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WPI business plan winner Bob Winnicki (second from left) with his prize. Shown here are the contest judges, including (l-r) Patrick Kelley, Worcester Capital Partners; Winnicki; Susan Loconto Penta, Midior; and Arif Padaria, TVM Techno Venture Management.

Biopolymer company makes natural recovery of $30K in WPI competition

05/20/2002 08:46 AM
By Adria Cimino

Robert Winnicki entered Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s business plan competition with the simple intention of improving his writing skills.

In the end, 28-year-old Winnicki and his ecological technology also ended up with the $30,000 first prize.

“It’s been a very good experience for me,” he said. “The support at WPI has been tremendous.”

Winnicki’s company, Natural Metal Recovery Systems, uses natural biopolymers to remove heavy metal contaminates like chromate, copper and magnesium from liquids.

These biopolymers bind to any metal with two charges.

In the mining industry, for instance, the company’s device could remove copper from water found in the mines. The company also plans to target the iron and steel industries, as well as the circuit board market.

These clients then could use the recovered metals or sell them.

Today, most of these metals are turned into a sludge that is buried in a landfill as hazardous waste.

Winnicki, who hopes to finance the company through angel investments rather than venture capital, said he will need $100,000 to $150,000 to build a large-scale device.

Testing will take about nine months and $50,000 to $70,000.

“If we can get $200,000, we’ll be ready to go,” Winnicki said.

Worcester Advanced Plating has offered to serve as a beta site.

And if all goes according to schedule, the device could be on the market in a year to a year and a half.

The company’s revenue stream would include the sale of the device and reorders of the polymer used in the device.

Winnicki hopes to team up with small consulting firms that develop systems needing such a tool.

“Each plant has different needs,” he said. “Our real challenge is proving to this small group of professionals (the consulting firms) that this technology is valuable.”

Winnicki won the competition sponsored by the WPI Collaborative for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) after competing with five other young entrepreneurs.

Natural Metal Recovery Systems, however, is not his first company.

He co-founded Natural Biopolymers LLC about two years ago. The company, which makes cosmetic products from biopolymers, was a lot easier to start in his own home than this latest endeavor, he said. The technology behind Natural Biopolymers didn’t require as much infrastructure as does the new company.

Winnicki now plans to focus primarily on Natural Metal Recovery Systems, while still remaining involved in his first company.

Unlike winners of most business competitions, Winnicki did not receive his prize in one lump sum. Instead, CEI instructs its winners to bill the office for their business expenses.

“That keeps them coming into the office,” said McRae C. Banks, CEI director. “We also want to make sure they are spending it on that business.”

Banks said Winnicki’s solid concept and the valuable nature of his technology made his idea a winning one.

Three local venture capitalists judged the competition.

“When a venture capitalist looks at an application and says, ‘Can we build this quickly to a $500 million business?’ the answer to this one is ‘yes,’ ” Banks said.

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