Stephen Spoonamore of ABSMaterials
Stephen Spoonamore is cofounder of ABS Materials
, a company that provides solutions for clean and affordable water. ABS Materials uses Osorb, a type of patented glass that rapidly swells to absorb herbicides, pesticides, oils, gases, pharmaceuticals and many other water contaminants, removing them from water. The company was founded in December 2008 by Spoonamore and Dr. Paul Edmiston, Peterson Professor of Chemistry at the College of Wooster.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
In 2005, Dr. Edmiston was trying to create a responsive glass material that could detect TNT. Colleen Burkett, his undergraduate research assistant, added a drop of acetone to the material she was testing. It swelled rapidly to absorb the acetone. Dr. Edmiston observed this absorptive property, and spent two years studying, refining, and developing the technology, later trademarked as Osorb®.
In 2008, I had heard about “glass that sucks up oil.” I began supplementing Dr. Edmiston’s technology with my experience as a company-builder.
What resources or organizations in Ohio did you take advantage of, and how did they help?
The Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) at Lorain County Community College; JumpStart and the North Coast Angel Fund; the Ohio Technology Investment Tax Credit; OARDC's BiOhio program, which granted ABS access to the STAR Labs and Soil labs at OSU; and finally, the State of Ohio's 166 Loan. This program provided ABSMaterials and the Wooster Growth Corporation a long-term, low-interest loan to purchase and renovate a plant that was built by Bell and Howell Corporation in the 1960's. That site that is now our headquarters.
Where did you find your first employee?
In 2007, Laura Underwood, an undergraduate in chemistry at the College of Wooster, helped Dr. Edmiston investigate the properties of a new material that absorbed contaminants from water. After she graduated, she continued her work at the company. Ms. Underwood is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering, and will be returning to the firm in 2014.
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Wooster ?
Wooster, Ohio, is our home, our headquarters and an amazing place. It has been named one of the top micropolitan cities in the U.S. year after year for a reason. With an area population of just under 100,000, it is home to two higher education centers (College of Wooster and OSU's OARDC/ATI Campus) and has a strong and innovative manufacturing base which includes LuK, Fritolay, SpeedCo, Seaman, Gerstanslager and TekFor.
What inspires you?
Doing interesting things with smart people. Building teams to take on -- and solve -- very hard problems.
What companies or founders do you admire and why?
I have had many. I will name three.
First, Alan Cotler. His firm, Cotler Associates, was the first to fully understand electronic transaction trading.
Next, Mike Bloomberg. Mike did for trader information systems what Alan did for the trading desks themselves. When Mike was deciding whether to move into TV in the 1990's, I proposed they be the first all digital system. It would leapfrog Bloomberg over all other media generation units by 3-5 years.
Finally, Stan Gault. He became one of the great executives at General Electric in the 50’s and 60’s. Then he left GE to build Rubbermaid from a few guys to a $1 billion dollar powerhouse. Then he retired, unretired and turned around Goodyear.
What’s next for you and your company?
We want to make every single drop of water drinkable and safe. All of it.
Every city in Ohio is looking at how to address combined stormwater systems. They have two choices: dig 19th and 20th century solutions – tombs – for their water, or choose 21st century green remediation techniques. Our Osorb Rain Gardens are stunning, powerful, effective, and leading technologies in this area.
Would you rather live in a city of tombs or a city of gardens? That's our choice. We're pushing for gardens.
Writer: Catherine Podojil