Behind the invention: Brad Bongiovanni, co-founder, product and marketing development; Shawn Funderburk, co-founder and president
Number of patents: 2
The patent bill to date: $40,000
A simple sketch during a casual conversation between friends was all it took for Brad Bongiovanni and Shawn Funderburk to envision a technology designed to improve equipment Funderburk uses every day as an environmental scientist.
Repeatedly frustrated by the lack of security built into the water wells he handled daily, Funderburk wanted a way to make them more secure. With an eye for product and design, Bongiovanni was the perfect match to bring the idea to life.
“I just started sketching stuff on paper,” Bongiovanni recalls.
His early drawings became the basis of the company they incorporated in 2002—Enviroguard Technologies Inc.—and also served as the foundation for their patents.
The device is essentially a heavy metal cover with a locking mechanism. It acts as a security platform that can be retrofitted to secure any service station fuel fill port, manhole cover, groundwater monitoring well or existing subsurface ground opening for critical infrastructure.
“It is really just a big piece of metal,” Bongiovanni explains. “The technology and the sophisticated part is in the lock.”
Electronic technology can also be added to the device to allow users to monitor them. The cost to purchase a single device can range anywhere from $700 to $1,300, based on the security level desired. Cheaper versions made with plastic or other materials range from $400 to $600.
Enviroguard’s patented retrofitting technology has the potential to be used in a variety of industries, whether it be service stations or city street manhole covers.
Bongiovanni and Funderburk initially geared their application toward groundwater monitoring wells, but saw the most market potential for use at gas stations. That’s because 95% of them are owned by independent companies—either one-store operators or regional chains—according to a 2015 report by the National Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing.
The entrepreneurs saw increased market potential at gas stations following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The heightened focus on antiterrorism efforts in post-9/11 America led Enviroguard to position its device as a way to make gas stations less vulnerable to attacks and accidents.
Working together with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and state entities, Enviroguard is currently pursuing a national Safety Act Certification for its technology, which would provide liability protection to help promote the creation, deployment and use of antiterrorism technologies.
Higher gas prices in previous years led to a wave of gasoline thefts at service stations across the country—and exposed yet another selling point for Enviroguard’s technology in that sector.
In late 2014, after an explosion during a fuel theft in Miami in broad daylight, the owner of the station called Bongiovanni after finding his company on the Internet, ready to install the product at his nearly 80 gas stations across south Florida.
Now, after more than 10 years of research and development, Enviroguard is in the process of finalizing its
manufacturing process to bring the product to full-scale commercialization. But Bongiovanni admits that these days, plummeting oil prices are bad for business and may cause delays in the commercialization plan.
“We are seeing less of a demand now, where security a year and a half ago was huge,” he says. “That is affecting us negatively and could affect us for another couple of years.”
With decreasing interest from mom-and-pop service stations, the initial target market for the product, Bongiovanni is recalculating his business plan for 2016.
“Big box stores like Walmart have come into the game,” he says.
According to the 2015 NACS report, the top five hypermarkets selling fuel include Kroger with 1,220 stores, Walmart with 999 stations, Sam’s Club with 505, Costco with 381 and Safeway with 346.
“That market alone could be huge for us,” he says.
Today, Bongiovanni continues to listen to consumers and tweak his design to better fit the needs of potential customers working in the field. In recent months he’s had to re-engineer the product, making adjustments for size. He has also designed a more universal fit.
“The moral of the story,” he says, “is that consumers will drive what your product has to do, which is great.”
Looking ahead to the continuing commercialization process, Bongiovanni describes his approach to the future of Enviroguard as hands off.
Also the owner of Baton Rouge-based advertising firm Rockit Science Agency, Bongiovanni says he came to the realization that because he and Funderburk are not in the manufacturing or installation business, it doesn’t make sense for them to use their time and talents to try to build Enviroguard into a big company.
The goal now is to pursue licensing agreements.
“We are licensing to people to manufacture it for us,” he explains, describing a nonexclusive agreement with a manufacturer in New Jersey. “They will have the authorization to manufacture these and sell them direct under our license agreement.”
Bongiovanni says the licensing approach makes more sense from a business standpoint.
“I could turn around right now and raise capital if we wanted to roll this out nationwide,” he explains. “We are just doing it a different way. If we go to the right manufacturers and get the right licensing agreements, I can just sit back and take a small percentage.”