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Innovate to Accelerate

How the Heritage Research Group fuels innovation for Techstars Accelerator startups.

The Center, Electrified

Those who tuned in to virtual Demo Day, the culmination of the 2020 Heritage Group Accelerator Powered by TechStars, witnessed the final product of the development, strategy and mentoring that went into the 13-week accelerator. Each of the ten founding teams participating—some of whom hailed from as far as the Netherlands—created a five-minute recorded pitch showcasing their startup’s vision, progress and plans for the future. If you just watched the video, you might have missed the months of creative collaboration that laid the foundation for the pitches.

 

Despite the impact of COVID-19, the accelerator produced an “electric” Demo Day, according to Senior Director of HG Ventures Ginger Rothrock. “The environment in the accelerator when it’s full of founders is incredibly active and upbeat,” added Chemistry Research Manager Meghan McLeod of the 13-week process preceding Demo Day. “There’s so much energy. There’s so much excitement.”

Participating founders quickly discover a hidden gem of The Heritage Group (THG) Accelerator: the Heritage Research Group (HRG). When introducing the accelerator in a May 2021 Crowdcast, Nanci Churchill of Techstars touched on this aspect of the program: “The lab that’s on site at The Heritage Group is a world-class facility that allows startup companies to run experiments in cooperation with the HRG lab team, which is phenomenal.”

 

Staffed by a team of experienced chemists and researchers, THG’s in-house research and development laboratory solves some of the biggest business and customer problems among the Heritage family of companies. Their work is behind several innovations that THG harnesses to build a safer, more enriching and sustainable world.

A Dream Team

The process begins with McLeod, whose non-accelerator months are spent overseeing analytical chemistry research for HRG. McLeod acts as a liaison between HRG and the startups involved in the accelerator. “[When] all the companies come in, I have one-on-one meetings with them, and I identify product characterization, development, and pilot opportunities that we can work on during the program,” she described. After this initial meeting, McLeod assesses the tools at her disposal, including those on-premise at HRG facilities (all of which are accessible to accelerator startups). After identifying an expert in the area in question, McLeod assembles a team of researchers to address the startup’s unique issue.

 

The Work Begins

In the case of Mobile Fluid Recovery (MFR), a startup dedicated to the cleaning and reuse of industrial waste streams, the collaboration with HRG took about a month from start to finish. CEO Justin Edmondson described the root of the challenge in his Demo Day pitch as “unlock[ing] the liquids from the solids in the waste stream.”

 

“The waste stream he had was too high in sulfur for resale,” said McLeod, describing high-iron metal fines with resale potential. “Justin already had that in mind, and when we met, that was something he identified as a particular problem the research group could help with.”

 

To resell the metal fines, MFR had to satisfy requirements for sulfur content by removing that element from the waste stream. HRG’s chemists rose to the challenge, taking a sample of metal fines and performing elemental analysis. “We helped him both quantify and type the sulfur, and then come up with an approach to remove it [from the waste stream],” McLeod said. The process evolved to a point where Edmonson’s team could perform it in their own facilities, opening MFR’s services to valuable new customers and, potentially, a new market.

 

“Industrial waste stream management is about a $60 billion industry. We recycle only about 30% of all waste streams today,” said Rothrock, “but the EPA believes about 75% of the waste streams are recyclable. MFR is unlocking the value of waste streams that are not currently recycled… and now, thanks to our research group, [Edmondson] has a solution that adds value to the company and his customer base.”

 

This waste stream innovation also underscores an essential tenet of THG’s mission: sustainability. By reusing the de-sulfured metal fines rather than disposing of them, MFR contributes to the circular economy by eliminating waste and making the most of available resources.

From the Ground Up

Some Accelerator projects have a much longer scope. Sunthetics, a startup that aims to make the development of new molecules more sustainable, harnessed HRG’s resources and brainpower to develop their pilot product: an electron reactor that enables organic synthesis.

 

“Sunthetics was developing new hardware, and we were the first pilot users of the product. So as you can imagine, there was a lot of trial and error in the lab and collaboration with the founders to get to a functional prototype,” said Rothrock.

 

The reactor, which uses electricity to produce a small-scale chemical, is paired with machine learning software, which predicts the most efficient conditions for reactions. Configuring the reactions was just the beginning.

