CASPER, Wyo. — The term “flow state” will be familiar to many sports fans. When a quarterback seems to connect on every pass or a basketball player gets hot and can’t seem to miss, that high performing rhythm is often described as “being in the flow.”
A new start-up business called “Flowstate” is working to put Casper into the rhythm of the global pipeline industry, offering high-tech solutions to companies and attracting highly skilled talent to work from new downtown office space at “The Nolan.”
Article continues below...
Stack recently left his position as director of the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Technology Business Center in Casper to focus on Flowstate.
While at the WTBC, he worked closely with entrepreneurs looking to grow their new business ideas through the “Casper Start-Up Challenge,” which saw nearly 50 applicants this year.
“In pockets of the state, and Casper being probably the biggest pocket, there is just a burst of entrepreneurship right now, which is really fun to see,” Stack said on Monday, Nov. 25. “I got to be around it everyday and realized I missed it and called Angie and said, ‘Do you miss it too?'”
Stack convinced Schrader to come on board and help with developing the new business.
“The new company we’re starting is called Flowstate,” Stack said. “It’s the first thing since my last company, ‘Firehole,’ that got me really excited. It’s something that I think could be really successful.”
“It’s a technology company that really fits Casper.”
Flowstate aims to solve a “really big industrial problem” pipeline companies are facing.
“What we’re building is machine learning software to solve this problem of pipeline leak detection,” Stack said. “What you probably have in your head is oil pipelines, but gas and water and diesel fuel, all sorts of stuff is flowing around the world in pipelines.”
“One of the big issues there is how do you make sure to maintain and ensure they are safe? Over the last year and a half or so, working with some partners, we’ve kind of fallen into this solution that these pipelines, whatever kind of fluids or gases that are flowing around, they are generating massive amounts of data.”
Pipelines are already fit with various sensors to monitor things like pressure, temperature and flow rates.
“They have these for a whole bunch of different reasons just so you can operate the pipeline, right?” Stack explained. “What we were able to figure out and are still working on is how we can use artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to be able to take all of that massive data, learn what a healthy pipeline flow looks like and also learn if a pipeline is having issues.”
“The goal is to be able to notify someone as soon as you possibly think there might be a problem.”
Flowstate has been working with one customer to ensure there is proof of concept and are looking to bring on another customer in the next couple of months. They’ll then be ready to reach out to companies around the globe to offer their solution sometime in the middle of 2020.
“Eventually we’d like to get to the point where we’d have so much data we could almost predict the problem before it happens, but it’s definitely not there yet,” Stack said.
Earlier detection can help prevent environmental damage and ensure that pipeline companies can get someone in place to address issues as quickly as possible.
“A leak is the easiest form of example,” Stack adds. “Sometimes these pipelines have been underground for a long time or maybe they have a bad well or they are corroded or a rancher backs into them with a backhoe.”
“We’ve been able to train the computers to realize kind of the signature of what that looks like and notify someone who can take corrective action really quickly.”
Stack says the potential customer base is massive. There are “hundred if not thousands” of pipeline operators in North America “and a huge network of them in Europe and the Middle East as well.”
Flowstate has been contracting outside software developers to help create their initial technologies. But they plan to bring that all in-house over time.
Stack and Schrader say that recruiting talent to Casper will be the biggest problem they’ll have to solve.
“I think we acknowledged right off the bat that was going to be one of our biggest challenges,” Schrader said.
Stack says the goal is eventually to have a staff of 20+ people. “We’re going to launch four job openings this week,” he added. “Probably another six or so in the next six months with a staff of probably 12-15 this time next year.”
Thinking about how to attract talented professionals to Casper informed Flowstate’s decision to commit to moving into new office space being constructed at The Nolan in downtown Casper.
The Nolan will eventually offer both commercial space as well as some new downtown housing options.
“The timing is perfect because they estimate they’ll be ready to start welcoming tenants maybe early summer, late summer,” Schrader said of FLAG Development’s schedule for work at The Nolan. “And that’s about the time we’ll be reaching the numbers Jerad is talking about.”
“We’re excited about being an anchor tenant in a co-working space and kind of being that kick-start to that momentum of having working technical professionals be downtown, be a thriving part of that area.”
Stack says that Flowstate will offer six-figure salary jobs to some of their employees. While residential space at The Nolan will come later than the commercial space, such employees may be well positioned to consider living there as well.
“We look forward to bringing in people that will come spend their dollars downtown, buying coffee or lunch or shopping or maybe even living there,” Schrader added.
FLAG Development co-owner Brandon Daigle expressed excitement about securing an anchor tenant for the new development.
“We’re extremely excited and grateful that Jerad’s company is embracing the culture that we’re trying to create,” he said. “That type of company is what we hope to attract to the building.”
“We want to be the entrepreneurial hub of not only Casper but central Wyoming.”
Flowstate will occupy a private suite at The Nolan that will connect with co-working space able to accommodate 40-50 tenants.
Daigle says that there will also be space to host five more businesses in private suites.
“By being around like-minded people, we’re trying to cultivate a sense of entrepreneurial culture that Casper hasn’t had yet,” Daigle adds. “We’ve had conversations with other potential tenants as well.”
“I hope that this type of a company becomes a common thing in Casper.”
Stack and Schrader say that starting a high tech company in Wyoming is much more feasible than it was when Firehole was launched in Laramie back in the 2000s.
Schrader’s own experience serves as an example of the types of people Flowstate hopes to bring to Casper.
