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Good Company: Jon Nordmark and

Nordmark co-founded eBags in 1998 and served as CEO through 2008 and chairman until Samsonite acquired the company in 2017.

The company was profitable in 2001 and not only survived the dot-bomb, but thrived to the tune of 29 million bags sold before the acquisition. 

For his follow-up act, Nordmark moved into software and artificial intelligence (AI) with in 2013. Now with a little more than 100 employees in Colorado, California, India and Sri Lanka, the company is rewriting the book on software development for such customers as Maaco, Jockey, Ulta Beauty and Circle K. 

Age: 61

Hometown: Westminster

What audiobook he’s listening to: “In Order to Live,” by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

ColoradoBiz: How did you transition from eBags to 

Jon Nordmark: When I was with eBags, I worked with a lot of software companies, and I thought, “If I ever start another company, I want to do a software company.” And then I met my work partner, Brian Sathianathan, in Kyiv, Ukraine, and we were on a board of directors of what is like a Techstars of Eastern Europe. And he’s a software guy, so it was meeting the right co-founder that was the catalyst to getting this going. We worked together over there between 2011 and 2013, and it was in 2013 when we said, “Hey, let’s do this together.” 

CB: It looks like has evolved quite a bit since 2013. Can you tell me a little bit about where it started and where it is now?

JN: The initial premise was, we wanted to help large organizations innovate faster and more economically, basically faster and cheaper. And at the time, we thought the way to do that was to tap into startups from all over the world. What we realized in Kyiv was that startups didn’t need a lot of money to start anymore because the cloud had been invented by Amazon, basically, AWS, because of open-source code that was available. 

These companies that we were seeing in Eastern Europe were launching without any money; they just tried to pay really tiny server fees to Amazon, and all the code was free, the starter code, from code libraries that were open sourced, and they didn’t need to buy servers. Back in the eBags days, we had to pay like $50,000 a server. A normal person could not just go start a company. It was just way too expensive. 

What Brian and I realized was the barrier to starting a company had shifted from capital, or money, to brains. And it was all those smart people in Eastern Europe launching companies with no money in the Techstars of Eastern Europe, so what we wanted to do was connect large organizations to those little startups. But then we realized large organizations have trouble integrating these startups. They just don’t have the infrastructure, all their existing tech stacks weren’t prepared to do that, so that’s why we ended up building what’s called a low-code development platform, which makes software development really easy and fast to do. 

Then we just started building our own applications that big companies can buy. In 2017, we changed our name from to The reason was, one of our employees has a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, so we were getting asked to do a lot of AI work a longtime ago. That’s why we became an .ai company, because we could do stuff that no one else seemed to really be able to do. And because we’re getting asked for so much of it by the time 2017 came, we just changed our name to Since then, that’s what we’ve been focused on, but it wasn’t until November 30, 2022, when ChatGPT launched that the whole world started looking at AI. We happened to be in the right place at the right time by accident, to some extent.

CB: How has the business changed since ChatGPT launched?

JN: Everything we do now seems to have an AI focus, whereas before maybe it was 70 or 80percent. We also shifted into building a lot of generative AI capabilities for many companies. We’ve built probably 15 large language models [LLMs] that operate in private environments for big organizations. It shifted our work. We’re still doing AI, but it has become a lot of generative AI work.

CB: How are your customers using these LLMs?

JN: We built one to help actuaries at a big insurance company. We built one to manage social media interactions with 15-year-old girls for a big cosmetics company. And it speaks in emojis and stuff like that.

Those are two examples of completely different use cases. One is actuarial, which is heavy-duty math, and it actually is a combination of technologies. It’s not just an LLM; we’ve got some math capabilities we built into that, that are not out of the large language model. It’s kind of a combination.

Then you have the social for the girls that is all emojis, the opposite. But they both have their own unique language. Then we built a bot that schedules really expensive parties. We built one for ourselves that writes AI software. So think of generative AI code that writes AI code in Python. We built that, and that actually works really, really well.

We’ve done a number of what we call executive bots. Let’s say you’re a CFO and you need to talk to the financial community. You can jus task questions to this bot that goes and pulls all this really private information out of their system, and gives you answers on the fly in a human way. It not only uses a large language model to put answers in plain English, it also accesses customer information, financial information, market research information, and it combines a lot of private information with the public LLM.

But it’s all kept in a private environment so no information is leaked onto the web.

CB: Are you still utilizing the low-code development platform?

JN: It’s all been developed in that low-code platform and operates on it.

That low-code platform also operates in production. At CES (Consumer Electronics Show), we presented two keynotes with Intel. The reason they chose us was because our engineers figured out how to process these large language models on CPUs [central processing units] instead of GPUs [graphics processing units]. Nvidia has become a trillion-dollar company because they created these chips, which are called GPUs, that process AI.

They really were started to do gaming — it’s intense processing — but it just so happened that they kind of got lucky that they can process AI on those gaming chips.

Intel then got left in the dust because they weren’t prepared so much for the AI when it came out. But now they’ve been adjusting their chips a little bit. They sell what’s called a CPU, central processing unit, and we have helped them be able to process AI on their CPU chips, just like you’d process on a GPU. It’s a lot cheaper for a big organization to use a CPU versus a GPU, and it’s also cheaper to buy a CPU than a GPU.

So we’re making these large language models and generative AI capabilities accessible in a super much more cost-effective way for normal organizations.

CB: Does every business need to be looking at AI and jumping in now?

JN: Yeah, we think pretty much every company needs to use AI.

You can look at it from the highest level. I think America has to be in a leadership position. Right now, we are because of our big tech. We’ve got Microsoft and Google and Facebook and Apple, they’re all leading the charge on this, then you’ve got some really strong startups that are big like OpenAI and Anthropic involved, and then you’ve got ones like ours that are just incredibly scrappy.

Europe doesn’t have any of those companies, almost none. They’ve got a couple, but not many, so it appears they’re going to get left behind. Asia is behind us because they don’t have the chip processing power and America won’t send it to them — they’re banning Intel and Nvidia and those companies from sending powerful chips to China.

I think, from a country perspective, you have to stay in front, and we’re doing that, but then from a company perspective, it’s the same thing. Companies that get involved quickly will get efficiencies. They’ll just be able to outpace competitors that don’t move with it.

There’s a saying: AI won’t take your job, but a person who knows AI will take the job of a person who doesn’t.

CB: You mentioned that you’d developed AI to write AI code. Are you currently using that tool?

JN: We’re using it to develop snippets of code. But the thought is that as time goes by, that tool will get better and better. Right now, you can only generate small snippets of code. As time goes on, it’ll be able to ingest more and produce more and just be more accurate as it gets more feedback. If companies can produce the way we think we’ll be able to produce, other companies will just have to keep up.

CB: What has the company’s growth curve looked like since 2022?

JN: We’ve raised very little money on the whole, like $3 million, but our revenues are north of $10million, a fair amount north of that. And we’re always growing nicely into the double digits; we probably average 35 percent each year, somewhere in there, so it’s not super-high growth, but it’s certainly good growth.

CB: What do you think will be the big AI story of 2024?

JN: One that we’re all anticipating is the release of ChatGPT 5. What’s that going to do? Because when we went from 3.5 to 4, that was a pretty big move.

I’m also waiting to see what the open-source community does alongside Facebook or whatever you want to call them, because Facebook is sort of leading the charge on continuously releasing open-source models that then the whole world can go in and innovate on. I think that’s really pushed the envelope.

If you think of AI, there are four types, at least in our mind. The first one is classification AI. It’s just analytics, being able to evaluate numbers, and stuff like that. That was the first type of AI, just being able to classify things.

The second type of AI is generative AI, where all of a sudden, it can create images or create a research paper for a high school kid, so it almost seems like it’s creative.

Instead of just analyzing data, the third AI is going to be what we call interactive AI. That’s where autonomous agents come in and start acting on your behalf. Another thing that we’re working on right now is an interactive AI where you can actually do a drive-thru and all the order processing and order taking is done with a computer, and it talks to you like a human. We built that already.

The fourth one is artificial general intelligence, which is probably quite a bit further out. But we’re entering that third stage right now, and that will begin to be visible this year. And we know that because we’re building it.

Good Company: Nicole Sullivan and Her Indie Book Empire 

Explore the journey of Nicole Sullivan, founder of BookBar Press and owner of The Bookies, as she discusses navigating the complexities of book banning, the intersection of free speech and diversity in the publishing industry, and the evolution of her literary empire.

Nicole Sullivan 

Founder of BookBar Press; owner of The Bookies; founder and president of BookGive

Age: 50 

Hometown: Cape Girardeau, Missouri  

What she’s reading: “The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time,” by Yascha Mounk. Sullivan says she’s been stuck on nonfiction since 2020. 

ColoradoBiz: No use holding back. We’re talking about the book industry, so let’s jump into the juicy topic of book banning. Not only do you own The Bookies in Denver, but in 2020 you launched a publishing house (BookBar Press). Have you felt pressure to keep certain books off your shelves and/or away from the printer?  

