South Burlington's Logic Supply sells big computing power in small – and green – packages
Lisa Groeneveld will make you question everything you ever thought about people in the high-tech sector. An iPhone-toting geek she is not. Unabashedly, she admits that her phone is the “free one” that came with her mobile plan. She might be the only person in the IT industry who still uses a PDA — the BlackBerry’s redheaded step-cousin.
That’s OK by Groeneveld. The 37-year-old president and co-owner with her husband of South Burlington’s Logic Supply sees information technology as “functional.” She’s interested in it only as far as it affects her business and her clients. “I get excitement in other ways, like cooking or hanging out with my kids,” Groeneveld says. “In my personal day-to-day, I use minimal technology.”
Yet Groeneveld insists that when it comes to business technology, she’s on top of it. Her company, which makes mini ITX computers — small computing devices used in police cruisers, taxi cabs, voting machines and other technology that is required to perform only a specific function — is on the cutting edge. Nobody is doing what Logic Supply is. “I’m going to say we’re trendsetters,” Groeneveld says.
That assertion is backed by the company’s stratospheric growth since its start in 2003. From 2005 to 2008, Logic Supply’s revenues grew from $4.4 million to $10.6 million, a 144 percent increase. This year the company’s success caught the eye of the editors of Inc., who included Logic Supply on the magazine’s list of the 5000 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. Logic Supply’s rapid rise also garnered it the prestigious 5×5×5 Growth Award from Vermont Business Magazine, which it shared with other industry leaders such as Seventh Generation, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and groSolar.
While Groeneveld calls 2009 a “sobering year” owing to the economy, the company still anticipates solid market expansion. Janice St. Onge, deputy director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, attributes Logic Supply’s enviable growth in part to its responsiveness to the market’s demands. “They’re on top of what their customers need,” St. Onge says. “They’re doing a lot of things right.”
Lisa Groeneveld grew up in Barre, the daughter of a USDA administrator and a cobbler who owned his own shoe- repair business. After graduating from Spaulding High School, she moved to Boston to study marketing and business at Northeastern University. Throughout her undergraduate study, she worked in the campus computer lab, helping people navigate infuriating IT problems. Still, when she graduated, she had no plans to work in the then-burgeoning IT industry — until a friend suggested she apply for a job at CompuServe in Boston
Groeneveld figured she’d give it a try. That job led to positions in Switzerland and France, where she learned to speak fluent French, and the Netherlands, where she mastered Dutch and met her future husband, Dutchman Roland Groeneveld. The pair remained in Europe after they were married, both working in IT, until Lisa Groeneveld’s father passed away in 2002.
Groeneveld gets teary when talking about this period in her life. While she grieved, she says, Roland began investigating an Asian company that had recently invented a small motherboard — much smaller than a normal computer, but more efficient. The IT industry considered it a “total lark,” as Lisa Groeneveld puts it. But her husband thought the devices were worth looking into.
His curiosity turned out to be a shrewd business move. Logic Supply began producing its own version of the mini ITX computer. Lisa Groeneveld didn’t get on board with the company immediately. “I joined when we realized it would be profitable, which was pretty quickly,” she says. Roland Groeneveld now serves as CEO of Logic Supply and shares the title of company president with his wife.
Instead of making just the guts of the mini ITX, Logic Supply began selling the total package — the motherboard, the casing and all the components that go with them. That sets the company apart from its competitors as a one-stop shop. Because its products use mobile chips and components rather than regular chips you’d find in a standard desktop computer, they consume less energy and are more efficient. Plus, they’re smaller, faster and more durable than the average computer. Finally, they are fanless, with no moving parts, so they last much longer than traditional computers, making them more sustainable. Groeneveld takes pride in the fact that her company was green “before green was really cool.”
Because Logic Supply’s customers are buying mini ITX computers for very specific purposes — operating security cameras, dispensing money, lighting digital signs — the devices are more or less custom-made. Logic Supply offers more than 500 products, and no two computers it sells are exactly the same. Groeneveld says there are an “infinite number of possibilities” when it comes to their configuration.
While the innards of the mini ITX units are made in factories in Asia, the computers are assembled by Logic Supply techs in South Burlington. Students from Essex Technical Center do much of the assembly work, and for that they are compensated well, Groeneveld says. She loves hiring high school students and recent graduates and wants them to stick around. Many of the company’s 25 employees got their feet in the door that way.
Once you’re in Logic Supply, it’s a family, according to Groeneveld. “I love my people,” she coos. She wants to know what her employees’ goals are and how she can help them achieve them. In the event that they choose to move beyond Logic Supply, Groeneveld says, she wants her employees to have transferable skills.
Groeneveld looks more like a buddy than a boss. Although her business is global, she retains that small-town humility — and often comes to work wearing jeans, hoodies, T-shirts and sneakers. She seems slightly nervous about being interviewed, but her trepidation is endearing.
If there’s a strict hierarchy at Logic Supply, it’s hard to see evidence of it. Groeneveld’s desk is wedged in the corner of a big room she shares with her employees. Before the economy tanked, she used to host “Beer Fridays” for her over-21 employees. The weekly ritual allowed folks to socialize and get to know one another in a more casual, intimate setting.
By building a company on a foundation of collegiality and mutual respect, the Groenevelds are securing their business’ future, assuming they continue making innovative products that customers want. Betsy Bishop, executive director of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, believes the Logic Supply model is one other Vermont start-ups should emulate. “The innovation they bring to the state is a great Vermont story,” she says. “Their trajectory is definitely upward.”
Logic Supply pays a livable wage, attracts and retains good talent, has a global customer base, and stays nimble enough to respond to the demands of the market. Those are all plusses for St. Onge of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. “From our perspective, this is the type of company that is the heart and soul of Vermont,” St. Onge says.
As Logic Supply grows, its challenge is how to evolve and expand responsibly. Earlier in the year, the company had to lay off a handful of employees, Groeneveld recounts with visible emotion, but that belt tightening made it possible to refocus on the future. The company is hiring again and working on building its management team.
“Financially, we’re a very strong company with a good foundation,” she says. “We’re taking the opportunity to position ourselves for the future.”