“We sold that to a big company called Autodesk in 2013,” Stack says of Firehole. “We made engineering software. Autodesk makes AutoCAD which maybe you’ve heard of, and they make a whole suite of engineering software.”
“I worked with Jerad on Firehole through the acquisition,” Schrader chimed in. “We both were at Autodesk for a short time together and I stayed at Autodesk and worked there for another six years.”
“I was really happy there. Actually I had a great job, great flexiibility. It was allowing me to work for a Fortune 500 company based out of San Francisco while living and raising my kids in Casper.”
Before moving back to Wyoming, Schrader had been working for Raytheon on Tuscon, Arizona.
“I reached a point where I realized my kids were spending 2-3 hours a days in the car,” Schrader said of her time in Tuscon. “Sure, in the city I had access to the zoo and all this other stuff I could do with them, but I’d spend 2-3 hours a day in the car.”
“And then once it got time to be looking at schools and stuff like that, I realized what a gem Casper was as far as a place to replant my roots.”
While still with Autodesk, Schrader says many of her colleagues were working remotely from all around the country.
The fact that technology is now available anywhere in the country and that some high-tech professionals are looking to get out of crowded metropolitan areas make Stack and Schrader optimistic they’ll be able to attract the talent they need to Casper.
“There’s a lot of young people who either are from Wyoming, left here, or who love the outdoors…and they live in Denver or Phoenix,” Stack said. “That’s pretty fun when you’re 23.”
“When you’re 30 and have a kindergartener, that quits being fun, that one hour commute. I don’t know if you’ve been to Denver lately. I love going for a Broncos game but I love coming home considering that place is getting more and more full by the day.”
His experience with the Casper Start-Up Challenge showed Stack that there is a hunger among some young people to live in Wyoming.
“If you look at the almost 50 applicants for the Start-Up Challenge this year, a lot of them are 20-somethings, 30-somethings,” Stack said. “They want to live here for a reason. It is not a job. It’s the outdoors or the quality of life or great schools or six minute commutes.”
Flowstate aren’t the only people thinking about how to bring new technology companies to more rural areas.
“[AOL Founder] Steve Case just started a venture fund explicitly looking for start-ups not on the coast,” Stack said. “His belief, and I think we’re kind of a symbol of that, is that there a massive amount of industrial and societal problems that exist in middle America that are being ignored.”
“[Developing software for pipelines] is one of the kind of problems that if you dropped into the software companies in Silicon Valley, they’re not that interested in solving. It’s more of a middle America problem and we’re going to try to give it a middle America solution.”
Stack says that customers don’t care where a company is based so long as it provides the solutions they need.
“When we started Firehole in the 2000s, we always had that like, ‘You guys are doing this in Wyoming?’ question,” he said. “And I think if we call our Silicon Valley friends and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this in Casper,’ they’re like, ‘Are you sure?'”
“But if we talk to the customer, they’re not going to blink an eye. Because technology exists everywhere and that wasn’t true 15 years ago. That’s not a stigma anymore.”
That experience with Firehole is benefiting the work being done at Flowstate.
“Engineering software has a lot of similarities with the stuff we’re doing now,” Stack said. “There’s a mathematical, scientific basis behind it. It is not just like a social media thing. There’s a lot of math that brains like Angie understand.”
“The customers are similar too. You’re not selling to consumers really, you’re selling to industrial customers. Like with Firehole, Boeing was our biggest customer.”
“And similarly, we’re selling to engineers,” Schrader added. “It’s going to be engineers who have to ultimately buy into to whether this is doing the job.”
Stack and Schrader met at the University of Wyoming where Schrader served as vice president of the student government. They both eventually received degrees in mechanical engineering from UW.
Stack has opened other businesses in Laramie.
“I have a whole bunch of like ‘side hustles,’ I guess I’d call them,” he says. “There’s a co-working space in Laramie called ‘The Durlacher.’ That used to be the Autodesk office space.”
“Me and a partner kind of turned that into a co-working space. Now I own a part of Frontier [Brewing Company].”
He’s also involved in more playful ventures such as “Funk Off,” which offers activated charcoal hand scrub products.
“This is the first time since the Firehole days that I dove all the way in again,” Stack says of Flowstate. “That’s a whole different dynamic.”
Schrader is excited to get the ball rolling.
“We look forward not only to being a part of the economic scene in the state as far as being a nationally if not globally visible software company, but also a key part of downtown Casper as far as bringing in working professionals in a high tech field to raise their families here,” she said.
Stack said the timing is working out nicely to begin to get the word out just as the holiday season rolls in.
“Part of this was luck, but launching right before the holidays is going to be a little good for us,” he said. “A bunch of people are home for Thanksgiving or Christmas that don’t actually live here.”
“The ability to go find people now is a lot easier now than it was 15 years ago.”
While experienced staff with multiple years of industry experience will be needed at Flowstate, Schrader adds that there will be plenty of opportunities for people just beginning their careers.
“We’ll also be looking for junior staff,” she said. “We look forward to building relationships with not only the University of Wyoming but also some other regional schools that have programs creating talent in the areas that we’re looking for.”
“Another benefit of launching right now is we’ll be coming into the graduation season next spring, looking for new grads, interns.”
That paid off for Stack and Schrader in the past.
“If we go back to our Firehole experience, we had about 20 or so employees when we got acquired,” Stack added. “And now almost all of them have left Autodesk and the ones that have are starting new companies. So there’s a snowball effect and we can be a part of that too.”