Nicole Sullivan: Well, not as many books are being banned as the media will have you believe, but I think it’s good to call attention to the issue. There’s a difference between banning a book and challenging it. Most libraries have a multi-step process for bans. Because of that, most bans occur in schools, not libraries, but even challenges are destructive because it takes time for librarians to respond to challenges. Bookstores and publishers are completely different. We don’t have to adhere to the First Amendment in the same way libraries and schools do. 

CB: And has that shielded your businesses from calls for suppression?  

NS: Not exactly. What’s happening in bookstores is that booksellers are getting more and more progressive, and are refusing to sell some books to customers. Suppression happens at publishing houses, too. Employees at publishing houses have had walkouts because they don’t believe in a book. Sometimes there’s pressure from the outside to cancel publication or rescind a book. You might see restriction on access during the creative process, too, when authors are driven into self- suppression. And then once a book gets to the bookstore, we’re back where we started, with the booksellers as the gatekeepers at the store. It doesn’t matter what political side you’re on. All restricted access is insidious.  

CB: Has taking a stand impacted business? 

 NS: I don’t know. Most of our customers aren’t very aware of what happens behind the scenes in the bookselling industry. But for anyone who is paying attention, I’m guessing we’ve lost some customers. No doubt we’ve gained customers, however, who understand that this fundamental right of free speech ensures we all have greater access to an array of ideas and experiences through books. 

CB: When you bought The Bookies in 2021, you were already entrenched in the local book scene. For almost 10 years you owned and operated BookBar, a beloved bookstore/wine bar on Tennyson Street that closed at the beginning of 2023. Fill us in on this first segment of your career.   

NS: I opened BookBar in 2013, in a space where one of our community bookstores had closed. I saw it as a place for everything from book clubs to children’s story times. That was the vision: a community literary space with food and beverage.  

CB: The food industry can be a tough grind. Do you have a background in F&B?  

NS: I worked in a few restaurants in my 20s. I dabbled, did a bit of everything, and then I had babies and stayed home with my kids for seven years. It wasn’t until they went to school full-time that I started thinking, “OK, now what?” I didn’t set out to open a bookstore, but I’d gone to culinary school, and I’ve always been a big reader, and I got sucked into my idea for a bookstore wine bar.  

CB: If you never intended to open one bookstore, then how’d you end up with two? 

NS: I bought The Bookies in 2021, after the owner (Sue Lubeck, the store’s founder) passed away. The pandemic was winding down; things were pretty stable. The initial thought was that we’d merge all the back-office stuff. On paper it made sense. But the more time I spent at The Bookies, the more I loved the culture Sue built there. The Bookies and BookBar were two different environments run on two different business models.  

CB: Care to elaborate? 

NS: The Bookies is staffed largely by former school librarians and educators, and all the staff have such a passion for literacy and book access. They are doing this work for the same reasons I do it. At the same time, combining a bookstore and wine bar was harder than I’d expected. It was two businesses in one, really. I was about to turn 50, and I was ready to carve out more time for me and my family and reading and travel. It seemed like a natural life progression to let BookBar go. We own the building, and our tenants are opening something else there. I can’t say what it is just yet, but it will be a fresh concept. 

CB: Was it hard walking into someone else’s business? 

NS: Just the opposite, actually. I’ve really enjoyed the process of coming into somebody else’s business and making sense of it, learning, finding ways to be more efficient. There’s more to it than that, though. My identity was really tied up in BookBar, and that was a lot of pressure. It feels good to be working with somebody else’s company. Sue built this incredible culture at the store, and that eased the transition. When I started getting to know the staff, hearing the stories about all the years they’d worked together, I realized we’re truly a family.  

CB: It sounds like you’re saying that building a positive work culture might be one of the more important aspects of running a business.   

NS: Exactly! And that was really all Sue. Coming here, it made it easy to let BookBar go, and I had to let it go.  

CB: The Bookies is in the process of relocating as we speak. Can you tell us more about the move?   

NS: I knew when we purchased The Bookies that we’d be moving. The current store is tucked into a corner of a strip mall, and it has to be a destination. I purchased the Lehrer Fireplace & Patio store on South Holly Street in May of 2023. (The Lehrers still have two locations; they aren’t going out of business, just downsizing.) I’m a big believer in owning your property if you can make it work in any way, shape or form. It’s a smart financial move because then if the business doesn’t work, you’ve still built equity.   

CB: What drew you to the Lehrer building? 

NS: It’s huge, almost 13,000 square feet, and there’s a taekwondo studio on the second floor. We’ll have plenty of space for the retail bookstore on the first floor. We’re not going to downsize, but I want to build in more community spaces with seating, a lounge area and a community event room. The Lehrers left us some fireplaces, so we’ll have two fireplace areas. We’ll have a 2,000-square-foot warehouse in the back of the building that will house the nonprofit BookGive. And our publishing company will also operate out of the warehouse.  

CB: Is it fair to say you’re building a book empire? 

NS: I call it a literary compound. We’ll have people coming in to write their books and publish, and then they’ll sell them at the store. After the books have been read, people can come back and donate them to the nonprofit. It’s this whole ecosystem, actually, and that concept of ecosystems is informing our retail design scheme.  

CB: Getting back to your business, what prompted you to open a publishing company during the pandemic? 

NS: I had a few reasons. I’m interested in learning about the whole industry. I’d learned about the bookselling side, and I wanted to learn more about publishing. We have consignment for self-published authors at The Bookies — it was something I started at BookBar — and some authors come in with books that are clearly unedited. I’m not making any judgment, but I saw an opportunity to help local authors through the publishing process while also publishing content we think is important to get out into the world.  

CB: What does it take to make publishing profitable in the current climate?  

NS: Who knows? I don’t know! We’ve been talking with so many other publishers who have been doing this for a long time, and there’s no easy answer. I don’t know what the path is to profitability. What I do know is that nothing I do is ever for profit, and even publishing is more of a community endeavor. The margins are so thin. The main point is that we’re getting stories out and connecting local authors with readers. 

CB: Has the consolidation of big publishing companies impacted small publishers? 

NS: No, it impacts us more as a bookseller. As the publishing companies continue to consolidate, I think there’s just that much more room for smaller companies to capture the voices that are getting lost. We’ll primarily be focusing on regional middle grade novels. We’ve published three so far, and they’ve done well.  

CB: Why middle grade?  

NS: The big focus at The Bookies has always been education. The store primarily stocks children’s books. We have a growing adult section, but the overall focus of our inventory will be education and environmentalism.  

CB: We’re curious, how is AI impacting the publishing industry?  

NS: I don’t know, honestly. My husband is a tech guy, and he could talk to you for an hour. I kind of have my head in the sand about the whole thing. I don’t know enough about it to be either afraid or excited. My feet are still firmly planted in the traditional printed page world.    

CB: You mentioned earlier a third prong of your literary ecosystem. Can you tell us a little more about BookGive? 

NS: Before I owned my first bookstore, when I was home raising kids, I got together with a group of friends. We created Northwest Denver Community Book Exchange. It was an annual event, and people would bring more books than they’d leave with. We’d end up with a thousand leftover books, so we started building partnerships with organizations that needed books. When I opened BookBar, I brought the program into the store. Then in 2018, we purchased a building and moved the nonprofit into its current headquarters at 4890 Lowell Boulevard. We have about 300 volunteers on the roster who sort books by genre, then match organizations with the specific books they need. We call it curated giving. Since getting our 501(c)(3) status in 2020, we’ve donated over 200,000 books throughout metro Denver. We’re currently expanding our footprint to serve rural communities where books are being banned.  

CB: And we’ve officially come full circle. Best of luck getting The Bookies moved to its new location at 2085 South Holly Street. 


Jamie Siebrase is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

Good Company: Mary Nguyen and the Olive & Finch Collective  

Discover the journey of Mary Nguyen, the Executive Chef and Owner of Olive & Finch, as she shares her path from finance to the culinary world. Get insights into her experiences, challenges, and the evolution of Denver’s dining scene in this exclusive interview.

Hometown: Denver 

What she’s reading: Mary’s reading two books right now — “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, which dives into Aurelius’ principles in “a modern but still profound way,” Nguyen says, and “The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively.” “I try to read as much as I can to learn how to be a better parent,” she says 

Mary Nguyen

Executive Chef and Owner of Olive & Finch, Little Finch and Finch on the Fly 

Denver, CO

ColoradoBiz: You’re a difficult person to track down, Mary.   

Mary Nguyen: That’s not always the case, but I’ve been traveling this summer. We’re in France for five weeks, then Switzerland.  

CB: Is this business or pleasure? 

MN: It always has something to do with food. We’re celebrating my husband’s 50th. He’s European, and his dad lives in France, so we wanted to have our girls come out with us, but at the same time I’m doing market research on my end, looking at things I can bring to the Denver restaurant space.   

CB: That’s exciting news for any locals familiar with your restaurant concepts, Olive & Finch and Little Finch. But before we dive into your brand, tell us a little more about how you got into the industry.    

MN: I’m the daughter of immigrants. My parents came here at the fall of Saigon, and they came to Denver because that’s where our sponsors were. It’s been a long time, but back then coming to the U.S. was really different when you came from Vietnam. American families could sponsor Vietnamese families to help them assimilate. 

