Many say that luck is merely being prepared when opportunity presents itself. If this theory is valid, then LaVelle Knight, president and CEO of a $3 million Denver-based environmental engineering firm, is lucky.
Knight, an electrical engineer, saw the handwriting on the wall when, in the early 1990s, the nuclear weapons plants run by his employer, the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site in suburban Denver, were targeted for closing following the end of the Cold War. He promptly went out and earned a master’s degree in environmental policy and management from the University of Denver and began tinkering with an industrial cleaning process that could be used to remove radioactive particles.
The technology he adapted, called CO2 pellet blasting, attracted a $1 million research and development budget from the Department of Energy. He left his job of 13 years in 1996, using $70,000 of his severance pay to fund his company, Knight Armour Inc.
“My experience wasn’t unique, but I applied my background to begin solving environmental problems,” says Knight, 49. “The technology already existed, but it never had a nuclear application.”
The Fort Carson U.S. Army Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has relied on Knight’s innovation for two years.
“Of course, there were other companies to choose from,” recalls Nick Pallotto, the Fort Carson asbestos, lead and radon program manager, “but they’ve got the technology down to a science. Anything we toss at them they’re able to handle.”
With a staff of 30, Knight attributes his company’s success to a quiet brand of diligence. Unable to nail down a substantial first contract for almost a year, Knight relied on word-of-mouth marketing and networking through job fairs, Small Business Administration workshops and professional organizations to secure work.
Luck came knocking in March 1997 with a $100,000 contract to decontaminate radioactive glove boxes (the incubatorlike boxes that scientists, wearing gloves, use to handle plutonium) for his former employer. With one government contract secured, Knight continued to network furiously, soon landing contracts with the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, the Department of Energy, Fort Carson and Denver’s Stapleton Airport.
Besides adding clients, Knight Armour also diversified its portfolio of services. Currently, the company offers expanded services in demolition, abatement of hazardous materials, land survey and environmental oversight.
Knight Armour Inc., 1616 17th St., Suite 264, Denver, CO 80202; 303-628-5535; www.knightarmour.com.