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Epic Failures

A Slice on Andrew Maxey, Co-Founder at Vartega

It all started with a slight car accident… well, sort of. Andrew Maxey, just a kid at the time, was working his day job at a bike shop in northern Michigan when a customer arrived with a broken bike frame. The customer had forgotten the bike was on the frame (big mistake) and drove it into a garage. While that was a tough day for the customer, it ended up being a fortuitous day for Maxey. This was the start of his intrigue of composites, and more specifically carbon fiber. Maxey took the frame apart and started to play around with it, cutting into it and exploring around a bit. He was fascinated by how unique the carbon fibers were, and how different they were from traditional materials like steel and aluminum.

Fast forward a few years, Maxey had received his degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan and moved out west to start his career. Throughout the next few years, he’d work in technical sales, equipment development but more specifically developing high-efficiency building systems i.e. office towers, data centers, hospitals, etc. looking to do high-efficiency air conditioning. Maxey moved to Colorado while still working in equipment development, and was shortly recruited to work for a startup. “I was like, ‘oh, this is cool, I’ve worked really hard for somebody else, I might as well more or less do it as a partial owner.’ That’s what really attracted me to the startup world.”

Maxey held a few more positions before ending up in the oil and gas industry. It was here that he learned carbon fiber was a high-value textile, so he started some market research. He quickly came to realize that the carbon fiber composites industry has a huge waste issue. Maxey learned that around 30% of carbon fiber ends up as scrap and most of that goes to the landfill. “I was certainly surprised and alarmed by that (the 30% statistic) and figured, okay, maybe there’s some technology we can create to address that problem. That’s when we did a proof of concept in my garage.”

As Maxey worked in his garage in late 2013, he pointed out they had several “epic failures” leading to little success until they stumbled onto an idea that worked.

“Like any good research project, you start with a hypothesis. Our hypothesis was wrong with respect to how the technology would work, but that’s really cool because you actually learn from that. We were able to adapt and try new chemistries and new materials before we stumbled across something that worked pretty well. ”

Encouraged by this “glimmer of hope” Maxey and team engaged in even more market research. Ultimately, Vartega would come to serve as a company that leverages technology to unlock carbon supplies and applies it to meaningful materials and applications. It was early on in those days where Maxey was pivoting that he realized the bones of building a business, the mechanics were essential. “The blocking and tackling stuff that if you haven’t done before, isn’t obvious, simple stuff like whether to form an LLC versus a C Corp, and what state to incorporate in and how to put it together, how to work with an attorney… things that are somewhat mundane to the business can either save a lot of time or create a lot of headaches as the business grows, and as you bring on more people.”

Speaking of people, Maxey isn’t the only co-founder of Vartega, there are four others all of which were previous friends of Maxey’s and had worked with him in one company or another, so he knew they had strengths that would be complementary to his. They all worked together and each one made significant contributions to the business. Though only one of the original co-founders is active today, the others are passive in the business. Maxey shared that it’s all a part of the job, “As you’re building a team, recognizing that you’ll have to adapt and things will change. Whether it’s anyone in any role in the company, you have to be prepared to adapt to the changing circumstances and pivot. For me, that may mean that I’m not the CEO of Vartega forever, either. Be willing to acknowledge the deficiencies and the opportunities for growth because somebody else could come in and take it to the next level.”     

Maxey envisions Vartega increasing capacity 10x in the next year, as he plans to expand just about everything, (including production) as demand within the carbon fiber automotive industry grows rapidly. He shared he wants to continue to grow within Colorado, but ultimately his dream is to take the company and their modular technology platform global.

Founder Bio

Andrew Maxey is an experienced engineer and first-time entrepreneur of Vartega in Denver, Colorado. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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