Sunday, February 14, 1999

ENTREPRENEURS


Extruder holds hope for start-up

BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        More than a year after Jay Mayer gave birth to a company to manufacture planks from recycled plastic and sawdust, the small-business man has cleared another hurdle.

        He has a payroll: one experienced employee to run the one machine that OnSpec Composite owns.

        When Mr. Mayer cranked up his company last year — details of his start-up business ran in an August 1998 column — he was running on high-octane adrenaline and credit card credit.

        Mr. Mayer had patent protection for his product through the University of Ontario and thought the planks would be a market revolutionizer. But that was not enough.

        He needed financing — partners soon materialized — and he needed a special die for the extruder.

        Every day, he looked at thousands of wooden decks in Greater Cincinnati that needed annual maintenance not needed by a plastic deck and thought about the millions of wooden playgrounds bought by suburbanites every year.

        He pondered the 3 million new wooden decks annually installed on houses and wondered how much longer it would take to get this material before the wood-buying public.

        At the time of the column, Mr. Mayer had reached his limit on his Visa credit card, signed off on a second mortgage on his house and was renting space in a Hamilton warehouse for his plastic extruder. Today, he is further along, abandoning Hamilton for a business address on Muddy Creek Road, closer to his Mack house.

        He projects that the material that will eventually flow from his extruder will be competitive in price and quality with pressure-treated lumber. Since the first story, he has designed a second structural die, found credit and partners and wiped out his Visa bill.

        OnSpec Composite has come far in the past six months, but right now, he needs to stretch out the pace with samples.

        “You have got to have a piece that people can test and hold in their hands,” he said. “You can go in and tell companies and people about what you want to do, but if you don't have something you can hold in your hand, you're wasting everybody's time.”

        He had no worries about finding raw material because 1 million pounds of sawdust are generated every day within 300 miles of Cincinnati, and as well as thousands of plastic milk cartons.

        Last Monday was supposed to be the day to throw the switch on the extruder. With the help of Ohio University's Commercialization Technology Transfer Office and the Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., Mr. Mayer had ordered a die that would impart strength.

        The die was to arrive by truck Monday, and Mr. Mayer came to work hopeful that by the end of the day, he would finally have his planks made of recycled plastic and sawdust. The truck never showed. Where was it? “Somewhere between West Virginia and Cincinnati,” Mr. Mayer said when the die arrived 48 hours later.

        Mr. Mayer is optimistic that it will eventually come together as designed — after some final machining is finished. Until then, he can only wait for the first batch of product, which he has trademarked as “Specwood.”

        John Eckberg covers small-business news for The Enquirer. Call him at 768-8386 or e-mail him at jeckberg@enquirer.com.

        “We have all the confidence in the world,” he said.

       



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