Rivertop Renewables™ produces novel, biobased chemicals that improve the performance and sustainability of consumer products and industrial uses at an attractive cost.
Rivertop was founded in Missoula in 2008, born from a University of Montana professor’s desire to commercialize chemistries that both improve lives and conserve the environment. Dr. Donald Kiely’s early research had found that plant-derived “sugar acids” like glucaric acid could serve a myriad of uses across several large industries. But the known methods to produce such renewable chemicals were too expensive to apply in either consumer products or industrial markets. 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 and patented technology to produce performance chemicals that are biodegradable and cost-attractive. To do so, Dr. Kiely accessed over $3 million in USDA grants, applied for in partnership with the university.
Today, Rivertop sells Headwaters™ Corrosion Inhibitors for the Montana Department of Transportation to add to its road-deicing salt brines and is marketing its Riose™ Detergent Builder to automatic dish detergent brands who have struggled to maintain performance of their formulations after phosphates were removed to protect water quality.
Rivertop is led by veterans of the renewable chemical industry and is moving into a true commercial stage of development. Six of the company’s chemists are graduates of the University of Montana system.
Rivertop recently raised $26 million from international agricultural giant Cargill, First Green Partners and other investors in one of Montana's largest cleantech venture capital deals. The funds will be used to double Rivertop's workforce and expand production capabilities. Rivertop’s CEO Michael Knauf cites Dr. Kiely’s research and his partnership with the University of Montana as critical components for the company’s success in reaching this critical milestone.
“As a venture-backed, start-up company, much of Rivertop’s success comes from a sense of discovery and pragmatism, qualities that are common in Missoula’s culture,” says Knauf. “It’s great to be building a company with a team of creative and engaged individuals and partners.”
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.
“It’s no surprise that Rivertop’s goals are shared by the people who live, work and play here,” says Knauf. “Employees at Rivertop are self-motivated to invent practical solutions to challenges faced by the chemical industry and its customers.”
Outside of work, Rivertop’s team enjoys active lifestyles in and around Missoula, one of Montana’s largest cultural centers, and just a few miles from access to wild mountains and boundless outdoor recreation opportunities.
“Missoula is a very livable city. It is a university town that serves as a regional cultural center, yet residents have quick access to incredible mountains, lakes, rivers and forests,” says Knauf, who grew up in the Midwest and has lived on both coasts.
In 2012, the company moved into a 15,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility on the banks of the Clark Fork River, directly across from the University of Montana, next door to the future home of Missoula College and less than one mile from downtown.
Knauf is grateful for the support Rivertop has received from Montana’s leadership in bringing this facility to life and supporting the development of the Company’s employees. As a senior U.S. Senator, Max Baucus led the Congressional delegation’s support of the UM’s proposal for federal funding to renovate and expand the Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC). Since 2009, the company has gained access to over $520,000 in state-funded grants for workforce training, equipment purchases and research and development.
“I’m impressed by how accessible Montana’s Congressional delegation has been, and the frequent support we’ve had from the Governor’s office. There is a real interest in building new, technology-driven companies here in Montana,” says Knauf.