and lifestyle companies such as Uber and Roximity, along with four restaurants. In addition to the Industry workspace, the Winklers are building 60 riverfront brownstones to sell and a seven-story building with 250 rental apartments, all due to come online early next year. Their transition to developers may have been inadvertent, but this power couple is serious about building a better Denver. —Jessica LaRusso
Game changers in Colorado’s cannabis industry.
Ever since Colorado launched perhaps the most significant public policy innovation in its history by voting to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, entrepreneurs have been striving to find ways to make the industry bloom. Whether they’re growers like the Stanley brothers in Colorado Springs, who bred a strain that’s helping alleviate epileptic seizures in children, or testing-solutions providers like Denver’s CannLabs, one of the first companies to accurately assess THC levels, many Colorado cannabis pioneers are working to ensure we execute this groundbreaking policy as smartly and responsibly as possible (especially because there are plenty of other people taking shortcuts). Among the weed visionaries who deserve a closer look:
Industrial Hemp Committee
This group is helping the state Department of Agriculture give direction for the production of hemp, a versatile, nonintoxicating type of cannabis that can be used in everything from clothes to food to soap. It’s long been viewed as a lucrative option for farmers—if only it weren’t federally illegal to grow it. But with those views and regulations softening—the 2014 Farm Bill allows for a few “research” hemp grow sites run by universities around the country, and Colorado’s Amendment 64 codified state-licensed hemp grows—the committee is preparing for the day the state can become a hemp production hub.
CEO Tom Bollich—who co-founded the online gaming company Zynga—is positioning his Boulder-based startup to provide “disruptive technologies” for marijuana production. First up is a water-chilled climate system created by Hydro Innovations (which Surna recently acquired) that uses water and power more efficiently, which is a key concern as the industry expands.
Researchers and Lawmakers
The passage of Senate Bill 155 in May set up a $10 million fund to study the safety and medical effectiveness of cannabis—a move toward understanding the effects of broader legalization. The problem? The federal ban still makes it unclear who will be able to accept the money and do the work. Universities or other institutions that rely on federal funding may find this avenue blocked for now, but in passing the bill, the state has shown its commitment to clearing the air of marijuana misinformation. —LH
Go Code Colorado
Opening up the state’s data vaults
We all know social media giants like Facebook spend thousands of hours and dollars collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data to curate precision-guided spam. Like them, cities and states collect an impressive amount of information: From crime stats to bus on-time rates to the percentage of residents with advanced degrees, Colorado government agencies have collected more than 100 terabytes of data. Minus a few internal department documents, though, that data largely sat collecting digital dust. Until now. Last November, Brian Gryth, then program manager for the state’s aggregated public information database (the Business Intelligence Center or BIC), opened up Colorado’s deep data bank to software engineers and app developers around the state with the Go Code Colorado civic app competition—making the Centennial State the first in the country to do so. Using BIC’s digital stores, Go Code Colorado invites software programmers to create apps the business community can use to make important decisions, like, say, where to base their corporate offices. The winner of Go Code Colorado’s inaugural contest in 2014, Fort Collins–based Beagle, summarizes potential office locations, essentially making a pro-con list for business owners based on regulations, taxes, and even the closest bus stops. Beagle and the other top two competitors will receive contracts with the state to help maintain their apps. “It’s like the roads, or sewer systems that we built buildings on top of many years ago,” Gryth says of data. “For the digital world, this is the infrastructure. This is what buildings will be built on.” —MCF
Three innovations that will change the way we live…someday.