 

“We had a lot more optimization and work that had to go into understanding the system,” said McLeod, who brought together a large team of researchers to work with Sunthetics. “Myself and one other chemist were working with the hardware to perform the reactions, and then we had another part of the team doing the chemical analysis and method development.”

 

The outcome of the accelerator for Sunthetics was an effective, repeatable framework for testing reactions. “We can run the Sunthetics system and demonstrate improvements in efficiency over multiple tests,” said McLeod. “That was a significant outcome for the Sunthetics team.”

 

A Vision Realized

For accelerator startups, the benefits of working with HRG extend far beyond the doors of The Center. For participating startup Pretred, the accelerator served as the perfect place to brainstorm. Working to mitigate the environmental impact of tire waste, founder Eric Davis envisioned road barriers made of recycled tires. “There’s got to be something we can make out of it,” he said in a Techstars Crowdcast of the tire and plastic waste occupying a local river. “It’s high volume and potentially high value.”

 

“We have members of the HRG team who have previously worked in related industries — tire, rubber, resins, all the different components that he was using — so he found a knowledgeable resource in simply having access to those people, brainstorming ideas, [and] talking about his process,” said McLeod.

 

One such team member is Research Engineer Dennis Justice. “The wide range of product and process assignments we participate in sets us apart from other research groups,” he said. “My knowledge, matured in multiple manufacturing environments, aided Pretred directly in building prototypes and rapid production improvements.”

Dennis Justice with the Pretred team and prototype

Justice aided in identifying materials and processes needed for Davis’s idea to become a reality: six-foot-long, one-ton construction barriers made of over 95% recycled material. With his help on the first manufacturing run, Pretred went from proof of concept to a full-scale product in just two weeks. “Over a short period of time, with limited resources, the Pretred sustainable construction product has gone from an idea on paper to a one-ton reality. The company continues to build on these manufacturing learnings and uses the first set of manufactured products to capture customer interest,” said Rothrock.

 

A year out from the accelerator, Pretred is looking forward to commercial scale manufacturing and product launch as well as addressing alternative waste streams. A seed-round investment of $3 million led by HG Ventures proves Pretred’s potential within the hard tech industry.

 

Justin Edmonds, founder and CEO of MFR, will be deepening his relationship with Heritage Interactive Services. “He’s made strong connections with the business unit and is actively working with them to help solve our customer’s waste problems,” Rothrock said.

 

Currently, the founders of Sunthetics are moving forward with the reaction method pioneered in collaboration with HRG. “That’s actually one of the biggest takeaways: now they have an established method for data analysis to use with targeted customers,” said McLeod.

 

After the Accelerator

Startups leave the Heritage Group Accelerator with 13 weeks’ worth of collaboration, creativity and innovation that translate into an incredible amount of business value. In return, the impact they leave behind is a major motivator for the Heritage family. “I just love that the broader Heritage Group gets exposed to entrepreneurs and their thinking, their energy,” said Rothrock. “It’s electric. It’s awesome.”

 

As the 2021 cohort of startups travels to Indianapolis for their own turn at the accelerator, Rothrock anticipates seeing The Center once again abuzz with the same lively dynamic. McLeod agrees: “There were ten different companies that were in completely different markets, and I got to learn about all of them and be involved in that process,” she said. “Our ability to catapult both their technical and business development is incredibly valuable.”

 

To learn more about the accelerator, visit hgventures.com/hgaccelerator/.

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Trailblazing Babione sisters visit Delphi quarry

For sisters Blair and Brienne Babione, who inspired the Carmel City Council to enforce gender-neutral road signage, summer vacation began with a visit to US Aggregates’ Delphi quarry.

  • Blair and Brienne Babione, sisters from Carmel known for their role in a recent City Council resolution enforcing gender-neutral road signage, were invited by Heritage Construction + Materials to visit US Aggregates’ Delphi quarry.
  • The tour focused on careers in the material sciences, a booming field where women are historically underrepresented.
  • The girls’ father, John Babione, began his own career at Heritage Environmental Services after he graduated from college.

Brienne and Blair pose in front of one of US Aggregates’ wheel loaders.

