More than 350 people gathered Wednesday at the College Station Hilton for steak, cake and celebration to honor the 10 fastest-growing businesses in Brazos County.
Ten businesses were presented with awards at the Bryan Rotary 10 ceremony, with Exothermix -- which experienced a staggering 1,745 percent sales growth between 2014 and 2016 -- earning the top honor.
Exothermix initially produced rechargable batteries but began making portable self-heating products for the Army in 2006 to safely heat their rations. Now, the company has found enormous success in multiple industries.
"We're meeting the customers' needs for energy on demand," said Adam Laubach, Exothermix's CEO.
Exothermix now applies its heating technology to everything from melting chocolate to exoskeleton support, and it expects even more success in the future.
"We anticipate that heating packaging could potentially be a $1 billion unit per year business in three to four years," Laubach said.
Laubach said Exothermix, based in College Station, is the "type of company would normally be on the West Coast," but it's housed in Aggieland because of its proximity to major cities and talent at Texas A&M University and the culture of the flagship university just a few miles away.
"The culture of Texas A&M University really fits with us," Laubach said of Exothermix's emphasis on giving back to the community.
Larry Bates, vice president of sales and marketing, said the company isn't entirely sure how to use its heat-generating technology, but it is helped by capitalism's invisible hand.
"The market is teaching us almost daily on how this technology is to be used," he said.
The No. 2 fastest-growing small business was A Brush Above, which undertakes projects involving commercial drywall and commercial, residential and industrial painting. The team's work can be seen at The Parc at Traditions, Scott & White Hospital and at numerous schools throughout Bryan-College Station, including Jane Long and Sam Rayburn middle schools and Rock Prairie Elementary School.
Susanne Krueger, who owns A Brush Above along with Thomas Rodgers and Kaitlyn Rodgers, said the secret to its nearly 500 percent sales growth over the past three years is "great employees."
"Taking the time with hiring good people makes all the difference," Krueger said.
Asked to share her wisdom with small-business owners looking to grow, Krueger said to "know your people, and hang onto the good ones."
Fries Financial Services, owned by Denise Fries, was presented the Anco Insurance Award for Lifetime Business Achievement by Kathy Gregory, president and CEO of Anco Insurance.
Fries Financial Services began 32 years ago and evolved to specialize in retirement planning, estate planning, life insurance, long-term care insurance, college funding and investments. The company now has $268 million of assets under management for more than 1,000 clients. The business was honored with three Newman 10 Awards, including being ranked at No. 1 in 2012. The firm also has a long history of giving back to the community by raising funds and building homes for Habitat for Humanity.
In his keynote speech. Brad Napp, from Gov. Greg Abbott's office, praised the "risk-takers" and "job creators" of local small- and medium-sized businesses.
"Keep doing what you're doing," Napp told the crowd. "We appreciate the integral role Brazos Valley plays in the Texas economy."
The awards, which were formerly known as the Newman 10 Awards, are sponsored by the Bryan Rotary Club.