Missoula – Rivertop Renewables was founded in Missoula in 2008; born from a University of Montana professor’s research of sophisticated polymers and a desire to protect waterways by replacing polluting phosphates in household cleaners with biodegradable versions. Dr. Donald Kiely’s initial research determined that the cost of the plant-derived compound glucarate would make these environmentally –friendly alternatives too expensive to market. Undeterred, he set-out to create his own low-cost supply. Years later, as a professor at the University of Montana, Dr. Kiely and his research group developed a patented technology that lead to Rivertop’s family of biodegradable chemicals that compete on price and performance with conventional versions.
Don’s son, Jason Kiely, is now Vice-President of Marketing for the company, joining the team after a career in community and environmental organizing to defend the waterways Rivertop’s products are now helping to conserve. Jason cites Rivertop’s partnership with the University of Montana-Missoula as a critical component for the company’s success. As a professor at UM, Don was able to access over $3 million in USDA grants applied for in partnership with the university, 5 of the company’s top-level chemists are UM alum, and graduates provide a constant pool of world-class talent to draw from.
Perhaps equally important is their location in a state where people have a long-standing commitment to protecting their pristine rivers and natural surroundings, and backyard recreational access becomes a strong selling point in corporate recruitment.
“Being here heightens our awareness of need for green products. Montanans are so much more in touch with ecological systems..we’re lucky like that. Our drive to improve environmentally-friendly products is a manifestation of us being really aware of our responsibilities.
It’s remarkable the access we have to outdoor activities…this year we’ve been skiing since November and we’ll go to Easter -our skiing and mountain biking seasons will overlap. That, and it’s a great place to raise children…Missoula’s a real liveable city with everything you need.”
This winter the company was awarded a $200,000 grant from the state-funded Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund that will be used to purchase advanced chemical and engineering equipment and help the company more than double its current work force, adding nearly 25 employees in high-paying positions over the next 2 years. The company has also been aided by the support they’ve received from Montana’s leadership.
“Our highest level officials have been really accessible…we work every month with our congressional delegation and the Governor’s office. They’re really supportive of next generation industries. We’ve been really grateful for the support and help we’ve received from that level.”
With the market for ‘green’ products growing all the time, Rivertop plans to eventually expand to a larger facility in Missoula and produce higher value chemicals and applications. And, of course, they’ll be taking advantage of the local skiing, kayaking, and mountain biking in the meantime.