SHERIDAN — Firehole Composites was the featured business success story provided at the Wyoming Business Council’s “Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur” presentation hosted at the Black Tooth Brewing Company’s Timeberline Room.
Former CEO Jerad Stack provided an overview of the company’s start-up, explained how the company negotiated growing pains and ultimately was acquired by a Fortune 350 Company.
Firehole Composites is a Wyoming-based computer software development company that was born out of business initiatives sponsored by the University of Wyoming. The company was one of the first clients of the Wyoming Technical Business Center’s incubation program, where a company utilizes a workspace within the university’s business center to take advantage of its consultation resources while operating in the real world.
“There is a wealth and breadth of resources available to small businesses trying to make a go of it in Wyoming,” Stack said, adding that he considers that to be his first blessing.
Over the course of the business’s close tenure with the University, the company received a total of $5.8 million in grants.
Another streak of luck was a shift in the engineering market in the mid-2000s. Stack said while construction and manufacturing had focused primarily on making items out of metal, the middle of the decade ushered in a paradigm shift where engineers worked with composite materials. Composites are simply materials made out of multiple elements, which may include things like fiberglass, carbon fiber or kevlar, and are used in a variety of items, from sports equipment to airplanes.
The company’s engineer-based software primarily centered on creating virtual tests of composite materials. While many products are required to endure real-life durability tests before being introduced onto the market, a simulated test could save resources and reduce waste for manufacturers, and thus came the software program Helius: MCT, the company’s first commercial success.
Stack admitted it took an uncomfortably long time to sell the software initially, and it was almost 10 years from the company’s start-up. However, one buyer came to the company shortly before the company’s scheduled Christmas party, and shortly afterward, the corporation reigned in big ticket clients: NASA, K2 sports equipment, Spalding, Boeing and General Electric, to name a few.
The years of 2009 to present day have represented a period of growth for Firehole Composites, and though the company had established a steady slope of profit increases, Stack knew it was time to sell or be wiped out by a much larger competitor.
Today, Firehole Technologies is owned by Autodesk, and the same crew that made Helius: MCT is still in Laramie working on a Computer Aided Drafting program.
In addition to retelling the story of Firehole Composities peppered with ground-level detail, Stock shared his own personal insights about the journey of a businessman. Some of his advice included to take advantage of available resources, hire “A” players, and bring a lawyer — or a team of the — to an acquisition.
Wednesday night’s “e2e” event was the latest installment of a series of community gatherings sponsored by the WTBC.
Each session enables members to network and get real-world advice.