CB: That was further back than expected, but now you’ve piqued our interest. What was it like being raised in Denver by first-generation immigrants?

MN: It helped me stand out in a world of conformity and emphasized the importance of family, connectivity and hard work. My parents taught me to deeply appreciate all the opportunities that I’ve been given. And they instilled in me a work ethic to set goals and then strive to achieve them through perseverance, patience — and maybe a little luck, too. 

CB: So, you’re one of those rare Colorado natives? 

MN: That’s right! I was born and raised in Colorado. I went to school at George Washington High School and CU-Boulder.   

CB: Does CU Boulder have its own culinary program?  

MN: Actually, I’m not trained as a chef. I didn’t go to culinary school. My degree is in economics and international affairs. After college I went straight into investment banking, doing public finance, trading commodities. But I always really loved cooking. One day I decided I was more interested in cooking and recipe development. I left finance and got as many kitchen jobs as I possibly could. I literally had no experience, and I needed to learn as much as possible.  

CB: What kind of jobs are we talking about?  

MN: I applied at Starbucks because I knew I wanted to open a café, and they had a great training program. I woke up every morning at 3 a.m. to take the morning shift. Then I’d head over to Hapa Sushi Grill — this was when they first opened in Cherry Creek, in the early 2000s — to work the lunch shift. I really loved sushi and was offered a job as an apprentice sushi chef.  

CB: That sounds like an exhausting day.  

MN: I’m not finished. I also worked at a restaurant called the Beehive in the evenings. I remember eating in their open kitchen, with this beautiful, red brick, having fruit and nuts in my salads. That was almost revolutionary back then. 

CB: When’d you find the time to go back to culinary school?  

MN: I didn’t. I’m 100 percent self-taught.   

CB: But your restaurants are so polished and well-executed. How’s that possible?  

MN: I didn’t even start cooking until I was in college. My parents cooked when I was younger. My mom is an amazing Vietnamese cook, and she’d experiment with American food in her kitchen. I think I was always in an environment where food was important. As an adult, I found myself having dinner parties, being in the kitchen, loving it. When I decided to quit my finance job, I was young. I thought it would be easy. I don’t know if I’d do that now, but at 25 I was living in the moment. 

CB: OK, don’t take this the wrong way, but how’d you land any restaurant jobs with absolutely no experience? 

MN: That’s a fair question. I remember seeing an ad in Westword: There was an opening at the Beehive for a sous chef, and I showed up in my three-piece suit, with no idea what a sous chef was. I wanted to cook and was willing to do anything. The owner turned me down, obviously, but she also realized I wanted to learn. A few months later, I got a call. They had a position in the pantry. In the back of my mind, I thought, “Wow, she’s offering me an opportunity to put groceries away.” I had no idea what a pantry cook was. Now that I understand the dynamics and hierarchy of a kitchen, I can only imagine what the owner thought of me.  

CB: It’s the early 2000s, and you’re working three jobs. How long did this grind continue? 

MN: I worked all three jobs for over a year, then I worked at Hapa a while longer, moving up the ranks to become a sushi chef.  

CB: That was — what? — nearly 20 years ago? How has the Denver dining scene changed?  

MN: I think back to 2005, when I opened my first restaurant, Parallel Seventeen, and there just weren’t a lot of options in Denver. It was either very fine dining that you paid an arm and leg for, or your neighborhood pizza or burger place, or a Chinese restaurant. I’d travel to Europe with my husband and see all these great cafés, places where you could go in for something quick, and I wanted to deliver a similar experience in Denver, where people had great food without the commitment in time, diet and money. P17 stood out as a nice restaurant that morphed into a bar at night, doing Vietnamese and French cuisine. In 2013, when I opened the first Olive & Finch location, I remember talking to my PR team, and nobody understood what I was trying to do. The idea was for counter service, but we’d roast our own chickens, bake fresh bread daily. Ten years later, there were lots of places just like it, offering affordable, chef-made food in a casual setting. But at the time we opened? It was really different.   

CB: You opened the second Olive & Finch location in Cherry Creek in 2017, and both spots are still very popular, even after the pandemic. Is it because you’re serving real food? 

MN: That’s one reason. Everything is made from scratch, and you can taste it. But also, our restaurants are easy and convenient.   

CB: Is it the same with your newest concepts, Little Finch and Finch on the Fly? 

MN: Before Little Finch, we opened a wholesale operation in 2019, selling pastries and grab-and-go items to other restaurants and businesses in the area. Then Little Finch opened in February of 2023 as a very casual all-day café focused on beverages and grab-and-go items. Finch on the Fly is a healthy, quick option at Denver International Airport.  

CB: You’ve added a lot to the Olive & Finch brand in just a few years. Have you thought about tapping into the home-cook market, too, which has been on the rise since the pandemic?   

MN: No, but years ago, when I had a restaurant called Street Kitchen, I’d close during weekend days and teach cooking classes, turning the dining room into a little cooking school. If we did that today, we’d sell out.  

CB: It’s hard to talk about the restaurant industry without bringing up COVID-19. How’d you make it through, and were there any takeaways that surprised you? 

MN: It was just as hard for us as it was for everybody else. Our pivot wasn’t as challenging, though, because we had already had a strong to-go business. We were very lucky in that regard. Our business is just so fickle, and we learned that it’s going to be important for us to remain dynamic and flexible if we want to stand the test of time. 

CB: Did the pandemic change consumer dining trends? 

MN: People are so much more curious and educated about food now, and I think the typical dining consumer is more discerning. They know what they want, and they don’t want to be disappointed.   

CB: What does that observation mean for you as a restaurant owner? And has inflation impacted the acumen of dining consumers?   

MN: The problem is that our cost of goods has gone up, but the consumer mentality hasn’t shifted. While our labor is higher, and our product costs more, we’re required to stay within a certain price point. It was always important to me to make great food accessible, and that’s still the case, but the margins have narrowed, more so for us because we’re committed to affordability. Plus, we provide benefits to our team, and we pay more than at a typical restaurant.    

CB: What’s the message for other Denver-area chefs? Should they quit their day job if opening a restaurant is their dream? 

MN: I think if it is your passion — absolutely — you have to go for it. But for those who think opening their own restaurant is a dream, first go stage with another restaurant owner. Once you open a business, everything changes. I don’t do as much cooking anymore because I’m involved in day-to-day aspects of business. That said, I get so much joy seeing a full dining room, seeing staff learn and grow in their careers, just like I did. 


Jamie Siebrase is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

Good Company — Becky Takeda-Tinker & CSU Global

Explore an insightful interview with Becky Takeda-Tinker, President and CEO of CSU Global, discussing the value of online education, the evolving role of AI in learning and her personal journey in higher education. Gain valuable advice on pursuing a post-secondary degree and discover the future of education in a post-pandemic world.

READ: Good Company — R.T. Custer & The Vortic Watch Company

Hometown: Danville, California

What she’s reading: “2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything,” a book by Mauro F. Guillén about trends that are rapidly changing our world. “Especially coming out of Covid, I love looking at what people think the future may hold.”

Becky Takeda-Tinker

President and CEO of CSU Global


ColoradoBiz: From artificial intelligence to the evolution of online education, there’s a lot to cover. Before we dive in, though, can you share advice for readers who are working full-time, thinking about pursuing or completing a post-secondary degree? 

Becky Takeda-Tinker: If you’re considering going back to school to earn a degree, start by researching programs that are asynchronous, where coursework can be completed on your own time, from any location, to fit within your schedule. In addition to flexibility, prospective students should consider the value and return on investment expected from the education. How will a degree help propel your professional and personal goals? That’s the key. For many students, particularly adult learners, online education is the best solution. Look for a program that provides curriculum aligned with the latest industry standards, and always seek programs from a regionally accredited nonprofit university that emphasizes career-relevant pathways. 

CB: That’s right, CSU Global is the country’s first 100 percent online accredited public university. What degrees are offered, and how do enrollment and degree progression work?  

BT: We offer career-relevant bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, along with certificates, mainly for working adults and nontraditional learners. Our eight-week courses start every four weeks throughout the entire year, and we offer every course every term. The whole idea is to make an advanced degree accessible to all learners.   

CB: It’s hard to talk about accessibility without also talking about the rising cost of college. I think many of us are wondering if a post-secondary degree is still worth the price tag. And while we’re on the topic, is an online degree a more economical option?  

BT: What we know based on third-party data is that the ROI for every 1,000 dollars spent at CSU Global is 4.9 times the investment, which is strong. How does that compare to other institutions? That’s anyone’s best guess. It’s worth noting that pursuing an online versus in-person program can eliminate costs associated with on-campus housing, student fees and transportation. Plus, online programs at institutions that serve nontraditional students often have pathways to apply previously earned college credits toward their programs. CSU Global, for example, accepts up to 90 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree. I’ll add that debt isn’t always a bad thing if you have a plan, and if earning your degree will help you move beyond where you are today. I really believe education is an investment in one’s future. That’s why I’m back at CSU Global.  

CB: You helped build CSU Global in 2008, then you took a hiatus. Why’d you come back? 

