By: Robert Leitch
Biomass, a common byproduct of many farms and forestry activity projects, is a type of waste composed of wood and livestock bones typically disposed of by landowners. If farmers and foresters could convert the waste products into something profitable, they could free up valuable land and develop a new revenue stream. Enter Exeterra in Athens, Ohio, a company that has developed machinery to convert biomass into natural lump charcoal, biochar and bone char that can be sold for profit.
Scott Bagley founded Exeterra as a small-scale forestry enterprise with a crude production system for converting wood into lump charcoal. Initial test marketing was met with great interest, and Bagley began to change his process to meet growing demand. It was during this evolution that Bagley discovered a company from Exeter, England, that had created a machine to allow for the rapid conversion of biomass to charcoal and bone char.
“This company had essentially created exactly what I wanted to create,” said Bagley. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, I entered into a licensing agreement to get their product into the United States. This allowed me to expand my customer base to include natural and organic farms, compost and greenhouse operations and livestock processors.”
Exeterra’s licensing agreement with the company in England is for technology only, a machine called the Exeter Charcoal Retort. Equipment manufacturing for Exeterra is done in Jackson, Ohio. The two companies continue to work together on new innovations, such as using the heat from the conversion process to directly benefit farmers, foresters and greenhouse owners.
Since its inception, Exeterra has worked closely with TechGROWTH Ohio, a southeast regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. TechGROWTH assisted Bagley’s search for equipment manufacturing facilities and prepared legal documents for the licensing agreement with the company in England. In December 2014, Bagley moved his company from his home to the Ohio University Innovation Center. TechGROWTH continues to assist Exeterra with its market validation process by identifying the best new markets for the company and developing strong messaging for individual markets.
“TechGROWTH has helped create a sense of community for entrepreneurs in the most rural area of the state,” said Bagley. “The combination of the Innovation Center and TechGROWTH is invaluable in terms of support and engagement. They both are continuing to develop new ways to help entrepreneurs.”
Bagley had done prior work assisting the operations and development of other companies in the Athens area before starting Exeterra. He said the timing was perfect for him to start his own company in the region.
“Athens is close to many urban markets and is a center of local food and farming in the state,” said Bagley. “There are a lot of economic development professionals in the area who are willing to listen to ideas and help entrepreneurs access capital.”