Across the mid-valley, innovative new businesses are hard at work to find success — and older businesses are constantly working to reinvent themselves in exciting new ways. By no means are the businesses we’re profiling today in the 2013 edition of “Businesses to Watch” the only ones that could have been included on these pages – but they are businesses that caught our eye in some way over the last few months. Chances seem good that they’ll be catching a lot of eyes in the months to come.
— Mike McInally, editor
RELIANCECM (formerly Mega Tech of Oregon)
Key leaders: Scott Schroeder, president; David Schroeder, business development manager
Number of employees: 35
What it does: Contract manufacturing, engineering and fulfillment for a variety of industries, including precision agriculture, high tech, recreational vehicles, aviation, health care and consumer products. Reliance’s client list includes Lucidyne Technologies, a Corvallis company that designs sawmill scanning systems for automatically grading lumber; ViewPlus Technologies, a Corvallis business that makes tactile printing systems for the blind; and Navistar Group, the Indiana-based RV manufacturer that acquired longtime Reliance customer Monaco Coach in 2009.
Why it’s worth watching: The 25-year-old company is in the midst of a major rebranding effort, changing its name from Mega Tech of Oregon to RelianceCM to emphasize its strengths as a contract manufacturer that also provides a full range of engineering, quality assurance and fulfillment services.
“We’re still the same people, the same ownership, but we’re trying to open it up to different markets,” said business development manager David Schroeder.
One of those markets is startup companies. Schroeder said RelianceCM is aggressively courting relationships with early stage companies it can help with all aspects of product development.
Case in point: VendScreen, a Portland outfit that recently rolled out an Android-based touchscreen device for vending machines that provides nutritional information on product offerings, displays promotions, processes card and smartphone transactions, tracks inventory and transmits data on machine operations.
RelianceCM is handling circuit board fabrication, product assembly and packaging for the company.
“When it leaves our facility here, it’s ready for the customer,” Schroeder said. “We bring a lot of value when people let us get involved in their business early.”
— Bennett Hall
Locations: North Albany and Lebanon
Key leaders: Marianne Fox, owner; Mindy Zeller, furniture acquisition; Laurel Herling, operations; Janis Hamling, sales.
Number of employees: 8
What it does: Consignment sales of upscale women’s clothing and repurposed furniture and home décor. “We find a new life for beautiful things,” said owner Marianne Fox.
Why it’s worth watching: In the three years since Fox opened the first ReStyle location in North Albany, she’s opened a Lebanon location and is now expanding in Albany, moving across the street to a storefront double her original size.
Fox says the expansion has been quicker than she imagined it would be. “When I first opened my store here in North Albany, I thought this was it,” she said.
However, the store’s blend of upscale clothing at below-retail prices, displayed in a space meant to mimic the look and feel of high-end stores, proved popular with mid-valley customers.
“When you have customers driving up from Eugene and down from Salem because they can’t find something like this locally, you know you’re filling a need,” Fox said.
The larger North Albany space will allow Fox to fulfill her original plan for ReStyle, by adding a mix of repurposed furniture and home décor to the clothing sales. She also plans to add a teen section.
Fox says she doesn’t have her eye on additional locations at this time, but she has considered expanding to other cities, perhaps by beginning a franchise system.
“I find it hard to pass up opportunities when they come my way,” she said.
For now, she’s focusing her energy on finishing the new store. To keep costs down, she’s doing much of the work herself and with the help of friends.
“A lot of people have believed in the vision for this and supported it,” she said.
The grand opening of the larger North Albany location is Friday, May 3.
— Jennifer Rouse
Key leaders: Russ Faux, co-founder and co-CEO; Matthew Boyd, co-founder, chief technology officer and co-CEO
Number of employees: Nearly 130
What it does: The company provides water quality modeling services using aerial imagery and thermal infrared data. It also uses high-resolution light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology to survey and map landscape, forest vegetation and underwater terrain.
Why it’s worth watching: Watershed Sciences is growing so quickly that co-founder and co-CEO Russ Faux has trouble keeping count of his now nearly 130 employees.
Watershed was established by Oregon State University graduates Faux and Matthew Boyd, chief technology officer and co-CEO, in 1999.
The business has progressed from general mapping to specified exploration that uncovers hazards and habitats. From landslides to faults to geothermal fields, Watershed travels skies worldwide and uses laser technology to measure distances and gather data. Laser distances can map underwater terrain, mountain and treetop topography and everything in between.
Data is used for engineering planning. The firm collaborates with universities and other research institutions to solve questions and predict problems. That may include stream restoration and defining boat channels. It also is used to measure vegetation to determine habitats and fire hazards.
The ways in which the data can be used are endless. Habitats can be researched, including water temperatures, and species located. Fault lines can be measured and stream erosion calculated.
“We are creating maps of trees,” Faux said. “How high they are, their biomass and even map the carbon area. It’s forest inventory for habitat modeling. If you know a certain species uses trees of a certain height or canopy density, you can identify those areas in a forest.”
With five laser systems and two airplanes, this little company is doing big business. Demand and growth to meet needs of federal, state and private clients has led the company to open an office in Portland, overseen by Boyd.
— Maria Kirkpatrick
Key Leader: Frank Cloutier, CEO
Number of employees: 9
What it does: Cloutier, known as the father of the inkjet printer cartridge at Hewlett-Packard, has a goal with Inspired Light to “do for solar energy what inkjet did for printing.” Cloutier hopes to move simultaneously on two fronts: Dramatically increase performance of solar panels while decreasing the cost. Cloutier hopes to have his panels in the hands of customers by early 2014.
Why it's worth watching: “When Bill Hewlett was asked why H-P became so successful, he would always answer: ‘It’s our people,’ ” Cloutier said. “I would certainly say the same. We are extremely fortunate to have a small group that has over 100 patents between us, and the experience of starting several very successful businesses for our former employer.
“Having said that, what we are trying to do is extraordinarily difficult. Many very smart teams have been trying to develop a breakthrough in solar energy for a long time. However, success here will fundamentally change not only how we generate energy, but dramatically lower the rate at which we are polluting the planet, our dependency on an extinguishing fuel supply, and our reliance on unfriendly foreign governments. If you’re going to try to pull off a miracle, let’s do it in an area that counts.”
— James Day
Key leaders: Andrew Grenville, CEO; Ann Carney Nelson, COO
Number of employees: 14
What it does: Inpria is an electronic materials company that hopes to enable advances in the semiconductor industry using research and development originally developed at Oregon State University. The next stage is to develop products that semiconductor firms could use to make integrated circuits. Grenville said the company’s product development is “well under way.”
Why it's worth watching: “Inpria is focused on solving the grand challenges in materials for nanopatterning by combining recent breakthroughs in inorganic chemistry with an experienced team in the semiconductor industry,” said CEO Andrew Grenville, “Inpria’s materials enable smaller and more complex devices to be fabricated. This capability is central to continuing the scaling trends of Moore’s Law to deliver higher performance electronics at lower cost.”
— James Day