Thomas Sandgaard, Rockstar
by Jane Reuter,, 2014

Zynex founder Thomas Sandgaard leads a company that generates $40 million annually, creating sophisticated medical technology that’s eased the pain of hundreds of thousands around the world. From 9-to-5, his home base is a spacious, third-floor office with a mountain view anchored by a massive and startlingly uncluttered desk. Literally at the top of his company’s Park Meadows Drive building, he appears to be the living embodiment of the self-created, white-collar American dream.
But appearances often are just that. Sandgaard is an immigrant whose journey to the CEO’s chair in Lone Tree wasn’t easy. And that white collar? Come the weekend, it’s nowhere in sight. “I put on a leather jacket, get out there on stage and rock it up,” said the 55-year-old, lead guitarist for a metro-area band called Arsin.
It’s a shift in gears for Sandgaard in more ways than one. For most of the last two decades, he’s focused almost entirely on the business he built, planning the next evolution of his five-division company, the best way to help both those who suffer from often life-altering health conditions and the medical experts who treat them. “If you have the entrepreneurial gene, you’re always a few steps ahead,” he said.
Planning for the future is a luxury he didn’t always have. Eighteen years ago, Sandgaard’s focus was on survival. “It’s not so much the American dream, which is just somehow find a free ride with an insurance company or something and retire from that,” he said. “It’s the old-fashioned one, where you work hard, and eventually it turns out good.“
This whole story is about stubbornness and bootstrapping. And maybe, a little bit about rock ‘n roll.
A native of Denmark, Sandgaard discovered his love of American rock as a teenager there. At 13, he won a contest for young inventors after creating what he describes as “an early version of an electronic keyboard.” He learned to play electric guitar, learned to set up sound systems, promoted concerts so successfully he filled large outdoor venues, and “built a couple of recording studios from the ground up.”
Despite the entrepreneurial nature that emerged early in his life, Sandgaard maintains he was an ordinary kid. “I never felt I was different from the people around me,” he said. “That wasn’t an issue for me. I just did things I had fun with.”
In fact, Sandgaard admits he was more often the class clown than the intellectual. “I was always part of the small group of kids that got in trouble; that was me.”
He graduated from college in Denmark with an electrical engineering degree, and launched a successful career in the medical equipment field. At 38, he left that life behind to take a chance on starting his own business in the United States.
Had he known the pitfalls ahead, Sandgaard can’t say now if he’d have stepped onto that plane in 1996. But what happened after he landed didn’t allow him to reconsider. “There was never any time for second thoughts,” he said.
He arrived with $4,000, a laptop computer and most importantly, “the stubborn belief I could do it.”
Sandgaard started his now publicly traded company of 300 employees in a one-bedroom apartment, cold calling potential buyers while untangling the legal web of working in a new
country. It took eight months to get a temporary tax identification number, and a decade to secure his green card.
The company, meanwhile, grew steadily for seven years.
In 1998, it received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for an electrotherapy device that increases blood circulation, promoting healing and managing pain. Today, Zynex’s NexWave is a portable device prescribed by a doctor. About the size of an iPhone, it fits easily in the hand, giving patients some control of their pain and recovery.
It was the first of many devices: Some heal scars, others restore brain connections in stroke patients, the latest alerts medical staff to blood loss during surgery or blood clots post-surgery.
“We have changed a lot of lives,” Sandgaard said. “That feels good.”
The company went public in 2004 – a victory tempered by the CEO’s personal calamity. At nearly the same time, Sandgaard’s long-awaited green card was denied. “Every day you go to work and try to build your business, and you knew you could be seeing that letter,” he remembered. “Sure enough, I got that letter. It said, ‘Sorry, you’re not wanted here’.”
As a business founder who worked for no one, Sandgaard believes he was difficult for immigration officials to categorize. “I was fortunate enough that I contacted a senator as well as a friend who worked at Homeland Security,” he said. “They both contacted the immigration authorities.”
Sandgaard was allowed to submit a new application. More than two years after that, it finally was approved.
Zynex now is a multi-tiered company, perfectly located in fast-growing south metro Denver’s medical corridor. Its latest division is a compounding pharmacy located on the ground floor of the 75,000-square-foot Lone Tree building. Prescriptions will be drop-shipped directly to patients from the pharmacy.
The future scarcely could be brighter. Sandgaard sees a vast need for Zynex’s surgical blood volume monitor. “Theoretically, every hospital operation room and recovery room should have one,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine how much we can do with it.
“We are on the forefront in pretty much every area we’re involved in.”
At this heady place in his life, the divorced father of two sometimes allows himself a loud and musical pause from his business’ development. “I hadn’t touched an instrument for about 30 years, but just a year ago, I picked up a guitar again and started to play,” Sandgaard said. “Just lately, I’ve found a lot better balance in life and a lot more fun.”