BT: I started my career in private equity, but I found myself in a phase of life where I felt it was time to give back to society. I got my Ph.D. in 2007, with the intent to teach higher education. In 2008, I applied to be a community college instructor, and somebody passed my resume along to CSU Global’s HR department. I got a call asking if I wanted to work on the school’s career-relevant curriculum. We opened in 2008 to 200 students. By 2009, CSU Global had about 900 students, at which point I knew we needed to apply for regional accreditation. Being the first fully accredited, public online university was unique at the time. Back then, there were seven other state systems that had tried to create a similar entity, but they were unable to get stabilized. We were driven to be nimble because of the nontraditional students we were created to serve. When I left in 2020, to work on Colorado’s economic recovery, we’d graduated over 20,000 students. I was asked to return to help facilitate the next chapter of CSU Global, and who can ignore a challenge like that coming out of Covid?   

CB: Why the interest in higher education? 

BT: My husband is retired Air Force, and I am very much about American competitiveness. Not everyone needs a college degree, but for those who want it, it’s important to be able to have credible, high quality, affordable education. But it’s more personal than that. My dad was the first in his family to go to college. This was after the war, after they got out of the camps, and I understood that education made a difference in our lives, in how our family was living compared to others in our neighborhood. My dad worked three jobs while going to Berkeley. That’s how he was able to pay for school, but he didn’t really get the full academic experience. CSU Global represents, in my mind, a way for students having to work full-time to still be connected to their peers and have relationships with their instructors. 

CB: Are you referring to the Japanese American internment camps? 

BT: Yes, it was the internment camps. My dad was in them starting as a toddler until about 7 years old. When they were released they had no money/savings, no place to live etc., so they somehow made it back to Sacramento where they had been living prior to the war, and ended up running a hotel in a not-so-good part of town. There were five kids and my grandmother, who spoke very little English at that time, but at least they had a place to live and food to eat. From that environment my dad decided that getting a degree could provide a better life, so as he grew up, he put himself through UC Berkeley to earn an electrical engineering degree, and from that he married my mom and started our family of three girls and helped the rest of his family. 

CB: OK, I’m bringing up the elephant in the room now. There used to be a stigma with online education. How have online degrees evolved over the past few decades

BT: In the early days, to prove online education credibility, the institution provided extensive annual third-party data regarding student workforce success, to show that high quality online education could provide a return on investment. Online programs have grown exponentially since then, with many brick-and-mortar campuses launching their own fully online courses, so they, too, have become proponents of online education. Even before the pandemic, interest in online programs was growing, due in part to its flexibility, as well as technological advances making online courses more engaging. With new tools and resources, the student experience keeps getting better, and the quality of content has improved. One result of the pandemic is we’re seeing a significant shift in higher education in general, including fewer high school students choosing to pursue a traditional, in-person, four-year degree program. There’s a greater trust, today, in online and hybrid programs from accredited schools. A number of online institutions are now regionally accredited, meaning they went through a comprehensive, peer-reviewed process that ensures a consistent standard of quality. But it is not just online education that has changed. The interests and needs of students changed, too. In early 2000, the number of American high school graduates going to college began declining. What I think we’re seeing is a market that’s very differentiated. People who are looking for higher education are very clear in what they want now.  

CB: So, is online education the future for all learners in the wake of the pandemic, or is this still a niche group of working and nontraditional students?  

BT: The future is solutions that can be customized to meet students where they’re at, and give them what they’re seeking. Hybrid is a popular option now, not just at school but work. Everyone wants to do a couple days in and a couple days out. I think having the options available and transferability is big now, along with stackability.  

CB: Did the pandemic help to legitimize online programs? 

BT: At the beginning of the pandemic, on one hand we saw an unprecedented opportunity for innovation in online learning. On the other, many misconceptions grew around the quality of online programs. Many schools were forced to move quickly to what we consider emergency remote learning. Teachers and students moved to virtual platforms in a matter of weeks, which does not reflect the quality of a truly robust online program like ours. And yet thanks to the technological advances that have taken place in every industry sector during the pandemic, there has also been a positive shift in perceptions of online learning. The pandemic not only altered education — it also altered the way we work, and students who earn a degree online are equipped with the skills needed to succeed in a fully remote or hybrid work environment. 

CB: Speaking of contemporary changes, what do you see as the increasing role of artificial intelligence in education? 

BT: In a lot of ways, AI is a very helpful technology, and since all industries are now tech-driven, I think it can help us learn what we need to do to get to the next level of global competitiveness. When I look at AI, I’m not at all afraid of it. I’m very comfortable with it, but the education has to be there on how to use it to help students learn. When I came back to CSU Global, I knew we needed to do some course revisioning. Our mission is to serve nontraditional students toward professional success. Beyond academic success, we want to provide the skills needed for workplace advancement. How do we make assignments relevant to a workplace application, so that students understand the value of the work that’s assigned? That’s what we’re tackling right now during this exciting time.  


Jamie Siebrase is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

Good Company — R.T. Custer & The Vortic Watch Company

Learn how R.T. Custer and Vortic Watch Company work with prop masters to place their watches on characters that fit the brand’s industrial style. He also shares how Vortic’s unique business model, which upcycles antique U.S. pocket watch mechanisms, allows the company to manufacture truly American-made watches. Additionally, Custer discusses the power of email marketing and how it has been Vortic’s most effective form of advertising.

R.T. Custer

Co-founder and CEO, Vortic Watch Company

Fort Collins

Hometown: Reading, Pennsylvania 

What he’s reading: “Becoming an Empowered Projector: Thrive with Wisdom and Guidance from Human Design,” a recent book by Evelyn Levenson about human design. “I’m a projector of human design,” Custer notes, “And I’m trying to understand what that really means.”

Vortic Watch Company

ColoradoBiz: We understand John Krasinski will be wearing a Vortic watch in the fourth and final season of “Jack Ryan.” How’d you pull that off?

R.T. Custer: That’s right, we have a watch on Jim from “The Office” and also Michael Kelly. At Vortic, we focus one layer of marketing on product placement, and we’ve used that not only for advertising, but networking as well. Long story short, a friend of mine, Mark McFann, specializes in product placement, and he’s gotten us on a few famous wrists.

CB: We’ve got the time (no pun intended). Why don’t you give us the long story, too?  

RTC: We work directly with prop masters for product placement. When there’s an opportunity for a big, American-industrial style watch, a prop master will contact us to see if Vortic would be a good fit for a particular character or show. Several years ago, when filming for “Jack Ryan” Season 3 was underway, the prop master reached out to us about our Military Edition watches.

The backstory is we make antique Air Force wristwatches from pocket watches that were flown on the B Bombers of WWII, to make sure navigators knew where they were in the sky. It’s the ultimate piece of American history. We release these watches annually on Veteran’s Day, and a portion of the proceeds goes to a nonprofit program, the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative, one of the only watchmaking schools in the country. Watchmaking is a skilled trade, and there aren’t currently enough people who know how to repair watches to meet the demand.

So originally, the “Jack Ryan” prop master wanted a watch for Michael Kelly, a co-star who’d played Doug Stamper in “House of Cards,” one of my favorite shows. We sent a watch, and he’s wearing a Vortic all through Season 3. Then we get another email from the prop master: John asked if he could have one, too. We make a new edition of the watch every year, so John Krasinski will be in our third edition when Season 4 comes out.

CB: What’s the lesson here for other manufacturers?

RTC: It’s the relationships and the partnerships that matter. We also have a watch on Kevin O’Leary, the billionaire from “Shark Tank.” The credibility in brand association that I get from that — it’s worth millions. And it didn’t cost me a cent; it was just the relationships I had to build along the way. People assume you have to spend a fortune on advertising when really, it’s that thing people always say and then forget: It’s not about what you know, but who you know

CB: So is product placement the best way to sell a tangible product?

RTC: It’s a niche style of marketing, and it’s a long game. We ship the watch to a show, they film, and then two years later the show comes out. I’m betting somebody will see the watch, then Google it. Hopefully they eventually make it to my website and buy one.

I run a watch company, but I’m a marketing guy. Both my parents were “Mad Men” in the ‘70s. They worked for huge campaigns for Pepsi and McDonald’s. What I know and love is marketing, and at Vortic we do it all – everything from Facebook ads to print advertising – but my most effective form of advertising is email marketing.

CB: That’s surprising in 2023, isn’t it?  

RTC: Email marketing is the only clear path to revenue that I know works 100 percent of the time. Once you sign up for Vortic’s email list, I know you’re going to buy a watch, it’s just a matter of time.

CB: How, exactly, do you know that?

RTC: Have you seen our watches? People love what we do. Our primary product is the American Artisan Series. This is a one-of-a-kind line of wristwatches, each piece is unique, fabricated with antique U.S. pocket watch mechanisms. And they are the only truly American-made watches that are available today.

CB: You’re making orphaned, upcycled wristwatches, then. That is a unique concept. Where’d an idea like that come from?

RTC: My business partner Tyler Wolfe and I came up with the idea on the golf course at Penn State in 2010 when we were studying engineering. We had a bunch of ideas surrounding wristwatches, but we decided that if we started a watch company, we wanted to manufacture in America. This sent us down a major rabbit hole. Can you even make a watch in America?

