How does a serial entrepreneur settle into a CEO role that has, so far, spanned over 15 years? By continually building on new ideas, growing new businesses under a larger corporate umbrella, and not hoping for quick wins but planning on them over a span of years.
That’s how Dennis Calvert, CEO of BioLargo, has kept his curiosity and interest in building new entities while staying at the helm of one organization for so long.
The BioLargo origin story goes back to the early 2000’s. After working for several enterprise level companies, Calvert jumped into his first startup at age 27.
“I was one of those kids who walked the neighborhood selling stuff door to door out of my red wagon,” Calvert tells California Business Journal. “Both of my parents were entrepreneurs, so I came by it naturally.”
In 2002, Calvert teamed up with Ken Code, BioLargo’s Chief Science Officer, and Joseph Provenzano, the company’s Senior VP of Operations. “Ken was the inventor who formulated the basic chemistry that became the platform of a number of our products. He had made a discovery about this chemistry and was on a journey to develop products and tools to help keep his dad safe from nosocomial infection in the hospital. That’s how it started.”
So what exactly does BioLargo do?
In a previous article, CBJ focused on BioLargo’s Aqueous Electrostatic Concentrator (AEC), which helps eliminate harmful poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water (in addition to wastewater, groundwater, and more). That, in itself, is an important and innovative product with global reach, which just recently secured its first major customer.
But the company is much more than that. BioLargo is also a cleantech company with four units — BioLargo Water, ONM Environmental, BioLargo Engineering, and Clyra Medical. Its last breakthrough product is Pooph, the story of which offers an intriguing case study in how Calvert and the BioLargo team continue to innovate and bring new products and services to market.
Pooph is a pet odor control product manufactured by BioLargo and marketed through a branding company (www.pooph.com). It is sold direct to consumers as well as through retailers like Chewy and Amazon and is currently expanding nationwide at Walmart.
The product is not only effective at eliminating (not covering up) odor, but it is safe to use around pets and humans. This core safety feature of the underlying chemistry is what Code had been working toward thinking about his father for over 20 years. The infomercial video famously features the pitchman spraying Pooph directly into his mouth. It is a product proudly marketed
as “safe for people, pets, and the planet,” which fits into BioLargo’s ethos and business philosophy which focuses on sustainability and their stated mission to “make life better”.
While the basic chemical makeup of Pooph has been understood for decades, refining it, supporting its claims with countless case studies, and securing its position as a leading performer in the market took 15 years and millions of dollars. Calvert says BioLargo looks to put products out that are number one in terms of the technology behind them. “And we have to have the data to back up those claims before going to market,” he adds.
This is the path Calvert looks to take with everything BioLargo is offering. Pooph and AEC are joined by half a dozen other technologies in production or testing.
“The first question we ask: ‘Is this project worthy? Is it worth time and energy? Is it going to be helpful and make the world better? We are a company driven to do something worthy, and if we don’t think it has a chance to be technically number one, then we’re probably not going to do it.’”
Another example of the BioLargo process and tenet is a wound-care and infection control product currently being launched by BioLargo subsidiary Clyra Medical. Already cleared for market under FDA’s 510(k), the product is an antimicrobial technology based on combining compounds that create an oxidative reaction effective against a wide range of disease-causing organisms like viruses, fungi, spores and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria while remaining safe and non-toxic.
“It took a fair bit of time and money, and getting the 510(k) clears us up to partner and distribute the product as our first big foray into that market,” Calvert says. “Currently, Clyra is working to secure key partnerships to increase the product’s reach and has more than sixty sales reps targeting hospital systems.”
How can BioLargo’s various products and services work together? When asked about how BioLargo Water might help with water treatment where there are concerns about both biological and chemical contaminations, Calvert had this to say: “None of our big water treatment technologies are simple ‘widgets’ that can be plugged in without customization at a customer site. The larger and more complex the customer site, the more this is true. Usually, treatment of wastewater from, say, a poultry farm, requires what the industry would call a treatment train.”
A treatment train is a series of treatment devices that sequentially removes elements from water, like dissolved solids, then fats and oils, then organic contaminants and bacteria. BioLargo has several technologies that might be used to treat a customer’s problems. For instance, a municipal wastewater treatment plant may need both Advanced Oxidation System (AOS) technology to remove bacteria and micropollutants from water, then the AEC technology to remove PFAS “forever chemicals”, or things like chlorides, from water. “For that reason, we think of our technologies, which target specific market problems, as being very complementary to one another,” Calvert says.
Calvert and the BioLargo team are not finished innovating. Calvert teased several new business sectors that likely will mean a new business or two to run. Meanwhile, Clyra is ramping up its sales operation to handle the market demand, and BioLargo Engineering is helping municipalities and large companies manage the logistics in setting up waste water treatment and large-scale odor control for landfills and other big places that need a massive deodorizing.
“We all want to do something purposeful, important, and worthy,” Calvert concludes. “BioLargo is a realization of that for me and for all of us here. It’s an extension of how we think and believe that we should be operating as corporate citizens.”