The Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at Ohio Wesleyan University opened last fall, and one of its original tenants recently received an exciting opportunity.
A plastic recycling company called necoPlastics has been selected to undergo the five-month Cleantech Open program, culminating in a national summit and competition this November in Los Angeles. It is the sixth clean technology company from Ohio to be to be trained in the annual business accelerator since the nonprofit Cleantech Open began.
Steve Flaherty is the founder and CEO of necoPlastics. He also serves on the Berlin Township Zoning Department, and runs the Yumii Kettle Corn Company with his wife, Rachel. However, he runs necoPlastics out of the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center. Flaherty said upon learning about the Cleantech Open selection, he decided to give up what he calls his remote-based “W-2” job at the end of June to devote more time to necoPlastics.
“It’s been a passion of mine for a decade. You see plastic problems in the world every day,” Flaherty said. “Everybody wants to make a profit, but I believe you’ve got to have a purpose behind that profit.”
Flaherty and four other fellow MBA students at the University of Louisville had won several business plan competitions with their necoPlastics concept. Upon graduation, he took ownership of the company, and different formulations of his product will be examined at the National Center for Asphalt Testing at Auburn University in the coming months.
That end product that turns non-recyclable single-stream plastic into a polymer-based aggregate that when mixed with bitumen and rock, makes for a more elastic hot-mix asphalt. This translates into longer-lasting roads. Flaherty said the technology isn’t new — in India, plastic bottles burned with diesel fuel have been used to fill potholes — but it is better for the environment.
“It’s still in its infancy, we’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s very exciting,” he said. “We’ve found a thing we can fit in the market, where we help governments, corporations and citizens, to divert their plastics from landfills and waterways. I’d say we’re two to three years out from the first paving of a road.”
Originally from Westerville, Flaherty said he has considered himself an entrepreneur since he was 5, before he had heard of the word. Now, he’s part of Columbus Startup Week and is plugged into what he calls the Columbus Entrepreneur Ecosystem. He’s helping his fellow local entrepreneurs to make connections. And he’s doing this from a building on Sandusky Street that he says is the innovation hub for Delaware County.
The advantages to using the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center include being under the same roof with like-minded people, networking, and simply getting out of your home office.
“A lot of times entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey, and you don’t always know the resources that are out there, not only in Columbus, but Ohio,” Flaherty said. “Ohio is an innovation state. There are so many resources there to help, but it’s finding those at the time you need them. You’re in your own trench, you’ve got to build your own business. Anything we can do to improve that 24% business success rate, that’s what we’re all about, helping others realize their potentials and dreams, paving your own destiny.”
In addition to local businesses, Ohio Wesleyan students also use the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center’s offices and open spaces.
“During the school year, it’s pretty popping with community members meeting with students, using them as focus groups,” said Megan Ellis, executive director of OWU Career Connections, and an alumna. “Often times they’re the target audience.”
Ellis, who is the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center’s director, said the response has been positive from all parties and mutually beneficial to the community.
“We talk a lot about this with our students, but what makes a successful entrepreneur is this mindset of being a continual learner, having grit and being resilient,” she said. “The Entrepreneurial Center being launched on campus creates this mindset where our community members and our students all are willing to take on risks and challenges because that builds character and integrity, and those skills really make a successful person, no matter what you end up going into.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.