CB: Well, can you?

RTC: When most people think of luxury watches, they think of Switzerland, and today, yes, it’s basically impossible to make the tiny gears and springs inside a watch in the U.S. But that wasn’t always the case. Little known fact: America used to be Switzerland. In 1900, if you asked anyone in the world where the best watches were made, it was Chicago or Boston. There were at least 10 great American watch companies along the railroads between Chicago and Boston, and they all made pocket watches. The wristwatch really didn’t appear until after WWII.

So, yes, you can make a watch in America if you upcycle pocket watches made here a hundred years ago. Tyler and I realized we could do this. We put that idea onto a Kickstarter in November 2014, shortly after we moved to Fort Collins. It was just me and Tyler, fresh out of college, and we crowd-funded the company. We now have our own manufacturing building, so people can schedule a tour on our website and come see how watches are made. We’re really the only place in America you can do that.

CB: Do upcycled watches sell?

RTC: We’ve sold almost every watch we’ve made. We put out roughly 300 to 350 watches a year. The company actually has three revenue streams. There are limited edition watches, including our Military and Railroad edition watches, which are all about historical storytelling. But the thing we’re most known for is our Watch of the Day.

We make one new watch every weekday, all year long, and release it at noon MST. It’s not an auction, just a set price, and once it is sold, that’s it. We’ve done this for a year now, and it was our pivot during COVID.

We used to do a lot of custom watches, but with so many unknowns in the world, people didn’t want to pay for a watch, then wait six months. We’ll still convert your grandfather’s pocket watch into a wristwatch: That’s our third service. It’s the simplest idea, but customers love it, and we’re the only company doing it. Google “Convert Your Watch.” We’re the first business to appear.

CB: Where do you find the pocket watches for your Limited Edition and Watch of the Day models?

RTC: Every day, somewhere in the U.S., a pawn shop or jewelry store goes out of business. For the past hundred years, these stores have been buying pocket watches and scrapping the gold, leaving the inside mechanism as trash. But a lot of these pawn and jewelry shop owners have hung onto the inside of the pocket watch because they feel bad about throwing a little, tiny engine away. I work with estate buyers who buy out pawn and jewelry stores, as well as watchmaker estates. I’m the only person who buys the mechanical part of the pocket watches. I’ll buy a hundred at a time then cherry pick the very best to turn into wristwatches. We’ve been around for eight years, and now I have sources who call me when pocket watches are available.

CB: Colorado has a reputation for being a haven for artisans, and Fort Collins in particular has become a major player in the buy-local movement. Has your physical location been an important aspect of business?

RTC: Yes, there’s a huge resurgence in manufacturing here, especially craft manufacturing. Stuff has been made in Colorado for hundreds of years, of course, but the craft industry and artisan style of small-batch, American made products — that’s Colorado. Think about it! Breweries, farm-to-table food — even distilleries are making small-batch blends. That’s what consumers appreciate here.

CB: Watch out — we’re about to throw a watch pun your way. What does a watchmaker do to unwind?

RTC: That’s a watch pun or a dad joke, depending on how you look at it. I’m a dad, so I love dad jokes. My wife and I have a cabin up north of Fort Collins where we like to get away with our family. We also love to travel to unwind. How’s that for a pun? One of the best things about living in Colorado is that I’m exactly an hour from the third-largest airport in the world. You can fly direct to almost anywhere you want. I’m a serial entrepreneur. Votic is my main thing, but I own other businesses, and I love entrepreneurship and talking about it. To be able to be an entrepreneur and not have anyone own my time – there’s another one – that’s why I love what I do.


Jamie Siebrase is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

Good Company — Natasha Bond, President of ERI Group

Natasha bond joined ERI group as president in 2021. The company has been helping clients bring medical devices to market since 1988.

“we offer development, manufacturing quality, and regulatory. Some projects touch all of those and some projects touch one of them,” says bond. “our job — my job — is to fill the gaps in the client’s capabilities to enable them to hit the milestones they care about. There’s no minimum or maximum, there’s no one size fits all.”

After working in medical devices in Texas, bond moved to Colorado for a job with Vention Medical (Now Nordson Corp.) In 2014. “I just absolutely loved it out here, so it was definitely by design that we moved,” she says.

The 75-employee ERI group rebranded from evergreen research in early 2022 before merging with Denver-based link product development in july.

Natasha Bond, 44 

President, ERI Group

Golden, CO

Hometown: Manchester, England 

What she’s reading: “I have about eight books going at any one time,” she laughs, highlighting three currently on her nightstand: “Managing the Professional Service Firm,” by David Maister; “The Wind in the Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame; and “Round Ireland with a Fridge,” by Tony Hawks 

Natasha Bond

ColoradoBiz: How did you get into the medical device industry? 

Natasha Bond: Way back when, I intended my career to be focused on automotive. I actually, pre-college, was very much into motorsports and spent a couple of years doing that. I decided I wanted a little bit more intellectual life, got myself to college, got my engineering degree, and fully expected to spend my career in autosport or automotive.  

Through a little bit of taking the door that opened and a little bit of luck, I actually ended up working for PA Consulting Group, who had an automotive division. They also had a consumer products division and a healthcare and medical device group. I took the opportunity to experience all of that different stuff at the beginning of my career and found so much motivation and personal pride in doing something that was going to help people that needed it, as opposed to doing something that, you know, helped people go 5 percent faster or do it on 5 percent less fuel. 

CB: What brought you to ERI Group? 

NB: For the three years prior to joining, I was actually leading a bit of a double life. I was COO of a startup four days a week and then running my own consultancy two days a week. Honestly, both of those jobs each needed about six days a week, as did my family, and there wasn’t enough of me to go around. 

I know the previous owners quite well, and I actually phoned them up looking for safe landings for my clients. I have a lot of emotional attachments to the technologies I work with and I certainly don’t want my choices to impact other people’s business. They mentioned they were looking for a new lead for what was then Evergreen Research, and it just felt like an amazing door to see if I could step through. 

I was incredibly lucky that I managed to take a set of clients and a consultancy that I thought I was going to have to shut down, fold it into 35 years of experience and an amazing team and a huge opportunity, and then turn my day job with my startup into a client. That is the kind of business acrobatics that I don’t ever expect to be able to repeat. 

CB: Evergreen Research recently merged with LINK Product Development to form ERI Group. What was the rationale for that deal? 

NB: First and foremost, my desire with ERI is to make sure that, between what we have in-house and the community and contacts that we have, we can support medical innovation whatever way [clients need]. In terms of industrial design, human factors, engineering, usability, that wasn’t something we had in-house when I joined what was then Evergreen, but it’s something I’m very passionate about. I’m a big believer that if you don’t make things easy to use and appealing to adopt, then they won’t be adopted and used, so I really think that particularly usability engineering is just really critical.  

I have a huge amount of respect for [LINK founder] Marc Hanchak and his team, and we were already working together. The point at which the merger happened, I think that ERI was about a third of their portfolio anyway. So honestly, it was just a very natural progression of what was already a very strong working relationship — and I think that’s borne fruit in what’s happened in the last few months. 

CB: How has the medical device industry changed in your decade-plus of experience? And what was the impact of the pandemic? 

NB: You can get an app to market a year, you can get most consumer products to market in a couple years — we’re looking much more at four to six. Obviously, the pandemic changed the way that we worked a bit. It created a bunch of chaos at the FDA as they were dealing with an influx of people trying to help with the pandemic, and it created a somewhat temporary change of focus away from some of the more traditional things that people cared about, like oncology and heart disease, into COVID tests and antiviral measures. I do think it’s going to take the FDA a couple years to work their way out of a mess of their own creation, but we are working gently with them as they try and figure that out.  

In terms of bigger macro changes over the last decade or so, we’re seeing a lot more innovation going to at-home use versus surgical. If you asked me in the mid-’90s what I was seeing, I would say, “We’re seeing more open surgery going to minimally invasive surgery.” The 2000s was really about the expansion of the scope of those minimally invasive surgeries into things that are much more complicated and much more use of multifactorial data to produce more intelligent diagnoses. Now I think it’s about pushing that care earlier into the cycle, pushing it into the home, pushing it into more accessible health-care situations — the rural health centers or the primary care — from the hospital, and obviously a lot more data and a lot more connectivity and a lot more visibility for people within that whole ecosystem.  

ERI works with about 30 percent large, strategic, multinational, public companies and 70 percent startups. On the startup side for the last decade, there’s been a lot of focus on: “What is the value proposition? What are the health economics?” They really have to get a solid case for benefits going before they’re going to get funding. From that perspective, I think life’s gotten harder than it was in the ‘90s or maybe 2000s when it was: “If you’ve got solid science, the money will work itself out and somebody will figure out how you’re going to get paid for it later.” I don’t think that works anymore. 

CB: Are there any recent highlights of products and projects that ERI Group has worked on?  

