University City

In entrepreneur competition, winner finds roadworthy use for manure

Some of humankind’s most surprising inventions began when an inquisitive mind decided that combining two unlikely things would be a good idea.

In 1907, chemist Leo Baekeland mixed formaldehyde and phenol to create plastic – the moldable concoction responsible today for everything from assisting in life-saving surgeries to cluttering kitchen drawers with mismatched storage containers and lids.

In 1928, dairy farmer Harry Reese performed a stroke of genius when he introduced peanut butter to chocolate, resulting in an 85-year marriage with no plan for separation in sight.

But it took awhile longer before someone would dream up mankind’s latest combination of the unlikely – crushed stone and pig manure.

When combined the two ingredients help create a liquid asphalt that solves a multitude of issues plaguing the road construction industry today.

Someday, all of our travels may be on a road of excrement.

Bio-Adhesive Alliance, the N.C. A&T University spinoff company responsible for the innovation, created the new asphalt to solve the industry’s growing emphasis for greener products and lower costs.

“They’re always ready for new, sustainable materials, and they’re looking more and more at waste,” said Bio-Adhesive Alliance president Mahour Mellat-Parast. “That was the movement, the reason behind the research.”

Liquid asphalt made with pig manure helps create a more sustainable environment; it also helps decrease the number of pig waste lagoons in North Carolina, now in the thousands.

Economically, farmers like to get paid for it and asphalt executives are happy to pay them, at a lower price than the petroleum-based ingredient it’s replacing.

Bio-Adhesive Alliance’s new product has caused a stir in a number of circles, from financial backers to green-initiative supporters.

This year the company picked up two honors, becoming the grand prizewinner of both the ACC Clean Energy Challenge – which comes with a $100,000 award – and the Charlotte Venture Challenge, which earned them a $25,000 prize.

The latter, sponsored by UNC Charlotte’s Charlotte Research Institute and Ventureprise, a business incubator and accelerator on Mallard Creek Road, is a competition that draws entrepreneurs and investors to the Charlotte region.

Bio-Adhesive Alliance beat out nearly 100 competitors this year in the contest, in part, said Paul Wetenhall, president of Ventureprise, because it had that “it” factor.

“Once people got past the snickers of dealing with pig waste, the first thing that was clear was this team had a really solid understanding about the market and their solution for the market,” said Wetenhall.

Entrepreneurs received feedback to improve their ideas and business plans throughout the months-long contest. The 18 finalists who remained after a series of eliminations worked with mentors experienced in entrepreneurial startups.

The contest ended with sales pitches to a panel of judges during the final competition, held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in May.

One judge, John Cambier, an early-stage investor with IDEA Fund Partners, said Bio-Adhesive Alliance has all of the ingredients essential to become a big success.

“What I’m looking for in these companies is the strongest combination of market size, company product differentiation, protectability against competitors, and a manager team that has a chance of executing that plan,” said Cambier. “They had the best combination of all of those factors.”