The first astronauts squeezed liquid from tubes and called it food. The space diet has come far since then—astronauts now eat fruits and veggies (freeze-dried, of course)—but University of Colorado Boulder assistant professor of computer science Nikolaus Correll wants to take space suppers one step further: farm-to-spacecraft. Correll and his team of about 15 students are developing greenhouse technology that would allow astronauts to grow everything from lettuce to strawberries in space. The greenhouses are partially automated, with robots completing tasks such as monitoring conditions and watering the plants; humans will still harvest, though. This gives the astronauts more time to accomplish other things, like, you know, studying Mars. Depending on funding, it’ll still be up to five years before these out-of-this-world meals become a reality. —MCF
Most vaccines need to be kept under 45 degrees to stay viable. This creates a barrier to disease prevention in rural locations without access to refrigeration. Enter Nanoly, a company working on a way to preserve vaccines without chilling them. We’ll spare you the graduate-level biochemistry course on how it works, but essentially Nanoly has created a nano material (so tiny it’s only visible through a microscope) that wraps around nano-size proteins and keeps molecules from moving around when heated, thus preventing the thing they make up (in this case, a vaccine) from breaking down. If Nanoly is successful (and recent lab studies at CU suggest it’s close), it will reduce vaccine delivery costs from $1 per dose to five cents per dose. The Nanoly team hopes to start talks with companies such as GeoVax and Sanofi Pasteur, which both are developing HIV vaccines, by next summer. —MCF
In places, the speed limit on I-25 between Denver and Fort Collins is 75 mph, but La Salle native Daryl Oster aims to up it to 500 mph. The 52-year-old has spent more than a decade lobbying CDOT to install Evacuated Tube Transport Technology, or ET3, along the I-25 corridor, reducing the commute from FoCo to LoDo to 10 minutes. Oster patented the technology, which shoots magnetically levitated six-passenger cars through vacuum-sealed tubes with very little resistance, in 1999. Sounds like something from Futurama, yes, but he’s already working on a $30 million, three-mile pilot structure in California, and ET3 has caught the attention of investors such as Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. If Oster had the money (and time) to start on an I-25 project today, it’d be two years before it became a reality. We know what you’re thinking: What about the I-70 traffic monster? Unfortunately, with all of the hard rock and hairpin turns—to say nothing of the red tape—space travel to the slopes could take anywhere from 20 years to never. —Shauna Farnell
Where great ideas are born
If necessity is the mother of invention, think tanks must be the father. In this regard, Colorado has an extremely active patriarch. Over the past 10 years, at least half a dozen incubators or accelerators or support networks—whatever you want to call these collective brain trusts—have emerged along the Front Range, among them Boulder’s Unreasonable Institute, Boomtown Accelerator, and Techstars program; Denver’s Built In Colorado network and Galvanize; Fort Collins’ Innosphere; and the state’s Colorado Innovation Network. These groups are helping bring to market dozens of new products, such as a facial-recognition doorbell (see page 79), along with millions of investment dollars, to the Centennial State. Their most significant impact might also be the least tangible because the very existence of these organizations means our state’s top thinkers are regularly exchanging ideas—so that genius begets genius. “It’s like surfing,” says Craftsy CEO and co-founderJohn Levisay. “Many of the world’s best surfers come from a few-square-mile radius. That’s because they’re pushing each other, learning from each other; it’s immersion in excellence.” —KC
Inspiring a love of science
If Leonardo da Vinci taught us anything, it’s that sometimes artists make the best science teachers. Denver artists Monica and Tyler Aiello represent 21st-century proof. For the past five years, through their consulting program Eurekus (previously Da Vinci Club), the Aiellos have used imagination to improve student engagement in science. In after-school classes, workshops, and summer camps, the couple translates art projects into lessons about math and science. Crafting 3-D space machines out of paper cylinders and cones, for example, becomes a geometry lesson. Eurekus is part of a growing national initiative, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics), that’s become popular on the West Coast. It’s an important area for Colorado, which is poised to see above-average growth in science and tech jobs over the next 10 years. “We want to get kids re-engaged in their own creativity,” Monica says. To that end, this winter, the Aiellos hope to launch an online shop with (eventually) dozens of projects, so the learning can continue at home.
DIY the digital way
DIY is perhaps the most basic example of innovation—figuring out how to sew a scarf or fix a faulty sink on your own is, in itself, a novel act. But the actual process of buying supplies and researching how others solved a problem hasn’t really changed much over the years. At least, not until Craftsy came along. The three-year-old, Denver-based company created an online platform that allows users to view interactive video classes (typically for $20 to $40) taught by masters, and to purchase supplies and how-to kits—basically providing the answer to all DIY questions, from quilting to gardening to decorating cakes, in one place. “There hasn’t been a lot of venture investment around, say, sewing or knitting because they’re just not perceived as big categories,” says CEO and co-founder John Levisay. “But they are. These people are passionate enthusiasts who have been underserved by technology.” To wit: Today, Craftsy boasts more than five million registered users spread across 180 countries; every hour, 150 of them sign up for a class. The demand is so great that Craftsy adds 33 new courses to the site each month. And this year, it also introduced a new category: woodworking. Bring on the power tools. —Daliah Singer
Our Pioneering Past
A few strokes of genius throughout our state’s history. —J. Wesley Judd
1833 | William Bent establishes Bent’s Fort trading post along the Santa Fe Trail in Otero County. It is one of the area’s first.
1870 | Photographer William Henry Jackson joins the first geological survey of Yosemite; his work will be pivotal in establishing our national park system.
1870s | Known as the “Pathfinder of the San Juans,” Otto Mears, an entrepreneur and builder who lived to 91, builds one of the first railroads through southwestern Colorado.
1873 | Adolph Coors founds his namesake brewery in the foothills of Golden. This German immigrant’s iconic brewery survives prohibition, droughts, strikes, and mergers to remain one of the nation’s largest brewing companies.
1893 | Medical pioneer Florence Sabin graduates from Smith College and begins teaching high school mathematics in Denver. She becomes the first female professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, among many other firsts.
1899 | The famous inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla moves to Colorado Springs for a year to conduct some of his most electrifying experiments—such as creating a 135-foot-long artificial lightning bolt.
