Colorado Springs software developer Altia wants to become a household name like Apple, Google or Microsoft by expanding beyond graphic displays for vehicles to appliances, wearable trackers and medical gear used worldwide.
The fast-growing company moved its offices to downtown Colorado Springs last year from Woodmen Road and Interstate 25 to help it attract engineers and other employees it needs to develop software that is already used in more than 40 million cars, trucks, motorcycles and scooters and will be in 60 million more that will be manufactured during the next five years.
“When you see a smartphone, you know the brand, but with other devices, the brand is not known to the typical customer,” Altia founder and CEO Mike Juran said during a recent interview. “We want to be the fourth major brand so if the device you have is not a phone, you will assume that Altia is inside” generating the graphics.
Juran and Tom Walton, then engineers with Hewlett-Packard’s test and measurement operation in Colorado Springs, founded Altia in 1991 as they saw the market for display software they were developing expand beyond the test and measurement industry. Although Altia doesn’t disclose revenue numbers, Juran said the company’s sales are growing at a 40%-50% annual rate. Its workforce has nearly doubled in the past four years to 90 employees split between its local headquarters and offices in Detroit, Germany, Japan and South Korea. He expects employee numbers to double again in the next two or three years as Altia expands its reach into many everyday devices.
Altia’s software is used to generate displays in dashboards, projected on windshields and for entertainment, climate control and driving safety information in vehicles made by nearly every major manufacturer.
Customers include Ford and General Motors; European giants BMW, Daimler Benz, Fiat Chrysler and Renault; Japanese vehicle makers Honda, Nissan and Toyota; South Korean manufacturer Hyundai; and motorcycle brands Harley-Davidson and Triumph.
“Altia is an anchor in the Colorado Springs tech community and a company whose innovation is recognized internationally. Altia has cracked the code on attracting a highly skilled workforce, enabling the company to grow rapidly,” Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, said in an email. “Mike Juran and his team could have located Altia’s headquarters in any city in the world and we are so pleased they chose Colorado Springs.”
The company has expanded into ovens and laundry appliances made by Whirlpool, a stationary bike, an insulin pump and a remote control for a crane. Juran said Altia also is expanding the vehicle graphics it produces into new areas — screens that show views from the side mirrors, navigation and weather information that headlights project onto the road and eventually information that self-driving vehicles will need to show drivers when they need to take control.
“Our business model is customers pay us to design displays for them or use our software to design the displays themselves and we also charge them for support and service,” Juran said. “Today there are about 27 billion devices that people are interacting with and we expect that to grow to 250 billion by 2025, and 55 billion of those will have some sort of display. That means the 8 billion people on the planet will have an average of seven devices per person. Somebody has to create those graphics and it shouldn’t be Apple or Google because they are too expensive.”
Most of the devices with graphics generated by Altia’s software are small, battery-operated specialized hardware used for a single task — washing or drying clothes, displaying the temperature in a room or showing a piece of information about a car such as speed, Juran said. None of the devices use a standard software operating system such as Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s iOS, so the software works directly with the hardware, he said.
“Our goal is that by 2025 all 8 billion people in the world will interact with an Altia interface every day. They might not own the device, but they will use it and that could include a car, elevator or medical device.”
To design that software, Altia needs an army of employees ranging from engineers and software developers to graphic designers and experts in human-factor and user experience. Juran said that is why the company moved downtown — to give its offices the urban feel and excitement that younger workers demand. The company joins several other tech companies in the downtown area such as software developers Bomb Bomb and Formstack and cybersecurity provider R9B.
“Why are we in Colorado Springs? Certainly it is a beautiful place to live and our lifestyle is envied around the world, but we have to create an ecosystem of talent by meeting their needs,” Juran said. “It was more of a struggle a few years ago to attract people to Colorado Springs, but now being in Colorado Springs is an advantage. People want to come to Colorado from the East and West Coasts and Colorado Springs is the premier destination in Colorado.”
Juran said the soon-to-open U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, a multiuse stadium and arena and many new downtown housing and entertainment options have made the area attractive for younger workers. He said Altia also recruits graduates from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community College and other higher-education institutions along the Front Range to build its workforce.
“Altia is emblematic of the growing tech workforce we’re seeing downtown,” Susan Edmonson, CEO of the Downtown Partnership, said in an email. “They’re exactly the kind of innovative, forward-thinking company that thrives in an urban environment.”
Altia probably will have to raise significant cash — tens of millions of dollars — from venture capital funds or other investors during the next year or two to finance its expansion, Juran said. The company has been financed so far by investments from local technology entrepreneur Bill Miller, former Fluke Networks CEO Chris Odell, real estate investor Ben Horton, local investor Phil Lane and the late Ric Denton, founder of Rocky Mountain Innovation Partners.