The desire to make a cheap, safe, durable recycled playground surface led Paul Burke away from investment banking into the recycled rubber business.
``Every year 220,000 kids go to the emergency room because of hard playground surfaces,'' Mr. Burke said. ``There are two deaths per month due to playground-related falls.''
Recycled rubber was the obvious choice for a safety surface, he said, because ``it performs better than any alternative, and it's at the lower end of the cost spectrum.''
Mr. Burke and partner Tom Siebert founded Environmental Surface Products L.L.C. in 1999. In just two years, the firm-renamed GroundScape Technologies-has grown exponentially. In May, it moved into a 16,000-sq.-ft. facility in Brooklyn Heights near Cleveland, and more recently was poised to complete an addition, bringing total space to 42,000 square feet.
With the added space, GroundScape will have an annual capacity of 24 million pounds of recycled rubber, according to Mr. Burke. This is equivalent to about 1.2 million tires, although GroundScape doesn't receive or grind any whole tires, he said. ``We go to certified tire grinders who grind to our specifications.''
Two factors have particularly aided GroundScape's growth plans, Mr. Burke said. One is a partnership agreement with Cleveland-based venture capitalist Second Generation Ltd. Signed last April, the pact provided the rubber recycler with well over $1 million in capital, he said.
Second was the hiring last year of Jerry Coffey, a former senior research polymer chemist at BP Oil, as GroundScape's vice president of research and technology.
Mr. Coffey, the holder of 41 patents, has developed three ``revolutionary'' colorant and adhesion technologies for which GroundScape has applied for utility patents. It is these technologies, Mr. Burke said, that provide a competitive edge for the company's only two products-GroundScape, a ``durable, natural-looking mulch alternative,'' according to the company, and GroundScape Kids, a loose-fill playground safety surface.
Mr. Burke's plans include rapid expansion of the business. GroundScape's current operations are restricted to Northeast Ohio, but demand is expanding so rapidly, he said, that within five to seven years he expects to ``cover 10 or 12 regions.''