America’s SBDC Iowa helped Tom Cackler, President of r-Pipe, Inc., get prepared and apply for funding to develop and test materials to build a prototype of a better sewer pipe made from recycled materials.
There are 740,000 miles of public sewers, plus 500,000 miles of private lateral sewers in the U.S. (EPA 2012). Improved products are desired to mitigate performance problems with traditional pipe materials. Concrete lacks adequate corrosion resistance and is heavy; plastic pipe lacks strength and health concerns exist related to PVC.
r-Pipe, Inc. is a start-up civil-engineering company in the process of licensing a university technology to build better civil engineering pipe from waste PET (water and soda bottles) plastic and fly ash, which is lighter than, as strong as, and slightly less expensive than, concrete pipe, plus it has the corrosion resistance of plastic pipe. The company was started by Iowa State University (ISU) employee Tom Cackler, Dr. David White, the inventor of the material, and Robert Steffes, also an ISU employee. All three have extensive civil engineering experience.
Company personnel had a meeting with a non-profit entity that screens and helps prepare companies for applying to the Iowa Demonstration Fund. The non-profit’s comments were rather negative in ways that the company had difficulty interpreting, so Tom went to the SBDC for assistance.
Tom met with ISU SBDC Regional Director Mike Upah, seeking funding to develop a larger scale prototype and to test the prototype. Mike provided information on potential sources of capital, and after discussion, the Iowa Demonstration Fund was chosen as the best fit for amount and timing.
The SBDC helped the company improve its draft business plan by making Tom aware of how important market validation from potential customers would be, and also by working with the company to develop financial projections. Mike also helped Tom prepare a Power Point presentation for the final stage of the application, including helping him to understand and request a favorable, royalty-based repayment strategy.
The result was that the company was chosen to receive a $55,000 Iowa Demonstration Fund loan. Mike also suggested that Tom enter the company’s revised business plan in the 2013 John Pappajohn Business Plan Competition, which he did, and r-Pipe won $25,000, the top award of the competition.
Tom said the following about the assistance he received from the Iowa SBDC, “The assistance we received through the SBDC has been outstanding. It is not easy to start a small business and the business assistance and counsel our company has received through this program has been beyond our expectations and has enabled us to secure start-up capital, have a focused business plan, and has provided us with valuable business contacts.”
r-Pipe, Inc. is currently working interactively with ISU’s Center for Industrial Research and Services (CIRAS) to refine its manufacturing process. There are three ISU student teams involved, one looking at characterizing materials and two working on manufacturing methods and prototype equipment concepts. The recommendations from these teams will be given to r-Pipe at the end of the spring 2014 semester and plans for additional activities will be determined at that time.
Tom and his partners are also working on identifying strategic partners for commercializing r-Pipe’s unique technology. Several Iowa municipalities have already expressed interest in evaluating the pipe material as soon as it is available.
For more information on this innovative new company, email firstname.lastname@example.org.