FREDERICTON – Thermtest, a company that makes and sells thermal conductivity testing products, is looking to expand in Fredericton as it outgrows its 7,000-square-foot space.
“We’re expanding to accommodate an increase in production, research and development (R&D), and people, of course. Right now we have people sitting at what used to be the boardroom,” said Dale Hume, the company’s founder and president. “Challenging as it is so far, as we haven’t found a spot, but we’re looking to expand to about 9,000 or 10,000 square feet.”
Thermtest has seen steady growth in the 13 years since it was founded, when Hume worked out of a garage at his home, with his newborn son often on his lap.
Hume came up with the idea for the business when he saw an opportunity to serve a wider market. At the time, Hume was working for a company that was focused on one product.
“I would say the theme was moving from a company that had one tool to do everything to a diverse set of tools – some of them broad, some of them more focused. We went with a more diverse set of instruments and that opened up more market for us,” he said.
The opportunity to start a business was appealing, given that he’d be able to spend more time with his son and not travel as much for work.
“I had a newborn son. My first child. For me, I didn’t want to miss those years,” he said.
Today, Thermtest has approximately 22 employees. Hume says it consistently adds three to four people to its team a year and could reach 30 in three to four years. Hume expects that to be a point where growth is stabilized for the company.
Hume credits Thermtest’s organic expansion to a focus on innovation and R&D. The company was recently named Innovative Exporter of the Year by Opportunities NB and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Thermtest serves a global market, mostly Fortune 500 companies, with its products and thermal property testing laboratory. The lab is used by government, commercial and academic clients to test everything from building materials to clothing to chemicals. Thermtest also uses the lab for many of its own testings.
“The thermophysical lab is the backbone of our company because we can be our own first customer. That means we make things, we put it in the lab and use it, and let people use the lab as well,” Hume said
“I find R&D is a critical part of sustaining our growth goals. Because we want to be ahead in reading new innovations, and not just [focus on] today,” he said. “I see companies that do something really good and then they rely on that really good accomplishment for many years, then they wait for a cycle that’s coming – when they realize something has changed, sales have dropped, and then they just scramble to get back to where they were.”
Hume said growing organically by reinvesting cash into R&D instead of having loans or outside funding as what he calls a “buffer zone” allows the business to be sensitive to market changes.
When you have a cash flow and you’re relying on R&D, you have your ears to the ground. We develop things today for some years ahead, so we can keep that growth sustained,” he said.
Thermtest’s production also benefits from the R&D projects that have matured and are ready to be commercialized. When that happens, more tools, people and space are needed. As is the case today with certain heat flow metres and other products Thermtest will bring to market.
“There are several products that we’re preparing for commercial release that would need more space to match where our growth requirement would be in the next couple of years,” Hume said.
With a continued focus on R&D, Thermtest recently hired a highly-specialized researcher from Greece using the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program. She recently joined the Thermtest team in Canada.
“We’d rather find local [people] for a myriad of reasons, one it’s easier, and it’s less expensive. But if you want to grow as a business, you need some of these [highly-skilled] people,” Hume said. “She probably represents a handful of people in the world that has those skills that we need.”
Today, Thermtest is looking at taking advantage of some government programs like IRAP that may help it grow further. But Hume said the spirit of innovation is part of Thermtest’s DNA from the moment of its founding.
“You don’t have to have big dollars to start something really good. Having that struggle that everyone else in the world does to start something – you’d learn something along the way about yourself, about your business plan, etcetera,” he said. “There’s not only one way to grow, but there’s a lot of people that might not have access to big loans or government funding. And certainly, they can do just as amazing things as somebody that has access to that.”