WINDSOR — Jeff Whitham has gone where few have tread before — starting a company from scratch and nurturing it from infancy to multimillion-dollar adulthood in a matter of a few short years. In recognition of his success in building Encorp from the ground up, Whitham is the recipient of the 2001 Bravo! Entrepreneur Award for emerging entrepreneurs.
The Windsor-based company is recognized as a leading provider of products, services and solutions that address the growing demand for clean, reliable on-site power systems. The company’s power technology products include grid-interconnection switchgear and energy-automation software.
Encorp’s products create dependable, on-site power solutions that can reduce the overall cost of energy for commercial and industrial customers operating in the digital economy, which in itself is creating a new breed of power-thirsty companies. Customers include Chase Manhattan, Qwest, Elektryon and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Fort Collins native
Whitham, with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Arizona State University, returned to his hometown of Fort Collins to work on engine controls at Woodward Governor. Four years later he returned to the classroom, this time at Colorado State University, to work on his master’s in mechanical engineering. While there, he was engaged in research on engines and artificial-intelligence controls.
As graduation loomed, he researched engineering projects being solicited by the U.S. government. It was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and was for a distributed control for small generators for mobile operations.
He was initially approved for funding, but then the project fell through. Rather than resubmit the project under another program, as had been suggested, Whitham looked at ways the concept could be applied to commercial applications. He wrote his business plan and raised $2.5 million in seed money from what he calls his friends-and-family network. “I was fortunate to have the ability to do that.”
Whitham then began recruiting his team, including Larry Adams, with whom he worked at Woodward, and his brother, Chris Whitham, who was at a software firm in Texas. The trio, and others as time and workload progressed, spent four years in research and development.
“He kept you on his toes,´ said Adams, chief engineer at Encorp. “He moved pretty fast.”
Whitham did indeed move fast. In the past three years, his company has received tremendous support from venture-capital firms. “They have tough requirements,” Whitham said. “They look at a lot of business plans and they don’t fund many of them. A lot of my job there (at Encorp) was getting the financing and general management.”
The last round of venture-capital fund raising in February 2001 brought in $38 million. The downside of the huge infusion of capital is that it spelled the end of Whitham’s tenure at the helm of Encorp.
For now, Whitham’s only involvement with the company he founded is as chairman of the board. “It’s been very difficult for me,” Whitham said of being asked to step down as president and chief executive officer. “This is not the path I would have chosen for Encorp, but it’s the path chosen by investors. Time will tell if it’s the right path.”
Rapid revenue growth
Encorp went from $3.4 million in revenues in 1999 to over $10 million in 2000. It had 25 employees in January 2000 and four times that by the end of the year with even more employees added in 2001.
The company also outgrew its offices in the Windsor Tech industrial park. Whitham looked at potential new sites throughout Northern Colorado, and decided Windsor would remain company headquarters. An 80,000-square-foot management and manufacturing facility on Eastman Park Drive was completed this summer.
Though the $300 billion utilities industry continues to evolve through mergers and acquisitions, Whitham said Encorp is only now starting to have competition in its particular niche.