NB: In our industry, achieving a quality certification is a pretty big deal. A couple of weeks ago, we actually got two clients through the major international quality certificate in the same week without a single finding. Just to put that in context, if you have a major finding, typically you’ve got to remediate before you can get your certificate. You can have up to 15 minor findings and still get a certificate. Typically, prior to being at ERI, if I got less than six, I felt like I’d overprepared. It’s like coming through a driving test with an absolutely clean sheet of paper, and we had two clients come through with a clean sheet of paper in the same week, which I think really speaks to the quality of the work and the quality of the approach.  

There’s another one I’m particularly proud of where one of our major clients got their FDA approval for their clinical trials earlier than expected, which — as I’m sure you can imagine — doesn’t often happen. I mean, the government actually getting something across the finish line quicker than normal?  

They phoned us up and said, “You know the parts that are due in four weeks? Any chance we can have them in 48 hours?” Supply chains are very difficult right now. These were high-precision, hardened, very complex mechanical systems that we also have to keep completely in control in terms of documentation and traceability, because they’re being used in people.  

The team really pulled together. It took every discipline in the company to make it work, but we ended up hand-delivering the product to the client in good time to hit that 48-hour deadline. I’d really seen the team take the attitude of: “Well, yes, of course, we’re going to try to make this happen for you.”  

The other one I’m really proud of, given the state of supply chains right now, is the fact that we’re running on a 99 percent on-time, on-quality delivery across all of our product lines. The ability to hold that as a manufacturing metric is a little bit crazy, actually. 

CB: What’s your forecast for growth and the future of ERI Group? 

NB: We’re aiming for solidly double-digit growth sustainably over the next five years. It’s not about taking business in our sweet spot — although, that’s always been really critical to make sure we have the skill set to deliver — but it’s about making sure that we are seated at the table with the client, right beside them, as the partner.  

I had one client phone me up the other day, a major strategic company, and they basically said, “We have an issue. We’d love a second set of eyes on this issue to make sure we thought about it the right way and haven’t missed something, and you guys are the first people we phoned.” And that is exactly my goal for every single team at ERI for every single client. We should be the people they phone any time they have a question, a thought, a concern, or a piece of good news. We want to partner in a way that makes us an integral part of the team.  

The other thing I would mention in terms of where we are going for the next couple of years is really an internal focus on culture and rewarding the team for the excellent work that they’re doing, really empowering and enabling the people within the company and making it, honestly, just a really fun, really mutually supportive place to work. That’s something we’ve worked incredibly hard on in the last year.  

I want to hire amazingly talented people and give them incredibly important, incredibly complicated work to do. If I can’t empower them to make good decisions and encourage them to support and lean on each other and ask for the help of the hive mind internally when they need it, we’re not going to do as good a job and it’s not going to be as nearly as fun.  

Good Company: Mike Shand, CEO of Bron Tapes

Mike Shand joined Bron Tapes as a sales representative in San Diego in 2003. The company manufactures, customizes and distributes adhesive tape of all kinds to industries ranging from aerospace to construction to film. Its Killer Red Tape is trademarked as “the world’s best double-sided tape.”

The 150-employee business now has locations in seven states beyond its Colorado headquarters, as well as Bron Aerotech and Bron Converting in Denver. Shand, who took the reins as CEO from Bron founder James Flynn in 2017, recently talked with ColoradoBiz about his career with the 45-year-old company and his plans for the future.

Mike Shand, 53

CEO of Bron Tapes 


Mike Shand 2

Hometown: Born in Phoenix, grew up in Torrance, California.

What he’s reading: “Sell or Be Sold,” by Grant Cardone

ColoradoBiz: How did you come to start at Bron Tapes? 

Mike Shand: It was kind of a friend of a friend. At that time, I was living in the western suburbs of Chicago, and I was selling land and homes, but I did not like the cold and I missed my family. I was single at the time. This job opened up, and I was going to go start for Bron in the Las Vegas branch.  

When I came back from Chicago to start my job in Las Vegas, they told me they didn’t have a spot for me, but to call our founder—his name is Jim Flynn—and Jim had a spot for me in San Diego. 


Tell me about your career path. How did you advance from sales to becoming CEO? 

I’m still a sales guy. That’s what I am. I’m still learning as I go, but I’m mostly geared toward sales. 

The answer is: I was a rookie salesperson and did really well early on, and then our founder, my boss [Flynn], asked me to take over the San Diego industrial location, so I did that for a period of time, maybe, 10 years. During that time, I was asked to participate in our aerospace business [Bron Aerotech], so I started to wear a dual hat: I was selling and managing our industrial sales team at the San Diego location, but I was also participating in our aerospace division in a sales role. 

Then, unsolicited by me, our founder, who at that time was trying to plan his succession, had looked outside the company for a potential successor, and that was not successful. Then he came to the realization that hiring somebody internally was the best path. So he showed up impromptu in San Diego one summer day along with his brother, and came in my office and asked me to take over for him. I was pretty speechless. I was not expecting it. That was about eight years ago. 

For about a year, I had a high level of frequency flying back and forth from San Diego to Denver each week in preparation for moving here. Then when I moved here, they named me president of the aerospace division in preparation for this position. I ran that for a couple years and then I took over this role five years ago. 


How has the company grown and changed in your tenure as CEO? 

Our model used to be: For every brick-and-mortar location that we had, we had converting capabilities, meaning we have a slitting machine—or two or three—in that location. What we started looking at as we were trying to build our brand is being consistent with how the material looks, how it’s packaged, and how it’s presented to the customer. It gets a little tricky when you try to duplicate that at 10 different locations. 

For us to get a really robust safety program and for us to get more efficient, we started to centralize our production. Currently, we have converting locations here in Colorado and two locations elsewhere. It’s really helped the bottom line, and it’s allowed us to become more consistent.  

We were looking at three big pieces of equipment [at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic] that were millions of dollars, and then when the lockdowns happened, we had to make the decision of whether we were going to go forward with that investment or hit the pause button. And thank god we hit the go button and did it. Those machines are now online and bringing us a lot of value—it increased our capability and increased our capacity. As of [June 2022], we had a record-setting month—our best-ever sales and profits from all three companies, not just one. 


What are the top initiatives and priorities at Bron in 2022? 

Our power statement, if you will, is that we are the premier producer, distributor and converter of pressure-sensitive tapes, specialty materials, and innovative solutions in North America. That’s really what we are. 

Currently, we sell into all 50 states and 48 foreign countries, but our brand is growing. Our quote-unquote law of familiarity with the customer with the Bron brand continues to grow across the globe. We’re looking at partnering with companies that supply innovative products to industry, whether it be manufacturing, fabrication, metalworking, trying to acquire new innovations . . . so that we’re ahead of our customers. What I mean by that is we’re able to provide a wider range of solutions for our customers’ customers than our competitors can. 

We are going to be coming online with a full e-commerce site for We’re targeting the end of this year, but no later than Q1 of next year. That’s a big shift for us, to be able to sell online. We’re way behind the eight ball on that; we should have done it 20 years ago.  

There is one new geography that we want to expand into, and that is in the Northeast. We are looking at, probably in the next 12 to 18 months, establishing a location in the Northeast. 


What’s your leadership philosophy? Do you have any advice for newly minted CEOs? 

I don’t like to be a micromanager. I know when I’m seeing what I like and what I don’t, but you have to allow the people the ability to share ideas and to use their own creativity when it is being designed to try and help the business.  

Not every idea is a home-run idea—certainly not every idea of mine is a home-run idea—but I feel like when you micromanage people, that you can get results, but they’re short-term and short-lived. If you allow the opportunity for an employee to spread their wings, to kind of make their own mark on the company, that has a greater impact—not only for the employee but for the business. 


Was there a mentor or someone you learned from along the way? 

Our founder, Jim Flynn, who just passed away in recent weeks. It was a blow to us. Jim used to do it all by himself. The truth is that I’ve got an incredible team, but it takes 10 of us to do what Jim did by himself. 

We were very grateful and honored and—in retrospect—appreciative that we had the national sales meeting to honor Jim while he was still alive at our 45th annual national sales meeting that we did in person in downtown Denver in May of this year. 

A lot of people flew in from around the country and around the world to pay tribute to Jim. In retrospect, it was great he was able to receive that while he was still here. 


Why do you like living in Colorado? What do you do when you’re not at work? 

I have two young kids, so they eat up a lot of time. I’ve gotten my son into golf, so that is a nice little reprieve to go out with him on the golf course. I like to go on a getaway trip with the kids on a family vacation, somewhere generally that has a beach or a pool for us. Just spending family time would be high on the list. 

I have one vice: I love the sport of horse racing, so I follow that sport very closely. I love horses and own a couple that race. 

When I moved here from Southern California, people used to ask me, “What do you like better? Do you like San Diego better?” Some people would say, “Why would you ever move from San Diego?” But it’s apples and it’s oranges. It really is. One thing I would say about Colorado is that the people here are really genuine. I like doing business in the state of Colorado: People are people. 


Any other comments, Mike? 

