Touchstone Research Laboratories, located in Triadelphia, West Virginia, was founded by Brian Joseph in the 1980s. This company develops patents, products, research and development, failure analysis, materials testing, spin out technologies and is one of the most innovative and successful commercial research and development organizations in the United States.
Joseph, president and CEO, talked with Jim Matuga, host of The Positively West Virginia Podcast, about Touchstone Research Laboratories, CFoam, his worst business experience and the lesson he learned from it.
Can you [Brian] give us a little background on how Touchstone Research Laboratories works?
“In the United States, three percent of the federal research budget is put aside for small businesses. It’s called small business innovation research (SBIR),” Joseph said. “We’ve become extremely good at writing SBIR proposals. Typically, phase one is $150,000. Your national win rate in every one in ten. And, then after you finish your phase one, you have about a 50/50 chance of getting a phase two, which is typically one million dollars.”
“We’ve brought in large amounts of money to develop new technologies,” Joseph said. “The federal government puts out solicitations for what it is that they need to buy. You know you have your customer, they’re giving you the money to develop it and you get to own the intellectual property when you’re done.”
“We have done that repeatedly, and based upon our inventions, we have done license agreements with companies, one joint venture, taken one company public and are spinning out three more companies in the next couple years.”
One of those companies is CFoam. Can you [Brain] tell us about that?
CFoam is a new structural material made from coal in a cost-effective proprietary process that has been under development since 1998. This process is not expensive, the material is lightweight, fire-resistant, impact absorbing and can be thermally insulated.
“If you take coal and grind it up into a fine power, and then blow it up, it turns into a beautiful black foam,” Joseph explained. “It becomes a base technology that you can do many things with. You can make fireproof walls, energy absorbing structures, electrodes for batteries and molds for the next generation airplane parts. Just like any foam, the applications are almost infinite.”
What is one of your worst business mistakes?
“Probably twice I’ve had serious problems. In both cases, they were the same thing,” Joseph said. “I piloted the company into an area where cash became very tight, and usually it’s about trying to do more than we could afford at the moment, which is a very easy thing to do in a technology company.”
“In both cases, we got through it fine,” Joseph said. “So my advice to you, for when you get into these types of problems, or virtually any problem in your business, is don’t give up.”
Joseph was a guest of The Positively West Virginia Podcast. Listen to his full podcast here.
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