Founder and CEO Caleb Carr is making a market with novel load stabilization technologies for helicopters and cranes.
Carr began his career in search and rescue as a high school student in Portland, Oregon.
“I started in search and rescue when I was in high school in Portland, Oregon,” he says. “I had a friend of mine die under a UH-60 Blackhawk due to the swinging of a rescue basket. Essentially, he was in active cardiac arrest. We ended up calling a helicopter to try and rescue him, they tried to lower the basket down through the canopy of trees, and they couldn’t do it. They ended up calling the mission off and called time of death.”
The event led him to look at stabilization methodologies for helicopters as part of a business plan for a class project when he was an undergrad at CU Boulder. “We thought we were going to have a great resume booster for med school, and we realized there was a lot more than that,” says Carr.
Case in point: The same issues in stabilizing helicopter loads, he discovered, also applied to cranes.
Carr, who also has a law degree and is an active firefighter in Bennett, Colorado, subsequently started Vita Inclinata Technologies in a Denver garage in 2015.
The company’s Vita Load Pilot, Vita Load Navigator, and Vita Rescue System “use a series of fans to provide that counterthrust in the direction of the swing to bring that load to center,” says Carr, noting that the company’s software is a critical piece. “We use standard military drone sensors to basically sense where we are in space in relation to the moving object. Without ever talking to that moving object. Really, the core of the technology is the ability to sense where center is without ever having that communication.”
He adds, “The current solution everybody was looking at was trying to naturally fly the helicopter to mitigate the swing. Well, at that point you’re not hovering, you’re flying.”
And for cranes, the status quo was “quite literally a rope,” Carr says. “We essentially approached it by saying, ‘Let’s add bigger fans and bigger batteries.’ Now we can control 88,000 pounds below a crane.”
It follows that Vita Inclinata is “quite literally creating a market that no one ever thought existed.”
The company’s first products went to market in Q3 2021. The U.S. Army was an early adopter, purchasing 15 units to deploy across the U.S., as were crane operators in the Middle East and Texas. Renewable energy — particularly the installation of wind turbines — has also proven to be a ready market.
“That’s where we start to see really great success in the industrial market, because we’re now erecting as a country much bigger objects both in the renewable space and general construction, with high-rises continuing to grow,” says Carr.
A customer’s costs depend on whether the company’s products are “leased, rented, or sold direct,” he adds. “Generally, it’s anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 per unit.”
Vita Inclinata works with a network of vendors to build its products, with assembly taking place at the company’s facilities (three buildings that total 29,000 square feet) in Broomfield.
“It’s mostly commercial, off-the-shelf components — a lot of small businesses coming together to build these lifesaving products,” says Carr. “We use people across the Front Range to produce things like the roll cage for our industrial products, the shells for our rescue components, et cetera.”
Vita Inclinata uses “very few international suppliers,” he adds. “By staying U.S.-based from a supply chain perspective, it has continued to reap benefits.”
Carr projects Vita Inclinata will bring in more than $30 million in revenue in 2022, a 20X jump from 2021. “Our focus is continuing to scale,” he says, noting that the company will deploy more than 300 units from early 2022 to early 2023.
Fostering buy-in is ultimately about customers getting a firsthand look at the technology, he says. “With any innovation but especially around safety tech, you have to be in the field and actually experience it yourself to notice that it’s a problem, and that’s where it started for me. Now it’s actually great to see that transition not only on the rescue side where I come from, but also realizing that you can take those kinds of innovations and apply them to other industries that have the same exact problem.”
Challenges: “For us, it’s really making sure that we build the right team in different parts of the world,” says Carr, citing the importance of robust benefit packages. “As you grow a production assembly ecosystem, it’s key that you transfer the knowledge and transfer the knowledge effectively, but also retain that knowledge. We’re in an era today where people change jobs nine, 10 times a decade, and that hurts small companies like us. We want the legacy employees that stick with us for two, three, five, 10 years.”
Opportunities: While helicopter stabilization led the initial rollout, Carr says cranes will drive the bulk of the company’s long-term market: Of roughly $60 billion of annual costs attributable to fatal construction accidents in the U.S., about $15 billion are related to swinging loads on cranes. “As we continue to scale the industrial space, ultimately it’s the largest opportunity for us,” he notes.
Needs: About 100,000 to 150,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Carr says the headquarters are firmly planted in Colorado, but he’s looking at such locations as Florida, Texas, and Ohio to scale manufacturing while exploring partnerships for overseas markets.
“Naturally, because of the space and defense ecosystem here, we will always have a presence in Colorado,” he notes, “but for the sake of manufacturing specifically, we have great success very much getting out of the Front Range and focusing on Texas and the Midwest.”
Vita Inclinata also needs employees. Carr projects about 80 new hires in 2022, and possibly hitting 300 in 2023.
To finance the scale-up, Vita Inclinata — which has raised about $24 million in venture capital to date — is pursuing a “large round” in excess of $75 million in 2022, he adds.