Over the course of winter 2020, Blair and Brienne Babione noticed “Men Working” signs in their Carmel, Indiana, neighborhood. The girls, who had seen women on road work crews before, questioned the wording on the sign.

“We thought it was unfair to girls because it said, ‘Men Working’, and some girls want to do construction,” said Brienne, 9.

The sisters had reason to challenge the gender-specific language they saw. According to the National Association of Women in Construction, women make up almost 10% of the construction industry. The signs, placed around the City of Carmel by a contractor, were in violation of the 1988 Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which has prohibited “Men Working” signage in favor of more specific pictograms like a flag or human figure. After questioning the signage, Brienne and her sister Blair, 11, researched the history of the sign with the help of their mother, Leslie Babione. They found out that the MUTCD phased out the use of Men Working signs decades ago. The girls then decided to write letters to the Carmel City Council advocating for the signs to be removed. Those letters spurred City Council President Sue Finkam to introduce a resolution enforcing the MUTCD regulations.

Brienne Babione selects fossils as Bill Corbett explains how they are formed.

“’Men Working’ or ‘Men At Work’ signage communicates the false and unacceptable message that women cannot or should not work in the construction trades or other related fields,” the resolution reads.

Thanks to the actions of Blair and Brienne, the resolution was passed. Soon, the story went viral as a source of inspiration during the COVID-19 pandemic, garnering national news coverage from Good Morning America, USA Today and more.

“I wanted to thank them for using their voices,” said Kierstin Janik, Chief Talent Officer of Heritage Construction + Materials.

Janik, a woman working in the construction industry and a fellow Carmel resident, heard about the girls’ story and decided to reach out.

“As a woman in a male-dominated industry, it’s important to me that I encourage young girls to be interested in what we do. They need to see that there are role models paving the way,” said Janik.

John, Brienne, Blair and Leslie examine a vessel used to heat aggregate samples.

On behalf of HC+M, Janik sent a gift basket to the Babione home with construction-themed toys and treats. She made sure to include a note inviting the girls to visit US Aggregates’ Delphi, Indiana, stone quarry over their summer break.

The sisters were on board. Both took an interest in the labeled rocks included in the gift basket, and Blair mentioned her interest in a career in geology. Brienne, a collector of rocks and shells, who had to miss her third-grade field trip to a rock quarry because of the pandemic, was thrilled to make the visit. With clear skies in the forecast, June 4 was the perfect day to visit.

The girls and their parents were met by Bill Corbett, Plant Manager at the Delphi quarry. Corbett modified his typical tour to introduce the girls to aspects of a career in the material sciences. The tour began at the on-site lab, where the Babione family learned how various products were monitored for quality. The girls got to meet Serena Cade, Quality Control Technician for US Aggregates, who was working on drying and testing samples during the tour.

Kierstin Janik and John Babione listen to Plant Manager Bill Corbett in the quarry while Brienne and Blair hunt for rocks.

“Gender has nothing to do with how successful someone may become,” Cade later said. “If you want it, go and get it. Nothing is stopping you.”

Corbett took the family through the quarry, answering questions like “Why are the rocks shiny?” and “How does the front loader run?” Surrounded by machinery, piles of fossils and a shockingly clear blue lake, the Babione sisters learned all about careers in the construction industry.

Exposing more young girls to construction and the material sciences can help drive female participation in those industries. As of 2018, 971,000 women were employed in the construction sector. Contrasted with the number of men in the industry (which is 10 times higher), it’s clear that there’s still a “concrete ceiling” to be shattered. So how can the construction industry address it?

According to Corbett, it’s investing in young talent like Blair and Brienne.

“When kids come to the quarry, we really focus on encouraging them. Kids have a natural curiosity about this stuff that can turn into careers for them when they grow up.”

Blair and Brienne scale a wheel loader.

US Aggregates has partnered with various local organizations to promote awareness of construction careers and passion for material sciences. Groups of students from local schools regularly visit US Aggregates quarries for tours focusing on technical career skills and operations (students from Area 30 recently visited the Cloverdale location). Building a safer, more enriching and sustainable world means having women in the industries that make our world work — and the Babione sisters agree.

“If people don’t speak up, then it won’t change,” Blair said.

