By: Kevin Volz
When a train derails and dumps oil into the environment, one of the first concerns is limiting the spread of contamination. That’s where AquaBlok comes in. The Toledo, Ohio-based company supplies materials, dubbed “nature’s duct tape,” that seal in and trap contamination to protect the water.
AquaBlok uses a combination of various powder materials and small rocks to either absorb contaminants from a body of water, or coat the bottom of it to prevent contaminants from seeping upward from sediments or the ground.
“This is the same material people use to seal up wells and line landfills,” said AquaBlok COO John Collins. “Taking these materials and applying them to contaminated sediment remediation was something new.”
AquaBlok is continuing to grow within the environmental market, where opportunities abound, Collins said. “We’re more interested in steady growth than rapid expansion,” he said. “But we’re definitely looking for opportunities in the marketplace to grow the company and turn it into something substantial.”
John Hull, president of the environmental engineering firm Hull and Associates, was one of the co-inventors of AquaBlok’s technology. When the technology was ready for commercialization, AquaBlok spun off from the firm. In 2006, the company received its initial funding from RocketVentures, a regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier in northwest Ohio. This funding was primarily used for sales and marketing promotion to secure AquaBlok’s place in the market.
Funds like RocketVentures are important to angel groups who are considering where to put their investment dollars, Collins said. “Even if the funds don’t invest huge amounts of money, they give other investors confidence,” he said. “RocketVentures has taken on the responsibility to monitor our activity level and performance, which I think reassured angel groups that their investment in our company would be put to good use.”
Along with AquaBlok’s Ohio headquarters, the company’s 20 employees also operate out of California and Alabama locations. Toledo is a good location for the company’s home base due to its access to low-cost, abundant stone, which is one of the company’s key raw materials.
“Theoretically we could be based anywhere,” said Collins. “We could’ve chosen Wyoming since that’s where a lot of our raw materials come from, or one of our locations in Alabama or California. But we’ve made the decision to stay here in Toledo because there is a ton of good people who know how to work hard.”