Archive for Saturday, November 12, 2011

Custom bacteria fuels Wichita company’s growth

November 12, 2011


Chemical fertilizers are so 20th century. Biology is the hot new way to continue boosting plant growth, and a Wichita company says it is grabbing a lead position for the future.

Alpha BioSystems has developed a series of bacteria cocktails to stimulate plants and consume organic waste for farmers, gardeners and industries.

The company has just 13 employees but sees a bright future.

Company president Eric Borland projects sales growth at 1,000 percent during the next three to four years. The company doesn’t release actual sales figures.

About two-thirds of sales are to agricultural users. It markets two related lines of products: Terra-One is applied to farm fields to aid crop growth. Safe-One helps breaks down the massive amounts of animal waste that accumulate at feedlots, dairies and chicken houses.

Another quarter of its sales comes from a line of organic growth aids called Thrive that it sells through garden centers, including several in Wichita.

Alpha BioSystems originated in the 1990s as a maker of biological products to up clean oil waste. Scott Schwindaman, a Wichitan who is president and CEO of Lubrication Engineers, bought Alpha BioSystems in 2007 because he saw the potential for the products, Borland said.

It was Schwindaman who decided to change direction and push for faster growth.

A small percentage of the company’s sales still come from a biological oil cleanup product called MicroClean, but Borland said the company really doesn’t have time to market it adequately.

Now that the company has picked its direction, it’s starting to execute that strategy.

Borland, who has a long history with some of Wichita’s best-known entrepreneurs — most recently with the Hayes family’s former Fence Corp. — said coming to work is fun when your prospects are so good.

“I’ve been in different companies where you go to endless meetings about what’s the new color for next year or how to get to two points of market share,” he said. “Here we come in every day and it is wide open in terms of what opportunity to work on next.”

The company has a suite of offices, a warehouse and a lab in its building.

In the lab, workers grow multiple, specific strains of bacteria. Borland said the product contains 18 to 30 species of bacteria, each with a specific functions.

The bacteria work to break down constituents in the soil, making them more digestible to crops, he said. It is designed to work with chemical fertilizers.

The company is working hard to identify distributors across the Midwest who already know local farmers. It now has 28, Borland said.


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