Organizations like NAWIC and Women of Asphalt aim to empower women in the construction industry and recruit the next generation of female construction professionals. Members of the Heritage family seek to do the same through educational initiatives like Kids Science Camp, which took place virtually in July 2021.

Janik and Corbett show off one of US Aggregates’ material handlers.

“Our community outreach and youth engagement are really important for showing young girls (and any young person) that our construction and materials industry not only exists, but it’s interesting and could be a viable career for them,” said Janik. “We, as a company and industry, have to embrace the change in talent pool demographics and be diligent about the signals we are sending about inclusion.”

Blair and Brienne’s father, John Babione, is one of the many professionals who began their career as members of the Heritage family; when he graduated from college, Babione started working at Heritage Environmental Services in Indianapolis. His daughters’ interest in the material sciences reminded him of the beginnings of his own career.

“I was inspired by all the very bright people working at HES and the innovative solutions they were working on to help customers responsibly manage industrial waste,” he said. “Working there made me want to obtain an advanced degree, which led me to attend law school.”

John, Leslie, Blair and Brienne Babione pose in front of the lake at the Delphi quarry.

Babione looks back fondly on his time with the Heritage Family from his career in law.

“I was amazed at becoming reconnected to the Heritage Group all these years later through my children,” Babione added. “It shows me that the great company I worked for years ago continues to be a leader in the community.”

What’s next for the Babione sisters? A career in geology could be in store for Blair, whose favorite part of the quarry tour was exploring the machinery used to load and transport aggregates. Her younger sister Brienne aspires to be a veterinarian. But first, the girls look forward to a summer vacation full of dance lessons, 4-H projects and library books on one of their favorite subjects: women’s history and the suffrage movement.

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Trucking that Delivers

Heritage Transport truck driver Beth Manns on what drives her. 

Beth Manns started her workday at 3:30 a.m., but at the end of her 14-hour shift, she still walks into the breakroom with a smile on her face.

From being a rail driver to hauling oil, Manns has 28 years of trucking experience. No job ranks as high on her list as her current role: Truck driver for Heritage Transport. We caught up with Manns after a shift to get a glimpse of life behind the windshield.


“This is absolutely my favorite job ever — not because everything’s perfect, but because we’re trying to make everything perfect, and that’s what I like.”


What does the average day as a truck driver look like?

We’re allowed to run 14 hours in a day, and that’s all your time included from driving 11 hours and then three hours of fluff time. Mine’s usually pretty much on that — a lot of it is windshield time. Some of it is loading, which can be very physical because we load hoses and load product through the hose.

 

What gets you out of bed every morning?

My kids. I love to provide for them and make sure they have everything that I can give them, but I also like to set an example for being someone who shows up for work and is dependable. I want to pass that on to them. I want the next generation to know that matters.

 

How does your job connect to the rest of THG?

I’m part of a team. I’m not the biggest part, but I’m an important part. Everyone has a role to play here. I need dispatch, and I need management to help the dispatch flow easily; they need me to get out there and do my job so that they’re covered too. And my customers — they really depend on me being there, so we all try to work together to make it happen.


Beth’s lingo

  • CDL: commercial driver’s license, for operating large, heavy or hazardous material vehicles
  • Dispatch: behind-the-scenes support, helping truckers
  • Doubles: certification for pulling two trailers
  • Fluff time: time not driving the truck
  • Tanker: used for transporting liquids or gasses
  • Triples: certification for pulling three trailers
  • Windshield time: time driving the truck

What makes you most proud to work for Heritage?

I’m helping clean the environment. We take care of stuff that others want to get rid of. And we’re trying to return to the earth something valuable rather than destroy it. That’s why I love working here. As far as Heritage is concerned, because of where we are in the lineup of products, we’re at the end. We’re last, but we’re first at the same time because we finish well. We do the job right.

 

What is a truck driver stereotype you’d like to challenge?

For one, I shower every day at least twice (laughs), and another is that some of us are educated. I think that a lot of people get the impression that you become a truck driver because you didn’t have anything else to do. I went to college, and lot of us do have some education. We’re not all just steering wheel holders. We do a hard job out here, and there’s a lot of high stress. People don’t realize that the equipment we are pulling does not just stop on a dime.


