SM: When did you start Hycrete?
DR: I did a six-sigma training program at Honeywell for a month and a half after my MBA and could not stand it. My grandfather passed away and at his shiva I spoke with my uncle and cousin who were also in the family business. That is when the Hycrete opportunity became apparent. The business was having a tough time and my uncle shared this technology that was developed in 1995 and nothing was happening with it.
I saw the test results and they seemed interesting. My uncle invited me to take it on and make something out of it so that is what I did. It was not a fit working in my family’s business so I spun it off on my own. I was one of those guys going two years without a salary trying to make this happen.
My grandfather developed a water molecule that would repel water, much like water and oil repel each other. That is very unique. This changes concrete from a hard sponge to a waterproof material. I immediately thought that people who owned structures for a long time would appreciate it. It was developed as a corrosion inhibitor and the side benefit was a long hydrocarbon chain that was reflective of the property of oil.
I started trying to get into the infrastructure market. I got into projects at the Connecticut DOT, the New Jersey DOT, the Ohio DOT and Kansas DOT. I did not have money so I had to rely on Universities and DOTs to pay for the testing that they wanted done their way.
SM: What kind of money were you able to get the DOTs to pay you for the tests?
DR: They did not pay me anything, but they paid for the tests. A lot of DOTs had their own testing labs. I either got them to sponsor the testing themselves or I got universities to do the testing.
SM: At that point where you still operating solo?
SM: Who was supporting you on the technical side?
DR: I got very knowledgeable on the technology. I started this in 2002 and in 2003 I was delivering a paper in front of the Transportation Research Bureau which is all the technical leaders of the DOTs throughout the country. I was giving them a very detailed technical paper to the crowd. When you are doing it all you must make yourself and expert.
SM: How did the results of all those test turn out?
DR: They were very favorable. There were a bunch of competitive tests. Our product was tested against other technologies. There is a software model that predicts lifecycle analysis. It tries to answer the question ‘How long is this going to last?’ using three competitive technologies in tandem. The best case results are in a highly corrosive environment 17 years. Our material had an outcome of over 190 years. It was a multitude better than other competing companies.
Before us the philosophy of how to keep moisture out of concrete was to densify it. Concrete is a hard sponge and has a network of capillaries. People would try to fill it up with fine dust to block or close the pore size. There is a rule in physics which states you can shrink a capillary but actually increase capillary absorption. Denser concrete often had higher absorption readings.
Our approach does not change the porosity. It makes it hydrophobic. It completely shuts down capillary absorption. The results were fantastic as a corrosion inhibitor. I then started selling to DOTs. The value proposition was that their bridge would last 100 to 200 years instead of 20 years.