Somehow, Mike Juran knew he would start his own company one day.
“I always had that deep in the back of my mind, even if I didn’t admit it,” Juran said. “I didn’t know how or when.”
“When” turned out to be 1991. Juran, then an engineer at Hewlett-Packard, was working on test and measurement instrumentation at the company’s Colorado Springs location. Realizing the market potential of electronics, Juran and colleague Tom Walton decided to spin off their own company, which became Altia.
Today, Altia provides development tools used to create the graphical user interface displays and touchscreens found in a range of products from automobiles to appliances, medical devices to exercise equipment.
This week, the company — which has employees in Detroit, Germany, Japan and South Korea — celebrated the official grand opening of its new world headquarters at the Plaza of the Rockies on South Tejon Street. Altia moved into the space last year from Woodmen Road and Interstate 25.
As the company’s CEO, Juran has settled into Colorado Springs for the long haul. He began serving as vice chair of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC board of directors in January.
“I’m not leaving it to chance,” Juran said. “We’re going to create the city that we want this company to grow in.”
A Pittsburgh native, Juran has a bachelor’s degree in electrical and biomedical engineering and a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering, both from Carnegie Mellon University. He talked with the Business Journal this week to discuss the move to downtown Colorado Springs, growing the future workforce locally and the company’s plans to turn Altia into a household name.
Tell us about Altia.
Initially the focus was just on creating an environment where manufacturers could prototype the user interfaces to try them out, but we didn’t have a code generator that would turn that prototype into something that you could actually download into devices. Then quite honestly, after the iPhone came out and people started putting more and more touchscreen displays in more and more devices, that’s when we created this code generator that enabled us to actually get into cars.
So as a business model … we charge people for the development environment … we charge them for services and support, so when we help them do the job, we’ll charge you for that. But the real engine of money here is royalties. Every time somebody uses our software and generates a code and puts it into a device, we get paid per unit. Just as one example, every 53 seconds, a new Ford F-150 comes off the production line and Altia gets a royalty for that. … That’s really where the engine of our financial growth is coming from.
What led to the decision to keep Altia’s headquarters in Colorado Springs?
Over the years, we always thought, ‘OK, is Colorado Springs really where we want to land and stay? Was there an ecosystem around here that we could grow with?’ And to be sure, it was up and down for many years, but in the last six or seven years, the city really matured to a point where it became a good place for tech companies to grow. And then of course, recently Colorado became a destination for young Millennials, Gen Z. … A lot of people went to Denver and then just in the past couple of years, people started seriously looking at Colorado Springs because the lifestyle they really wanted got absorbed in Denver in a way that wasn’t quite what they were looking for. … So we’re able to attract talented people.
How will Colorado Springs help Altia grow, and vice versa?
There are three legs to the stool. For us as a company, you’ve got to build solid technology that people want to use. Then you need access to a workforce that you can grow from when you need to grow. Then you need to create a place for that workforce to want to stay and do their best work. … Part of building out this space here and creating everything from the look and feel to the comfort to the amenities is about that. Pretty quickly you expand outside your four walls and into the city that you’re in.
The city has the same need for technology and innovation, workforce and then a place that people are comfortable and productive and inspired. Colorado Springs used to just rely on that mountain over there as the inspiration. We’re proactively moving beyond that and saying, ‘No, the inspiration comes from people getting together as a community in a neighborhood … where there are restaurants and outdoor cafés, parks and bike lanes’ — all of those things are really critical to the health and well-being of our employee base. Then you add to it things like the [U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum], the new stadiums, the [Air Force Academy] visitor center, the top of Pikes Peak — all of those add to it. People want to stay here and they’re proud to be here.
What role does the education system play in growing Altia’s workforce?
Universities are critical to our growth and the growth of Colorado Springs, and I think we’ve got a really good baseline here. UCCS has really strong engineering programs in general. Pikes Peak Community College has a computer science program that we have drawn from. … Colorado College has a computer science program that they’ve recently started up. Air Force Academy certainly contributes — we lose them as soon as they graduate, so that’s a tough one, but we get them back eventually.
… As we think about workforce and the resources in this town, there are a whole bunch of students that are untapped — especially in underprivileged areas [like] Southeast Colorado Springs — [Harrison School] District 2. We look at that not only as a social responsibility of our company but also as a pipeline of talent, and so we’ve started an initiative [where] we’ve gone into the middle schools and high schools. We take a couple of engineers. They’ll do a presentation … and help let kids know, ‘This is what an engineer does,’ … and hopefully inform them of the pathways to how they can get there.
… We especially love sending some of our women engineers there because [students] say, ‘Oh, geez, if I’m a girl, I can actually make a career out of this.’ We’re moving towards trying to create an even more diverse environment … so that those kids can see mentors and coaches. We’re not there yet, but we are actively creating programs for that purpose.
What are some of Altia’s short- and long-term goals?
As a company in the market, we really are focused on becoming the de facto standard for automotive. Today we estimate we’ve got about 30 percent of the market share. … We’ve come a long way in that regard. The big four that you have to capture to make that happen is [General Motors] in North America, Toyota in Japan, Hyundai in South Korea and Volkswagen in Germany. We’ve already captured GM — they committed to Altia as their enterprise-wide solution. We’ve captured Hyundai in South Korea. Toyota just last week chose us … and we’re in the midst of getting Volkswagen to come our way as well. I predict that’s going to happen in the next couple of years.
Once that happens, then you’ve got a lot more flexibility to go after other markets. The rest of the automotive market sort of falls into place. So those consumer appliances, those [Internet of Things] devices — all of those things that we’re going to see roll out over the next five, 10 years, that’s our next focus. … We’ve got a little bit of a sample in every one of the markets … but we’re not the de facto standard. There’s some things we have to do to our company product offering and business model to enable that as well — offering more and more tools in the cloud, providing some subscription-style payment options for smaller customers and companies.
How would you describe your leadership style?
It has matured. Initially I was a micromanager. I was an engineer running a company — enough said right there. Over time, as we grew and I started to not know everything that was going on down to the tiniest detail, I had to learn to trust and build a management and executive team. That was a tough transition for me but if you have the right people … once you get there, the leverage is amazing. … So my management style has changed from micromanager to a collaborative strategic leader and someone with a lot of trust.
… The one thing that we keep talking about, and I think we actually live, is this culture of respect. All of this works if we all treat each other with as much respect as possible.