For most technology companies, the distance between research and development and making the sale in new markets can be quite a stretch. Here’s how Entropex builds partnerships to bridge the gap for its clean tech company.
Innovation is no stranger to Entropex. In 2013, the fast-growing, privately owned company received both the American Chemistry Council Innovation in Plastics Recycling award and the Gold award for excellence from the Recycling Council of Ontario. Based in a 180,000 sq. ft. large facility and warehouse complex in Sarnia, Ontario, the company is currently ranked as one of the top 10 largest post-consumer plastics recyclers in North America.
A quick look inside a Blue Box explains why Entropex’s technology is gaining so much attention.
“There might be several materials in a laundry detergent container, for example, like different grades of plastic for the cap and the bottle, a paper label and label adhesive,” says Kevin Bechard, Vice-President of Development. “Developing ways to deconstruct these items into individual components so we can recycle them are some of the technological challenges we’re taking on.”
In 2011, Entropex’s RigidReclaim™ technology evolved the sorting, cleaning and processing for mixed-grade plastics to enable recovery of all seven grades of plastic. This includes non-bottle plastic containers such as food tubs, lids, thermoform packaging, cups, trays and clamshell cases; even old lawn chairs, children’s slides and laundry baskets. In fact, more than 70 per cent of the plastics recovered by the RigidReclaim technology were not typically recycled by conventional methods.
The innovation had a dramatic impact on post-consumer and post-industrial recycling programs and vastly increased the recovery of plastic materials—by about 30 per cent in Ontario alone.
“This means less plastic going to the landfill, and a broader and cheaper supply of high-quality recycled plastics available for manufacturers to use in the automotive, construction and consumer goods industries,” says Bechard. “The increased recovery of post-consumer plastics, creation of green jobs and cost savings to manufacturers will have a domino effect for municipalities and companies up and down the supply chain.”
With new innovation comes new opportunities for growth
Boosted by the positive response to its technology, Entropex grew from 80 employees in 2010 to 200 today.
For technology companies, achieving such ambitious goals depends on finding new markets—and having a strategic plan in place.
In the case of Entropex, Bechard says that exporting was always part of the company’s DNA due to its multiple roles within supply chains. Currently, about half of their product is exported to the United States.
“We also source recyclables,” he explains. “A city like Toronto, for instance, will only provide about 10 per cent of our required supply, so we serve a mega-region of some 60 million people, from Toronto to Chicago to Pittsburgh and New York. When we choose a new market, we have to look at urban concentrations to get enough supply for our facilities.”
They also look for markets where governments and businesses are motivated to evolve their plastics recovery programs and increase recycled plastic content in products. “Our company is very much married to public policy,” Bechard says. “Governments want to reduce landfill and implement environmentally sound practices. Businesses want to source this material and show consumers that their packaging is recoverable. So we have to take a collaborative approach.”
Bechard adds that clean tech companies tend to form integral partnerships with all other sectors. “Our innovations help other companies with resource and operating efficiencies, enabling them to be more profitable and driving economic growth in Canada. To turn a laundry detergent bottle into an automotive part is good for business, the environment and the economy.”
From the R&D phase to the first sale, clean technology is a highly capital-intensive business. To get this far, Entropex found valuable guidance and support from a variety of partners, including Sustainable Development Technology Canada; Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure; Stewardship Ontario; and Export Development Canada.
“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with EDC, and the fact they’ve recognized clean tech as a priority sector for investment and growth is a game changer for companies like ours,” Bechard says. Bechard says EDC worked collaboratively with the company’s financial institutions during its rapid period of growth. With EDC’s Export Guarantee Program, Entropex was able to use its domestic assets to access financing for new lines of business. “Innovation by its very nature is risky, because it’s something that’s never been tried before,” says Bechard. “With EDC’s support, companies like Entropex can achieve their goals for growth.”
While Entropex continues to build out capacity from their Ontario location, next steps will include expanding to other parts of the U.S. and Europe.