What it takes to get behind the wheel:

  • CDL with vehicle inspection and driving test renewed every 4 years
  • Class A Hazmat endorsement renewed every 4 years
  • Roughly 20-30 safety training hours per year

What’s one value you always embrace inside and outside of your job?

Honesty. I like to be an honest person, and sometimes that means saying ‘no’ to things that I’m not capable of doing. That’s hard for me because I’m really a go-getter. At the end of the day, what we leave behind are footprints that someone else is going to follow, and if we’re way off somewhere, they’re going to be off, too.

 –

How does safety play a role in your career?

In this job it’s particularly important. We’ve had a lot of training, so it really sticks in your mind that it’s not just to do a good job for the company, but it’s to make sure I can come back tomorrow and take care of my health and my family. If I want to go home, I need to be very prepared—go above and beyond.

 

What would you tell anyone who is considering becoming a truck driver?

Get your training and get every endorsement possible because you never know how it’s going to work for you. I have a school bus license, passenger, triples, doubles, tanker, hazmat, everything. And any training that you can take that will advance you, take it. Don’t just test the water; get in and cover yourself in it.


Could a career like Beth’s be in your future? Check out job openings at Heritage Environmental Services and apply today!

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Winning the Long Game

Chris Patchon of Heritage Environmental Services has felt satisfied and motivated in his job for the past 26 years. Here are eight things that have helped make Chris so successful.

When you meet Chris Patchon, who manages Heritage Environmental Services’ (HES) western Indianapolis waste treatment plant and landfill, his positive energy and passion quickly inspire admiration. What keeps Chris going? What makes him so successful? We recently followed Chris around the plant to find out, and learned eight things that keep Chris happy, motivated and driven to tackle whatever comes next. These could be good reasons for you to start a career at a Heritage Group company, too!

 

1. He was spotted quickly.

“I’m a local kid,” said Chris, who grew up just down the street from where he works today. “I walked by the plant going to football practice.” Years later, at age 21, Chris joined the plant as a material handler in drum operations, working the night shift. He frequently signed on for overtime, occasionally working double shifts.

It didn’t take long for leaders to spot Chris’s dedication. Two years later, the manager of a Heritage plant in Charlotte, North Carolina, asked Chris to relocate from Indy to Charlotte and run the drum operation there. “I was an hourly employee at the time,” Chris said. “I asked, ‘Why me?’ He said, ‘Why not you?’” Chris’s wife, Jennifer, had just given birth to their son, Drew, and didn’t want to leave town. “I said ‘no’ at first,” Chris admitted. But when Jim Green, the president of the company at the time, called and asked him to fly to Charlotte for a visit, Chris took him up on the offer. Not long after, Chris and his young family made the move south. “It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made in my career,” said Chris, who eventually took over all plant operations in Charlotte.

 

2. He’s surrounded by mentors who inspire him.

If you ask Chris what he loves most about his job, the first thing he’ll say is: the people. He admires Jeff Laborsky, Chief Executive Officer of HES and leader of Heritage Research Group. “Jeff’s a people person, and he’s committed to our company’s mission to protect human health and the environment,” Chris said. “That commitment at the highest levels trickles down — it’s genuine.”

Winde Hamrick, Executive Vice President of HES, once managed the plant Chris runs now. She mentored Chris when he returned from Charlotte in 1999. Even though there were no manager positions open, Chris and Winde set a goal for his future that included professional development opportunities. It took almost four years for the operations manager spot to open up, and when it did, Chris stepped in and kept growing. Winde continues to help guide Chris’s career today. “I’m blessed to have her as a mentor,” he said. “We have a wonderful relationship.”

 

3. The Heritage Group invests in his success.

When Chris started at HES, a busy work schedule and frequent promotions got in the way of wrapping up his higher education goals. “A business degree was the plan,” said Chris, who in the same breath notes he’s proud to help run a successful business.

“I like to say I have a master’s degree from Heritage University,” Chris said with a smile. “Heritage offers so many resources — especially mentors and coaches — you continually learn on the job.”

On top of that, Chris has taken part in leadership training, including weeklong programs at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. “It was an awesome experience!” he said of undergoing the trainings. “Heritage invests in people. It’s something we do well here.”


