Analytical laboratory makes lasting “Impact” on Midland

Not all heroes wear capes — some wear lab coats. 

Personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices need to be tested to ensure they meet industry standards for our safety. Think: anesthetics are delivered directly into the human body, so they must be uncontaminated; heart medications need to navigate through the body and end up in the heart; water running through municipal pipes must be safe. There’s a science for that — testing.

Midland has a team of such heroes, a small but mighty lab on the outskirts of town, Impact Analytical.

“We're just trying to make the world a little bit safer, and we're helping our clients to do that,” says Neil Chapman, CEO of Impact Analytical (IA).

With Element’s support, Impact purchased new equipment that can measure parts per trillion — that’s like finding a teaspoon in an Olympic swimming pool. (L) Neil Chapman (R) Christian VelasquezIA is a contract research lab. Using their host of analytical equipment and their FDA accredited and ISO certified methods, their team of scientists test samples for their clients. Depending on what the need is, the tests vary. Some tests might demand measuring a flame extension from an aerosol or even sniffing for contaminants (using specific equipment designed to do so safely, of course). While the equipment is impressive, that’s not what differentiates IA from the competition – it’s delivering a good product on time. 

“Everybody has timelines; everybody's got deliverables. Our clients have people to answer to, especially when they're dealing with the FDA regulatory timelines,” says Chapman. “So having the data delivered on time and knowing that they can trust that data is critical.”
There’s a reason the walls inside this fume hood are black — this is where all the flammability testing is done.
So, how did Impact Analytical get started?
Toward the end of 2016, IA successfully spun off from Michigan Molecular Institute, a not-for-profit research lab focused on polymer science and technology. Seeing the growth potential for testing, Lindsay Aspegren at NorthCoast Investors suggested Impact Analytical shift to a for-profit model. As chairperson for IA, Aspegren and his team began recruiting leadership for the new company, developing a business plan, and providing resources to kickstart the business. His prediction was right — IA saw consistent annual growth above 30%, even when the pandemic began. IA now serves approximately 700 companies worldwide.

“Everybody now has a far greater interest than they ever had in effectively, ‘what's in my stuff,’” says Aspegren. “... In order to grow, you need funding, and it's very difficult for a not-for-profit to do that. It's also a business that competes with a world that's dominated by companies that do what companies do, and so it just made sense that to make any meaningful evolution in the company, it had to be spun out.”

Now, IA is undergoing another evolution. The company was recently purchased by Element Materials Technology, a larger analytical lab based in the United Kingdom. Element also recently purchased Avomeen, another analytical lab in Ann Arbor. 

“I was a former employee of Element when I was in Houston,” says Chapman. “But the one thing I liked about them is they didn't want to take the business and move it to one of their sort of mega labs; they wanted to keep the business here in Midland and grow in the community. I felt that was really important because we've got people here that have been here (from Michigan Molecular Institute) for 20 plus years, and they've been very loyal to the organization. I wanted the organization to be loyal back to them.”

Chapman attributes much of the company’s success to its people. In fact, it was the expertise of IA’s team that drew Chapman here from Texas.

“In the service industry, if you don't have a good team, you don't have anything because anyone can have equipment,” he says. “Having the people is critical, and I felt that they had the expertise to be able to take the business to another level.” 

Over the years, the team has grown from about 20 employees to over 40. Impact Analytical’s growth has opened up more high-paying jobs opportunities.

“At the end of January, we were already ahead of our Q1 targets,” says Chapman. “The limiting factor for me is manpower. If I had the manpower, we'd be ahead by a lot more.”

As of today, there are eight job openings waiting to be filled. Recent graduates are welcome to apply.

“We've been hiring a lot of new graduates –  people fresh out of school – and then we develop them in the mold that we want them to be, which is really a very strong customer-facing role,” says Chapman. “Anybody can probably test chemicals, but having that customer-facing expertise is what we try to develop.”

Strong employees often emerge from strong communities, and Chapman and Aspegren agree that Midland has been supportive of them throughout the company’s journey.

“It's a great community. I've had a lot of support from local leaders of industry,” says Chapman. “They've tried to connect us with companies and help us with services. We get a lot of support from our neighbors here, J.E. Johnson. … They've been really helpful to us; they've kept the business running for us well. Great little town.”

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy is used to study the properties of matter. It creates a magnetic field, causing the nuclei of some atoms to emit energy frequencies. The machine detects the absorption of that energy.
Even though Impact Analytical is now owned by a company outside the United States, Chapman says it won’t affect their relationship with Midland.

“I don't see us changing in the community other than becoming bigger and stronger and supporting our local clients,” says Chapman. Aspegren, who will remain an advisor for Element after the transition, sees IA as a huge success for Midland.

“Every community needs winners,” says Aspegren. “You need some stuff to point to. And so I think for a period of time, Impact can be a company that symbolizes what our community can do with the proper support.”

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala is a freelance writer with a focus on health and science. As a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities, she loves sharing how our communities are overcoming challenges. Crystal is also a serial hobbyist — her interests range from hiking or drawing to figuring out how to do a handstand. Her work can be seen in Wide Open Eats, The Xylom, Woman & Home, and The Detroit Free Press. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.