Tired of fighting potholes — or entire holes — on bridges?

ZellComp, a startup based in Durham, just may have an answer to the challenges presented by the well-driven infrastructure across the United States.

Dan Richards, co-founder of the company, has been studying the problem of highway and bridge surfaces for more than a decade. ZellComp will be demonstrating its patented system at InfoTech 2005 on Oct. 12 at the Sheraton Imperial in RTP.

Meg Goodman Richards, co-founder of the firm, provided the answers for this company profile to Local Tech Wire:

What makes your technology unique?

In response to the poor condition of our nation’s bridges and highway systems, ZellComp has developed a patented prefabricated composite decking system. The time is right, as transportation officials recognize the need to use longer-lasting materials and innovative technologies to accomplish the safe and fast construction of high quality bridges and highways.

Companies are more than technology. How is your management team trying to mold the company into a winning venture beyond having a technical advantage or needed service?

In addition to having a superior patented design for composite bridge and parking decks, ZellComp has the right personnel to work with and gain the confidence of civil engineers, construction companies, and transportation officials. A hard sales pitch without the technical expertise to back it up does not work in this market.

Dan Richards, Ph.D., P.E., President & CEO of ZellComp, has excellent academic and research credentials in composites. His 1995 dissertation included a section addressing the use of certain composite materials in highway bridges. He gained significant experience in the aerospace and infrastructure composites industry, working with Lockheed Martin, LTV Aero-Products, and Martin Marietta Composites, among others.

Meg Goodman Richards, Chief Operating Officer and majority owner of ZellComp, provides business and financial planning and communications skills and expertise. Ms. Richards has been a practicing attorney for 20 years — including several years as Assistant General Counsel at GlaxoSmithKline — and specializes in business transactions.

What was the original inspiration (or invention) that led to the launch of your company?

In the summer of 2002, Dan Richards invented a unique design for a composite decking system. This two-part open system, relying on mechanical fasteners, offers major advantages over other composite decks on the market. Other composite decks require on-site mixing of and bonding with adhesives, which is hazardous and imposes moisture and temperature restrictions. Dan built and tested his first prototypes at his family’s small farm in Virginia. ZellComp then tested manufactured specimens at the Construction Facilities Laboratory at North Carolina State University.

What markets / needs are you seeking to address? (What is the size of those markets?)

First, ZellComp is entering the U.S. highway bridge deck market. At least $8 billion per year is spent on bridge deck repairs and replacements in the United States. Initiatives of the Federal Highway Administration, including the Innovative Bridge Research and Construction (IBRC) Program and Highways for Life, illustrate the commitment of the United States Department of Transportation to encouraging the use of innovative materials in bridge replacement and building. The ZellComp decking system can be manufactured in a variety of depths, making it appropriate for a wide range of bridge types and sizes. Second, ZellComp is targeting foreign bridge deck markets and the commercial parking deck market.

What have been the primary challenges you have faced in launching and then growing your company?

All composite decks face an upfront cost that is higher than concrete and steel, traditional materials. But, all composite decks — which are lightweight, corrosion resistant, and long lasting — are actually less expensive once faster installation (due to the prefabricated nature of composite systems) and longer life cycle considerations are factored in. Federal Highway Administration strategies are now convincing states DOTs to take these factors into account. And the lower upfront cost of the ZellComp system, due to its unique two-part design, is also a significant positive factor.

For two years several states have expressed interest in the ZellComp decking system, but convincing a bridge owner to be the first to install has been difficult. But with extensive testing and persistent marketing — which included sharing the extremely positive test results and emphasizing the advantages offered by a two-part, mechanically fastened system — ZellComp has entered commercial production. First run commercial product is being tested by three states this fall, and ZellComp’s first bridge deck installation is scheduled in early 2006.

Do you have patents or patents pending? If so, please provide details.

ZellComp’s first U.S. patent, covering the design of the ZellComp decking system, was issued earlier this year. ZellComp has patents pending in several foreign jurisdictions.

How is your company financed? Do you have plans to seek additional investors or venture capital? Do you have another exit strategy?

Through late 2004, ZellComp was completely self-funded by its founders, Dan Richards and Meg Goodman Richards. Since that time, ZellComp has sold a small percentage of the company pursuant to a friends and family round, which enabled ZellComp to achieve its goal of raising sufficient cash to enter commercial production.

ZellComp plans to seek additional funding from angel investors in the next few months.

Just the Facts: ZellComp, Inc.

Name of company: ZellComp, Inc.

Primary product/focus: Fiber-reinforced composite decking system for highway bridges, parking decks, and other structural applications.

Members of management team and titles:

Dan H. Richards, President and CEO

Meg Goodman Richards, Chief Operating Officer and majority owner

ZellComp has several key consultants with experience in composites, resins, and sales.

Founders of firm:

Dan Richards and Meg Goodman Richards

Year founded: 2002

Company address:

3020 Pickett Rd., Suite 327
Durham, NC 27705

Web site: www.zellcomp.com (under development; expected to be online by early October)

InfoTech 2005: www.cednc.org/cgi-bin/irCom.pl?545/1/db/351/0/0/28/0/0/0/2296