1913 | Helen Ring Robinson becomes a Colorado state senator, making her the first woman to serve in that position in the Centennial State.
1941 | John Malone (the Cable Cowboy) is born in Connecticut. He will later guide Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) to pioneering the cable TV industry—and establish Denver as an epicenter.
1955 | Madeleine Albright, who will later become the first female U.S. secretary of state, graduates from Kent Denver School.
1959 | Denverite Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel after moving to Los Angeles in 1938, creates a new line of dolls in honor of her daughter Barbara. She names it Barbie.
1960 | Colorado-born screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s Spartacus and Exodus hit theaters. The films will soon become two of the most revered films of his generation.
1966 | Norman E. Brinker opens the restaurant Steak and Ale and introduces both the salad bar and the now ubiquitous introduction, “Hi, my name is _______ and I’ll be your waiter tonight.”
1970 | Woody Creek’s Hunter S. Thompson publishes “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” in Scanlan’s Monthly, and with it introduces the world to gonzo journalism.
1973 | Denver’s Emily Howell Warner is hired as a second officer for Frontier Airlines and becomes the first woman pilot for a U.S. commercial airline. Her debut flight is from Denver to Las Vegas on February 6, 1973.
1976 | Dr. Ernest E. Moore is hired by Denver General—now Denver Health—to set up a trial trauma program. He will subsequently become known as the father of modern trauma surgery.
1984 | Heart surgery becomes easier and safer when Colorado Springs’ Spectranetics develops an ultraviolet laser to break blockages into small particles that are absorbed into the bloodstream.
1989 | University of Colorado Boulder chemist Thomas Robert Cech shares the Nobel Prize in chemistry with Yale’s Sidney Altman (a CU alum) for their work with RNA.
1989 | Construction of the $4.8 billion Denver International Airport is authorized under the direction of Mayor Federico Peña.
1990 | Temple Grandin, best-selling author, animal behaviorist, autism activist, and one of Time’s 100 most influential people, becomes a professor at Colorado State University.
1992 | Alamosa native Ken Salazar helps create the Great Outdoors Colorado amendment, which redirects lottery proceeds to preserve, protect, and enhance Colorado’s natural environment.
1996 | Major General Carol Mutter is pinned with her third star, making her lieutenant general and the first woman in U.S. military history to be promoted to a three-star grade.
1997 | Lafayette’s Door to Door Organics establishes one of the first modern grocery home-delivery programs.
2003 | Longmont-based advanced materials engineering company Synkera begins pioneering work in chemical sensing. In 2009 they start working on the addition of carbon monoxide sensors to cell phones.
2004 | Rick Gilliam and Ron Lehr author Colorado’s Amendment 37, the first voter-approved renewable-energy standard in the country.
2006 | Teacher and Regis University alum Chris Gibbons opens West Denver Prep (which will be renamed STRIVE Preparatory Schools in 2012), offering free, open enrollment and a rigorous college-prep education. The schools lead DPS middle schools in academic growth every year between 2006 and 2013.
2007 | Using 3-D motion-capture technology—similar to the kind behind movies like Avatar and Iron Man—Boulder’s Retül changes the way we custom-fit bikes.
2009 | Rocky Fort’s Innovative Water Technologies debuts the SunSpring solar-powered purification system, which can treat up to 5,000 gallons of water per day. By 2014 it will provide clean drinking water to tens of thousands of people.
2009 | Adam Lerner, founder and executive director of the Lab at Belmar, becomes the director of Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art, developing innovative projects like the Mixed Taste lecture series to engage a larger audience.
2010 | UrgentRx is founded and quickly corners the quick-med market by developing creative displays in underutilized areas of drug store checkout lines for its compact, low-dose, over-the-counter powdered medicines, which can be taken without water.
2011 | The popular The Kitchen farm-to-table restaurant chain introduces a nonprofit, The Kitchen Community, which will build more than 180 Learning Gardens in schools throughout Colorado and the rest of the nation over the next three years.
2011 | Denver travel company Inspirato changes the way the super-rich vacation by leasing—as opposed to buying—private luxury vacation residences.
And a Glorious Failure…
1899 | The original nutty professor, Nikola Tesla kills power to the entire city of Colorado Springs during an experiment aimed at proving that the area’s high elevation will allow him to transmit electricity sans wires. Oops. It comes as no surprise that Tesla leaves town nine months later.
—From top: Courtesy of Glen Asakawa; Courtesy of ChildFund International; iStock; iStock; Courtesy of Voormi; iStock; Courtesy of Sphero; Courtesy of Digital Globe (2); Shutterstock; Kevin Moloney; Shutterstock; iStock: Courtesy of Bryan Leach; Courtesy of Tom Kerkhoff; iStock; Courtesy of Lauren Constantini; Shutterstock; Courtesy of Dan Bihn; Courtesy of Ellen Winkler; iStock; iStock; Courtesy of Monica Petty Aiello