On tackling challenges like a linebacker:

Chris, who has an athlete’s energy and positive outlook, played football in high school and college. The former linebacker’s drive to protect his people — combined with his quick thinking at every turn — make him a good fit for the demanding work of running a 24/7, all-seasons operation.

Like any talented athlete, Chris also likes to win — and he looks for similar qualities in potential employees. “I sense the desire to win,” he said. “High-potential employees rise above failure and always look for a solution.”

Chris has also learned that each employee has their own spark. “There’s an art to how you approach and motivate people,” he said. “You’ve got to take the time to get to know them.”


4. His voice counts.

Working at a private company with a family atmosphere leads to teamwork and collaboration, which in turn sparks new ideas. “We’re a very creative company,” Chris said. “So many ideas have grown into new businesses. It has been cool to watch it happen.”

Chris appreciates that leaders frequently ask for his opinion. “They don’t have to,” Chris noted. “But the fact that they engage with operations at all levels means a lot to me.”

That engagement and collaboration presents opportunities for everyone. “It’s not unusual for employees to talk to the president of the company,” Chris said. “You’re never ‘just a number’ here. You’re part of a team. And it’s a winning team.”

 

5. Family values matter.

A devoted family man, Chris has been married to his wife, Jennifer, for 26 years — as long as his tenure at the company. He’s the father of a son, Drew, and daughter, Hanna, both college grads pursuing careers in the pharmaceutical and medical fields.

Chris said his parents, Brad and Debbie, kindled his focus on values like loyalty and dedication. Brad, Chris’s stepdad, who worked for the City of Carmel’s wastewater division, modeled hard work. “I watched him get up in the wee hours of the morning to go to his job. And he raised two kids who weren’t his own. He didn’t have to do that. He set the foundation of always doing the right thing and putting in the effort.”

The Heritage Group’s core values of honesty, integrity, and fairness resonate with Chris. “Those values align with who I am as a person,” he said.

He’s also happy about how his career at HES has supported his family. “Working at Heritage has given me a wonderful life. It allowed me to put my kids through college; to take my family on vacation. I didn’t get to do those things as a child,” Chris added. “I’m forever grateful.”

Chris with his family

The Patchon family. From left: son Drew, wife Jennifer, Chris, and daughter Hanna

6. Loyalty means something.

When Chris is looking for new employees, he seeks “loyal, dedicated people who are aligned with what we do,” he said. “We have jobs here, and we also have careers.”

Chris’s loyalty and commitment to HES and his team have helped make him successful in his own career. That’s because his leaders look out for him and his future. “At Heritage, loyalty and dedication go both ways,” he said.

 

7. People pay it forward.

When Chris walks through his plant with a group of visitors, he greets each worker by name, quickly pointing out their tenure with the company and their personal story. Bart Bicknell, a chemical treatment supervisor and 20-year HES employee, served as a tank commander in Desert Storm. John Boyne, an operator in chemical treatment who has worked at Heritage for 27 years, is a “great employee,” in Chris’s book. Chris recently recommended Eric Chris, the plant’s operations manager, for a promotion, which Eric earned. He began his new job running the Roachdale landfill early this year. “It’s a pay-it-forward mentality,” said Chris, who’s proud of the fact that many Heritage employees and leaders launched their careers at the plant where he works now.


On caring about his people:

Since he became plant manager, Chris has instilled new policies that do more to give employees a voice. On Day 1, after they’ve met the safety manager and walked the facility, new employees meet with every member of the management team. Chris’s personal open-door policy shows his genuine investment in each employee. “I don’t care how long someone’s been here or who they are. Everyone’s welcome to come to my office for a conversation about anything,” he said. “I want people to feel okay about talking to leadership. I tell people who stop by, ‘Hey, I’m no different than you are.’ That’s how we build a relationship.”


8. There’s room to grow.

At Heritage Group companies, the freedom to learn and grow is real. “The opportunities to do great things are there,” Chris said. The different companies within The Heritage Group give employees freedom to move around; “if you have the drive and ambition to do great things, you can do it,” Chris emphasized. “I started at the bottom and worked my way up. It takes time and effort, but if you work hard, you can get where you want to be.”

Could a career at Heritage be in your future? Click here to see our open positions and apply online.