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Updated: March 18, 2024 / 2024 Business Leaders of the Year

Business Leaders: At TimberHP, Joshua Henry, Matthew O'Malia drive change in a legacy industry

PHOTo / Fred Field Joshua Henry, co-founder and president, front, and Matthew O’Malia, co-founder and vice president, converted the dormant Madison mill for use by TimberHP, which manufactures wood-fiber insulation.

A defunct paper mill in Madison returned to life in 2023 with a new mission and new technology, but the rebirth had been in the works for nearly a decade.

The plant’s new product, wood-fiber building insulation, has been around even longer — though only in Europe.

All of which makes TimberHP a young company with a long history. That’s fitting for a business innovating within a heritage Maine industry like forest products. TimberHP is the brainchild of Joshua Henry, a trained chemist, and business partner Matthew O’Malia, an architect. The two teamed up in 2015, and eventually bought the mill property in Madison for $1.4 million in 2019.

Today, TimberHP has two forms of high-performance, sustainable insulation in the market, and is now launching a third. The company employs more than 70 people in Madison, and expects to hire more.

Mainebiz: What was the single biggest challenge you faced in the early days?

Joshua Henry: For me it was just the continuous rejection. We had this great solution, but the feeling from the investor community initially was that Matt and I were maybe not the right people for the job. You can only raise so much money from your friends and family. But thankfully, as we continued to grow the company, that concern faded.

Matthew O’Malia: Financing, financing, financing.

To begin with, TimberHP is an industrial startup, which itself is very rare. Then, halfway through our fundraising, we were thrown into the pandemic. We overcame the challenge with the support of an incredible fundraising team, and broad support from the state of Maine, the town of Madison, the logging and lumber industries, and many individuals across the state.

MB: How important was repurposing the Madison mill in your initial plans?

MO: The mill was key to the project’s viability. Not only the building, but the talented people who ran it, who joined our team — and the people of the town of Madison. When we bought the mill, the paper-making equipment was being removed. The timing was fortunate, because we were able to preserve the value of the infrastructure, which represented a major savings.

MB: As you mentioned, the pandemic changed your plans. How did you respond?

JH: We had financing in place that looked probable to close in May 2020, and our largest investor was going to be a multinational corporation based in Europe. Matt and I were there, finalizing details, but had to leave immediately.

There is no doubt that the pivot we had to make — to a much larger financing, underwritten by a tax-exempt bond — is a better approach. It allows us to access a much larger market and has more favorable returns for our investors.

MB: As you look back at the past nine years, what have been the most rewarding aspects of the TimberHP journey?

JH: I just love the people I work with. I am so grateful to our investors and to the Maine forest products industry for embracing us. I think our products are going to make a meaningful difference in the world and help make the lives of builders and our customers better. I know all of this isn’t something everyone gets to experience, so I find gratitude there.

MO: For me this has been a story about trying to create a solution for the next generation of sustainable buildings, and how that can actually be a driver for opportunity and economic growth in rural communities — while supporting renewable, natural resource-based economies.

MB: Where do you see the company going in the next nine years?

JH: Right now, we’re just focused on Madison being a thriving, successful mill, but I suspect we will have additional facilities across the country. The need to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in a sustainable way is just huge. And the fact that we can reinvigorate the forest products industry and support the growth of other rural economies is kind of irresistible.

But Madison will always be our birthplace and our home.

MB: What advice would you offer another company that’s innovating in a legacy industry?

JH: Be resilient. There have been many times when Matt and I have hoped a big investor would come in and fund us in a way that would make this easier. But our investors and team have been extremely committed and understanding, and have stuck with us. The great thing is, that only strengthens our resolve to reward their belief.

MO: Be open to collaboration, diverse ideas and abilities that can unlock opportunity.

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