At only 5 years old, Acumen Environmental Services is competing alongside companies that have been established for decades, providing asbestos removal, interior demolition, mold and lead remediation, and handling specialty hazardous material projects throughout the state.
“I’m amazed that in a brief period we’re competing with companies that are 25 years old and they look at us as a true competitor and we’re even winning some of the contracts,” said Kerri Valdez, owner of Acumen. “We have set the tone that we are to be taken seriously.”
Valdez opened Acumen in 2012 after having to leave the nonprofit industry due to layoffs. Her husband and two sons already had experience in the construction and environmental sector and quit their jobs with other companies to help start the business.
“I never set out to be an owner of a company,” she said. “I feel my faith really positioned me to acquire all these skill sets that I would eventually need in order to own my own business. Whether it was supervision of employees, [workers compensation], injury investigations, unemployment hearings, payroll — just things I was doing in the nonprofit sector for so many years. It all came together.”
When Valdez first moved Acumen to its current location on North Cascade Avenue, two other asbestos-removal companies in the same area closed their doors.
“It was scary [but] there was now that much more work for us out there. So, if both of these companies are down, I’d better capture … the work they left behind,” she said.
On the company’s website, the definition of “acumen” can be found: “The ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, typically in a particular domain.”
“It comes from a standpoint of accountability and growth,” Valdez said. “Your judgment and everyday decisions in your personal life and professional life will matter and have an impact.”
Though Valdez often runs company operations from behind the scenes, she keeps up to date with several certifications needed for the business and facilitates all of Acumen’s Hazmat jobs.
“I can suit up alongside [Hazmat workers]. More and more as we grow, if there’s an injury or an issue, I can go in their place. I won’t ask someone to do something I’m not willing to do myself. I maintain all of my certifications so I’m prepared,” she said.
Today, Acumen has federal, state, county, city, commercial and residential projects in Colorado and has done work on all federal military bases in Colorado Springs as a primary and subcontractor.
Two weeks ago, Valdez submitted an application for her business to become part of the Small Business Administration’s 8a program that assists small, disadvantaged businesses in competing on a more even playing field in their sector.
Acumen currently holds a woman- and minority-owned designation, and if the company is accepted into the 8a program, federal contracts will be set aside specifically for them.
“That is our goal. That is why we opened the business: to pursue [becoming] a federally contracted business,” Valdez said. “That’s where we will be the most challenged and have the most opportunity for success, to be able to come back and give to the community in a bigger way than we are able to now.”
Valdez says she is confident that even if Acumen is denied entry into the program, the company will be able to continue competing at its current level and find success in other ways. However, acceptance would help Acumen hire more employees, grow its presence and allow segmentation to accomplish what is needed for larger-scale contracts.
Beyond the work they do, Acumen has made giving back to the community a priority since the beginning, according to Valdez. That ranges from sharing leftover food from business functions with the homeless to employing the previously incarcerated. Valdez also sits on the board for Greccio Housing, a nonprofit organization that works to provide those in need with shelter.
“If I’m going to be successful, I want other people to be able to reap those benefits of success,” she said.