I’m excited for the future. If you buy what the news says—and I follow the news from the left all the way to the right to try to get a good understanding of what’s going on in the business world—if you buy into people saying we’re going into a recession or there’s already a recession, or there’s going to be growing inflation or stagflation, the truth is that, through our 45-year history, in the toughest of times, Bron has really persevered the best. We really have. We’ve had a reduction sometimes in total revenue, but our profitability and us coming out of it on the other side, we’ve always been bigger and better.  

The reason for that is: We don’t just have great products and solutions to offer our customers, it’s because of our people. We have great customer service. Our outside salespeople—we call them our application specialists—they are really experts in the area of finding the right solution for every customer. 

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Meet Studio Shed’s Jeremy Nova

Jn Headshot

Jeremy Nova, 42

Co-founder, Studio Shed

Hometown: Denver

What he’s reading: The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age, by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg.

Studio Shed is a great example of a Colorado business started not on purpose, but as an outcome of necessity. One persons problem and inability to find a solution on the market turned personally created solution.

Jeremy Nova, a professional bike racer and Olympic athlete, needed a way to store his many mountain bikes. His answer to the question of how, is what we now know as the thriving Studio Shed.

I had the opportunity to speak with Jeremy on the origins of his business, his experience learning to navigate the entrepreneurial world, and how his background as a professional athlete prepared him to be a business owner. Here is what he had to say.

ColoradoBiz: What problem were you solving when you created Studio Shed?

Jeremy Nova: Well, the birth of Studio Shed did actually grow out of my mountain bike racing career, which feels like a lifetime ago now. My wife and I were both professional athletes for about 15 years, and we had a problem of too many mountain bikes and not enough space. There really wasn’t any [solution] on the market. It was at that point I said, Im just going to do this myself.”

CB: Did you set out to start a business?

JN: [Well, no but,] I always had been a fan of modern architecture and just an enthusiastic DIY-er. I had an engineering degree from CU and really just decided to build my own nice-looking shed for our bikes. That was really the beginning. I didn’t really ever envision starting a company based on that concept. But, my now-business partner, Mike Koenig, was the one who really said, Hey, we should sell these and make a business here.” So that was the start.

We started in 2008, so I think this is our 13th year now … a 13-year overnight success. It was a side business initially. I was still mountain bike racing full-time for several years as we got the business off the ground, and Mike was involved in another business. It grew to more of a hobby pretty quickly, but we weren’t necessarily trying to make something really big right off the bat.

CB: How has Studio Shed grown since the beginning?

JN: [Initially,] we would get the occasional order and fulfill it, but it started to grow pretty quickly in 2011-2012. We opened our own production facility, and that facility grew over the years. In 2016-2017, we started to get quite a bit more scale behind it. Theres still not tremendous scale when you’re talking about large businesses, but it’s enough that there are some meaningful improvements that we can make now that were not possible previously.

We self-funded the whole thing initially, so we each made some capital contributions. As of 2016, we do have a majority investor. We have access now to some more initiatives and capital that we didn’t previously. I think they really helped get our ducks in a row, particularly on a manufacturing level. Now its more like 10 to 15 projects out the door a week. So, 600 to 700 a year.

CB: What did you have to learn about building a shed that could be SOLD vs. building one for yourself?

JN: I think you learn some things the hard way, and there was definitely an evolution in the company [in terms of] figuring out how to prefab something in a way that we could flat-pack it, versus what I did.

I just bought lumber and stick frames and built something in my backyard without any consideration for shipping constraints or panelization or those types of things. So in terms of building a business, there was a learning process around that transition.

I think there were some things I did back then that were form over function. On my own initial pre-company project, the glass ended up leaking over time because I didn’t build the windows right. And the door wasn’t a proper residential door. So now its been sort of a marriage of that design aesthetic, but actually with proper residential-quality materials.

CB: Is there anything else you had to learn the hard way?

JN: There is no shortage of examples of things we learned the hard way. I think one of the most difficult things, and it still remains a big challenge for the company, is the installation network.

To try to serve and grow a national footprint of high-quality contractors, the kind of people that we would want in our own homes, and the learning that is associated with everything about that … from the shipping of the product to having someone receive it, and the efficiencies that you need to get some kind of scale with those types of endeavors … theres really no shortage of things.

CB: Do people really order $100,000 sheds ONLINE?

JN: Yes, obviously its a high-consideration purchase. Theres a lot of questions people typically have, like, how does this come delivered? And [those questions are] answered on the website, but it’s the kind of purchase you would expect to talk to someone and have a consultative sales process. It shows the confidence people have in online purchasing in general right now that people are willing to do things like that.

CB: Can you talk about your online presence?

JN: The website, we see as our primary merchandising avenue. We have a showroom in Louisville but not that many people come to actually see it, so the website is our primary showroom. I always have a list of things that I want to get done for it [but] its never good enough.

We have a 3D builder, so you can go on and build and design your own [product]. And we actually are investigating some 3D photo-realistic interior walkthroughs, because that technology has gotten so sophisticated now.

We certainly think that in the building industry in general, it’s a little antiquated in terms of the use of digital, so we really want to be the industry leader in that online category.

CB: How did being a professional bike racer prepare you for being an entrepreneur?

JN: It’s not so much the rush I would say, but there is a lot of crossover. I think that being an athlete, especially at a high level, is a very entrepreneurial endeavor. In an individual sport like mountain biking, you’re kind of out there selling yourself, building your own personal brand and making relationships.

A lot of those things that drive creation in athletics, so to speak, translate pretty naturally to the business world. Theres a real natural transition to [being] a business entrepreneur from that background.

CB: How has Colorado been as a home for Studio Shed?

JN: I think Colorado is great. I mean, I grew up in Colorado, I’m a native Coloradan. I love it. I have a deep affinity for it. And it is also a great place to do business.

I think theres a good “work hard, play hard” culture in Colorado that gives a lot of longevity to peoples careers and motivation. It’s a community and it’s probably more balanced than some other areas of the country. You’re also seeing more and more real talent that is available here, so theres never a shortage of finding the right person.

For us in particular, as a company shipping really large products, it also has generally very good shipping lanes to both the West and East coasts. There are some pretty good advantages here for shipping a large product, and just the culture, in general, is a good fit. We think Colorado has a great brand for ‘made in Colorado.’

To hear the Studio Shed podcast in its entirety, visit

Dave Tabor is the host of PROCO360 podcast, featuring world-class entrepreneurs who choose Colorado™, available via podcast app or at

Good Company: Thomas Sandgaard, founder of Zynex

Good Company

Thomas Sandgaard, 62

Founder, Zynex (ticker: ZYXI)

Hometown: Ringer, Denmark

What he’s reading: After years of schooling – a degree in electronics engineering from Denmark’s Odense University of Engineering and an MBA from Copenhagen Business School – Danish expat Thomas Sandgaard admits that he doesn’t read much anymore. “I’m turning more toward living my life,” he says.

Sandgaard built a billion-dollar company that engineers, manufactures and sells its own suite of medical devices and offers electrotherapy solutions for pain management, helping people avoid and get off addictive pain-killing drugs.

Since its inception in 1996, Englewood-based Zynex hasn’t merely survived a recession and pandemic, it’s thrived. Zynex’s financial figures are impressive, but the publicly traded company’s real intrigue is its chairman, president and CEO.

Between board meetings, Sandgaard found time to purchase an international sports team, and he recently recorded a rock album with one of John Mellencamp’s drummers. Yet he’s remained largely anonymous here in Colorado, until now.

ColoradoBiz: Denmark consistently tops the World Happiness Report in all six areas of life satisfaction. Did it feel like you’d sacrificed something when you relocated to Colorado in the 1990s?

Thomas Sandgaard: No, not really. My personality doesn’t fit so well into Danish culture. I have high expectations for myself; I felt I had a lot of potential. I thought I could move here, learn about the U.S. health-care system, and create a great company. In 1996, when I was 38 years old, I saw an opportunity. A good friend based in Boulder offered to let me stay in a room in his house until I got my temporary tax ID number, which took eight months, during which I figured out how to start a business importing medical devices from Europe. Most medical device companies start with tens – maybe hundreds – of millions of dollars. I moved to Colorado with a $2,000 credit limit.

CB: Your company grew exponentially over two decades. Catch us up.

TS: Zynex is now publicly traded. Its peak market cap hit $1 billion in 2020, and we’re still growing very fast. We have a catalog with more than 3,000 products, plus 850 employees, selling mostly in the U.S.

CB: You were developing and selling pain management devices before the opioid epidemic reached its fever pitch in the 2010s. Did it help being first-to-market?

TS: Actually, pain management is an industry that’s been around for 40 to 50 years. In the last decade some very large competitors dropped out of the industry, and therefore we’re really the only company left with a national footprint. That’s part of why we’re growing so fast. It’s not that we were first, but we figured out how to navigate this space better than anyone else. I have, however, invented products nobody else has figured out, through a different division of the company. I just got my third patent on a product that detects internal bleeding in the recovery room, and I filed a fourth patent for a non-invasive device for early detection of sepsis.

CB: 2020 was one heck of a year. How has your company navigated the pandemic, and what advice can you share with fellow entrepreneurs?

