How a restaurant career helped prepare AbTech's CEO

(MoneyWatch) AbTech Industries CEO Glenn Rink has seen his share of oil spills. Working in the field of agricultural technology, he experienced their destruction firsthand, which inspired him to find a better way to clean up their damage, faster. His solution? "Smart Sponge," a popcorn-shaped material that uses polymer technologies to attract hydrocarbons and cleans large volumes of water that are affected by oil spills. He joins The Startup with a demo of his incredible invention.

Rebecca Jarvis: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and what you do.

Glenn Rink: I am the CEO of AbTech Industries, a subsidiary of AbTech Holdings.

Prior to founding AbTech, I was doing marketing for an agricultural technology company that used polymers in growing more efficient crops. While working there, I was able to identify technologies that could be very effective in removing various contaminants such as hydrocarbons from water.

Using my knowledge of these technologies, and after witnessing various ocean based oil spills, especially when I went to Puerto Rico and saw first hand the destruction from the 750,000 gallon oil spill from by the Morris J. Berman barge, I knew I needed to work towards one goal: To increase the efficiency of cleaning water pollution, specifically oil spills. This is what is what lead to the development of the Smart Sponge, a popcorn-shaped material that uses polymer technologies to attract hydrocarbons and cleans large volumes of water that are affected by oil spills. More recently, the Smart Sponge is being used in the oil and gas industry, primarily with fracking and flow back water to remove hydrocarbons from the water. In addition, AbTech created the Smart Sponge Plus, an antimicrobial technology that helps reduce bacteria found in stormwater and industrial wastewater.

RJ: What were you doing before you started your company?

GR: Before my time at the agricultural technology company, I worked for many years in the restaurant industry. For me, the time I spent working in restaurants allowed me to hone in on my organizational, communication, people skills, and importantly think out of the box and be able to problem-solve. Working at very busy and mostly upscale restaurants was, at times, stressful but very exciting having to deal with many different types of people and difficult situations. Looking back on this experience, it offered me some exceptional and unexpected training that later was crucial to building AbTech. Among other things, it provided the skills that allowed me to be successful in raising more than $20 million in private funding before taking AbTech public.

RJ: How long did it take to turn your idea into a business?

GR: It took 3-5 years to take my idea of the Smart Sponge and launch AbTech Industries. Even though we did see sales break into the millions within the first three to five years of the business, we knew in order to really see sales in the hundreds of millions of we would need to change our business and distribution model. (Alongside the advancements in the polymer technologies, as well as product validation/refinement in the market and multi-year field studies in various geographic locations, we were able to create a technology that had numerous market opportunities. The Smart Sponge went through years of refinement, including adding an anti-microbial capability to create the Smart Sponge Plus. These refinements and improvements in the Smart Sponge as well as an exceptional team of dedicated people is leading the company to success. With a market-ready technology, we restructured and repositioned AbTech to become a leader in the water treatment industry, and allowed us to bring our company public in 2011 as part of AbTech Holdings, Inc.)

RJ: What's your No. 1 piece of advice to entrepreneurs?

GR: The greatest piece of advice I could give an entrepreneur for success is that they have to be able to visualize and believe their dream. If you can see it, don't let anyone tell you it's not possible and don't ever give up.

RJ: If you could ask one person for advice, who would it be and what would you ask?

GR: I look for advice on a constant basis from a variety of people whether I'm planning to do additional financing, move into a new market segment, or look at unique strategic partners. I'm always striving to find industry thought leaders, but I have found that some of the greatest advice can often come from those around you. It's critical not to lose your peripherals; often we can't see the things closest to us.

If I had the opportunity to ask one person for advice, it would be Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. Ford had a global vision, with consumerism as the key to peace. After working his way up from the bottom as well as failing several times to create his motor company, Ford realized his dream of producing an automobile that was reasonably priced, reliable, and efficient with the introduction of the Model T. His intense commitment to systematically lowering costs while simultaneously paying high wages to his employees, Ford produced the first affordable car and ultimately through the notable success of his business practices, helped contribute to the rise of the middle class. Ford suffered much adversity through many years, and yet he was able to stay his course. This helps me keep things in perspective, especially when times get difficult. I would ask Ford if at that time in those early days, if he realized then or could foresee that his vision would impact the entire world.

RJ: Are you hiring? How do you get hired by a start-up?

GR: For anyone looking to get hired by a start-up, you should have a clear understanding of the business you are applying for. It's not just about the education and school you went to, but also your sincere passion and dedication that sets you apart as a great candidate. Importantly, be capable of wearing multiple hats, be flexible and be willing to work the hours it takes to get the job done.

Yes we are hiring, mostly business development/sales and engineering. For more information, please visit our website.

For more on AbTech Industries visit their website.