This month, Top Level Engineering is proud to celebrate our five-year anniversary! Our company has grown steadily from our humble beginnings in the Ashburn basement of our founder, Kirby Hartle in 2016. Over the past five years, Top Level Engineering has more than doubled in size and revenue – now occupying state-of-the art office space in a Sterling, Virginia building we helped redesign! Yet here we stand, five years later – in the second year of a global pandemic – thriving, grateful and poised for additional growth. How did we reach this point of success? Let’s take a look back at our history…
During the 20 years he worked for several large engineering firms in the Washington, DC area, owning his own engineering firm was merely a pipe dream for our founder, Kirby Hartle. While designing exhibits for clients like The Smithsonian Institution and working overseas in Asia was fulfilling, Kirby definitely yearned to run his own engineering firm one day. As a young man growing up near Pittsburgh, Kirby first learned about engineering as a career in high school – but he wasn’t sure that career path was for him.
After a family move to Richmond, Kirby found himself working at a local lumber yard where he was a conscientious worker who caught the attention of a frequent customer building a deck for his house. Over time, this friend – who happened to be a structural engineer – hired Kirby as a drafter for his business. Kirby caught on quickly, and continued attending night school, while working his drafting job during the daytime. After five years, he was able to transfer to Virginia Tech, where he graduated two years later with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Civil Engineering, with an emphasis on Structural Engineering.
Fast forward 20 years, Kirby is a successful Professional Engineer (PE), who is married with two children, living in suburban Ashburn, Virginia. For years, he had dreamt of one day opening his own engineering firm…and, in the spring of 2016, that time had finally come. Kirby quit his corporate job, launched Top Level Engineering, LLC in his basement, and started cold-calling and visiting customers to drum up business.
This process led to a few projects at first and thankfully, many other projects followed. As the workload continued to increase, it was clear Kirby needed additional staff and workspace. After a structural designer was hired in October of 2018, our company officially moved “out of the basement” and into a state-of-the-art workspace in an office building we redesigned and currently occupy in Sterling, Virginia.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic affected our company as it did so many others. Around the middle of the year, we started to see a slowdown in active and potential projects. Many clients decided to hold on projects that were about to start, and cashflow started to slow almost immediately. Without additional resources to lean on or the ability to quickly shed additional costs, small companies like ours are particularly vulnerable to large shifts in the market. The situation required numerous course corrections to navigate the ever-changing landscape of 2020. Yet we survived, and have done so without losing staff, our most valuable asset. In fact, we added a senior structural engineer in June of 2020, and have plans to add additional staff in the coming months.
As we look back on the last five years, we are infinitely grateful for the growth we have experienced, the team we have created, and the many customers with whom we have been lucky enough to work. From data centers to daycare facilities; breweries to office buildings – Top Level Engineering has worked with satisfied customers from many diverse markets to create meaningful structures throughout the DC region. We are very grateful for our good fortune and look forward to tackling bigger projects and filling our office with more staff members in the years ahead. Who knows – the next building you see under construction, could be one of ours!