Successful businesses often have humble beginnings. Mattel Toys began in a garage. Dell Computer started in a dorm room. Steve Neely’s company, VSI Parylene, had its genesis in his father-in-law's basement.
"It's called precision parylene coating. I came across an opportunity for a niche service with a growing demand initially driven by a phone call. My customer contact told me ‘If you can do this, we’ll give you some business’."
So in 2008, Neely, along with a business partner, began to develop a process to coat probes the size of an eyelash with 2-3 microns of Parylene.
“Parylene is very uniform, conformal coating that creates an incredible barrier and dielectric layer to protect precision devices and components," Neely says.
Colorado and Costa Rica
After graduating from CU Boulder in 2001, he spent seven years at Point Technologies, a Boulder-based manufacturing company that produced micro probes for testing computer chips Midway through his tenure there, the company was acquired and operations were moved to Costa Rica. Neely went with them.
As a Colorado native, born and raised in Estes Park, it eventually made sense to return to Colorado, "Costa Rica is an amazing place and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work there. Colorado is a hard place to stay away from." Neely says.
So the Neelys returned to the Centennial State in January 2008 and moved straight to Edwards, Colorado to be close to ski resorts. Neely had always been interested in starting his own company and found plenty of time in-between snowboarding to talk to people, research opportunities, and play with different business models. In the spring of 2008, Neely visited a customer he had worked with before and came across a growing demand for parylene coating. He was immediately intrigued by the potential of the technology.
"Parylene is unique in how thin it is, from 1 to 30 microns, and it gets into all the nooks and crannies of whatever you’re coating. It’s biocompatible and a very high performance coating" Neely says.
The process works by heating parylene powder to turn it first into a gas and then a vapor. The item to be coated is kept in a vacuum chamber, and when the vapor enters the chamber, it adheres to whatever is inside.
The company has grown from a basement dream to a headquarters in Broomfield with 45 employees and clients all over the world in industries ranging from electronics, to medical devices, to military and aerospace applications.
In landing that first client, Neely was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Parylene coating is not a new technology, but combining parylene with Neely’s experience of working with micro probes created a service that was able to fill a growing demand.
“Hiring the right people makes all the difference in a growing company,” Neely says. “We have been fortunate to find great people.”
Building a successful business from the ground up is no easy task, but Neely has found success. As the company moves into the future, they’re charting a path to build on their strengths, and adapt to new challenges.
"We started out with two of us and grew the company to meet demand; it kind of took on a life of its own. You have to develop a strategy and be able to adapt as the world changes. We're really good at precision parts and are trying to differentiate ourselves with technological advances," Neely says.
“We don’t want to just get bigger. We want to be smarter, too.”