TS: We grew 100% his year. In April and May, when the pandemic really hit, doctors ’offices closed, and our orders dropped. As other companies furloughed their workers, we decided to double our hiring cadence so that we’d be ready to go when things calmed down. We did the opposite of what others were doing, and it played out well in our favor, allowing us to grow very fast while improving the quality of our staff. Don’t always follow the crowd. Take a step back. Instead of just responding to a crisis, find opportunity in very hard times.

CB: Speaking of opportunities, we heard you really expanded your portfolio last year. Any friendly rivalry between you and Stan Kroenke since you purchased your English football club?

TS: Not officially. After more than 20 years of struggling financially, personally, getting uplifted to NASDAQ gave me the ability to diversify. I still own around 50% of my company, but I was able to sell some stock, and in September I purchased the iconic Charlton Athletic Football Club in London, a 115-year-old English professional club. I love the sport. I grew up playing it. Since I took it over, we’ve won most of our games and are now in a playoff position.

CB: You mentioned decades of financial strife. What does it take to start with nothing and make it to the top?

TS: In real life, it’s pretty tough. There are really only a handful of entrepreneurs who started with nothing. Being real about what needs to get done is more important that what you learned at business school. When the bank calls to tell you that you’re out of money, you work through it anyway, applying the philosophy that there is always a way, no matter how bad it looks. Sometimes you have to suffer yourself so you can make payroll.

CB: Have you been able to find time for pleasure along the way, or is having a hobby an impossible goal for a CEO?

TS: I like to be outside and enjoy nature, but not in the way many Coloradans do. What I absolutely love is to rock and roll. That started when I was 13, when I wanted to be cool in high school. I bought an electric guitar, joined a band, and eventually ended up playing on some big stages in Europe. But then my girlfriend gets pregnant, and I end up getting what my parents called “a real job,” and there was no music for 35 years.

CB: Please say that’s not the end of that story.

TS: When I got divorced, I decided I wanted to play again. I wanted to record music this time. One thing leads to another, and I’m in touch with two talented producers in Los Angeles and a drummer I knew who’d played for Mellencamp and Mick Jagger. Soon we had nine songs recorded. I’ll have my first album ready in 2021. I expect to call it Guardian Angel, and another little twist is that I’m planning on having all the proceeds from this album go to my foundation, the Sandgaard Foundation, which focuses specifically on the opioid epidemic by supporting nationwide efforts to decrease the habitual use of prescription pain medication.

Alex Cranberg marks 20 years as champion for school choice

Alex Cranberg | Founder and Chairman, Aspect Energy LLC | Co-founder of ACE Scholarships

Age: 65
Raised in: Los Alamos, New Mexico; Charlottesville, Virginia; Austin, Texas
What he’s reading: “The Virtue of Nationalism,” by Yoram Hazony; “Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism,” by Dennis Prager

Alex Cranberg attended high school in Austin, Texas, then earned his degree in petroleum engineering from the University Texas-Austin and an MBA from Stanford. The son of the late nuclear physicist, professor and inventor Lawrence Cranberg, Alex founded Denver-based Aspect Energy LLC in 1993. The exploration and energy investment company has participated in oil and gas projects in more than 15 countries.

Alongside his entrepreneurial interests, Cranberg is co-founder of ACE Scholarships, now in its 20th year and operating in eight states. In 2019, the organization awarded more than 2,500 scholarships to K-12 Colorado students from low-income families to attend schools of their choice and has granted more than 25,000 scholarships worth more than $53 million to Colorado students since its inception. Colorado’s ACE scholars posted high school graduation rates of 97.9% and 99% in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and on average 73% go on to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher. Typically, the recipient’s family pays one-third of the cost so that everyone has a vested interest, and the scholarships are based on need, not merit.

ColoradoBiz: What experience – besides being a parent yourself – motivated you, with others, to create ACE?

Alex Cranberg: I’ve always felt that education is the most fundamental, powerful process by which people become better people, nations become better nations. I know as an entrepreneur, solutions come with having to figure out how you do something better so you can be successful in your enterprise and serve people.

CB: How did your early support of school vouchers help lead to the formation of ACE?

AC: In 1998, I believe it was, there was a voucher initiative in Colorado, and I got very interested and involved in that. It failed. But I thought, well, it would be kind of hypocritical if the only thing I’m willing to do is argue for other people, like the taxpayers, to spend money if we’re not spending money ourselves. So I thought, we’ll do what we can as private people to make a difference. There were several other ACE founders.

We don’t say or think private schools are always better or public are always better. It’s just that parents need a lot of choices because there are a lot of different kids. Anybody who has more than one kid knows every kid is different.

CB: One striking quality about ACE is that the scholarships are based on need, not merit. Explain the reasoning behind that.

AC: e have agreements here in Denver with, I think, 150 schools. We don’t try to say which one’s the best, because there is no such thing as ‘best.’ We let the parents decide which schools they want to send their kids to, and we let the principals of the schools decide which kids who apply are the best fit for their school. They’re not necessarily the ‘good kids.’ Most of these are kids who are not doing well in school; otherwise their parents wouldn’t be desperate to try to find an alternative. No poor parent is saying, ‘Oh my gosh, my kid’s doing great in school, but I want to pull them out and spend money to do that.’ Nobody with a lot of other stresses and problems in their life is trying to fix what’s not broken.

CB: Some people may be surprised to learn you’re a product of public schools. 

AC: I’m a product of good schools and some mediocre schools. I will say this: I’ve become more and more appreciative of the fact that faith-based schools are more focused on values in a way public schools used to be. Public schools – they’re great for a lot of kids. But I think they’re also suffering a certain identity crisis, which occurs in any kind of enterprise that doesn’t have much competition.

CBThere’s a lot of opposition to school vouchers. Do you have discussions on that with the public-school sector?

AC: Lots of times. It’s not about being anti-public schools. If anything, it’s pro-public schools, because we feel public schools that operate in environments where there are choices get better themselves. And why wouldn’t that be true? It’s true in every other facet of our life. There’s nothing that’s magically different about education, except that it’s so important that it’s even more critical that we bring all the tools in the toolbox to bear.

CB: What initially attracted you to the oil and gas business?

AC: My family moved from Charlottesville (Virginia) to Texas when I was 15 or 16. When you’re a certain impressionable age and you get to a new state, you think, ‘How do I fit in here?’ In Texas, that’s oil and cattle. I got cowboy boots, I got a hat, and I got interested in the oil business (laughs). As a kid, I was involved in debate, drama and music. Music was my No. 1 love. I played the cello. I thought I was going to become a professional cellist. Ironically, Texas had a lot more really good young cellists than Virginia did. I was the No. 1 cellist of my age group in Virginia. In Texas, I was like, way down. I didn’t want to be a journeyman musician all my life. When I got to the University of Texas, I took a course, just out of curiosity, in petroleum engineering – introduction to the oil industry – and I just loved it. Loved its practicality, loved the students who were there. Something I could really sink my teeth into. My dad was a nuclear physicist who I thought was way more brilliant than I could ever hope to be, so I didn’t want to be a journeyman physicist either. But I was interested in business, and engineering is a combination of science and business. And petroleum is Texas, so those three things come together — why I’m a petroleum engineer.

CB: Your father’s outspokenness as a professor at the University of Virginia (he was also chairman of the Central Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union) ultimately put him at odds with academia despite his distinguished status. How did that shape your views? 

AC: My dad, he learned the hard way that your freedom and your rights to speak are driven by your ability to make your own living in life, particularly as an entrepreneur. He became an inventor/entrepreneur, and he didn’t make a lot of money, but he kept the family fed, because he couldn’t be a professor anymore. He was too outspoken at the University of Virginia. What I learned, what our whole family learned, is that your ability to get access to the marketplace is the ultimate guarantor of free speech. I think it’s pertinent to K-12 as well as higher education. If all K-12 is one big government bureaucracy, then your ability to teach freely, to learn freely, is compromised by what’s politically acceptable. And these days, what’s politically acceptable is not necessarily aligned with a lot of families’ values, but you may not have any choice but to accept that. That’s another version of the lesson my dad learned.

CB: One of the books you’re reading is “Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism.” What spurred your interest in that book?

AC: My dad was Jewish, my mom was Christian, so I thought I knew something about Judaism, but it turned out I didn’t really. I’m deeply respectful of both Jewish and Christian religions, but I’m learning so much about Judaism and realizing, reading this book, that I’m probably more of a Jew than a Christian. What’s interesting in the book is, it says Jews’ No. 1 concern is about acts, and Christians’ primary focus is on faith. I have an easier time being a person who acts than a person of faith. You should try to do both, obviously. As you can tell, I’m somebody who believes in acting. Part of being an entrepreneur is, you grab onto the end of a string, whatever you’re working on … I guess that’s where faith comes in; you have faith it’s going to unravel something good.

CB: What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?

AC: The sense of possibility. That you’re forced to learn and respond. It’s always about learning the possible, what you can do.

CB: Do you still play the cello, and do you see parallels between music and business?

AC: I still play a little bit — particularly when I need to commune with myself. I really loved playing in orchestras and ensembles. As in team sports or ‘team music,’ learning to work with other people is pretty critical to being a good businessperson. I’m not a great manager, but I like working with smart people who play together well with me.