Experience is usually the best teacher. For William Beard, his hands-on business experience as an asbestos contractor helped him to see a major opportunity for a technology-based tool that can improve process for other contractors in the industry.
We recently sat down with William to talk about the idea behind his startup, Asbestek, his participation in JumpStart’s Core City: Cleveland program and his plans for the future.
What inspired you to create Asbestek and what particular problem are you solving in the market?
Six years ago, I started doing asbestos surveys for the Cuyahoga County Land Bank. They required everyone to create their own reports. Over time I realized that I was entering the same information multiple times on different forms. There had to be a better way. That’s how it all got started.
Traditionally, it takes a lot of time to do an asbestos survey. I have to photograph and mark where samples need to be pulled. Then I need to suit up, do the demolition, pull the samples and bag everything up. Then I have to tag everything and create a detailed chain of custody to send to the lab. Then after the lab interprets the results and sends them back, I do a report. What that means is that you can really only do one of two surveys a day at maximum using the traditional process. Sometimes it can take up to eight hours just to do one.
My process uses an administrator who inputs the information, a surveyor who visits the site to take the pictures and mark where the samples need to be pulled and then the processor who actually opens up the walls and pulls the sample. By separating out the steps and using software to automate the administrative tasks wherever possible, the processor alone can do six or seven jobs in a single day. Meanwhile, the surveyor can do up to 10 and the administrator can do up to 40.
So in a five day week you can quadruple or even quintuple the amount of studies you can get done using Asbestek. It also helps to create more jobs in this industry, which is a good thing because there are 10.7 billion dollars’ worth of asbestos surveys that need to be done in the next decade.
What are your future plans for Asbestek? How are you plan to grow the business over the next three to five years?
I originally planned to use this process for my own company, just to make things easier for me and to allow me to take on more work. But in the process of setting up the automation I’ve actually become a software company, which is not something I thought I’d ever be. It’s almost a miracle really, but I’d like to see if I can grow it and see where this thing goes.
How did you get connected to Core City: Cleveland and what has been your experience with the program so far? Have there been any surprises?
Katie Van Dyke at the Small Business Development Center referred me to ECDI and I took a four week course there to flesh out some ideas that I had. They recommended that I reach out to JumpStart because I was now basically a technology company.
At JumpStart, I met Patrick Kucharson, who is a software guy. He worked with me and referred me to the Core City: Cleveland Impact program. He told me he thought it would help me learn more about my company than I ever imagined. And he was absolutely right. It’s almost mind-boggling where I started compared to where I am now.
I’ve become more tech-savvy than I thought I would ever be. Now I can clearly communicate with and understand software programmers. It also gave me confidence—the confidence to even do this interview for one thing.
There’s no way I would have done this six weeks ago. You should have seen my first pitch. I just read from a script—it was nightmare. Now I have the confidence to pitch my product and talk to people like I’m talking to my friends. I’m sitting here talking about my business and I don’t have a single note in front of me. It’s amazing.
Do you feel like you’ve had any challenges, hurdles, specifically as an African American entrepreneur that you would like to talk about?
For me personally, I don’t want to be looked at primarily as an African American. I look at myself as an American. I want to be treated like everyone else. No special treatment, no better treatment. I was a little hesitant at first, but now I’m so glad I got into this program. I don’t get the feeling that I’m “different” here. It’s like we’re all blue or green. That’s the best thing about it.
We ask all the entrepreneurs we speak with to give us examples of failure or setbacks they experienced. Anything come to mind for you?
My biggest failure was when I first created my business plan and my financials, which I just finished recreating here. My numbers just weren’t right. The program has really helped me learn the fundamentals and build a more solid business plan.
The difference from then to now is really awe-inspiring to me. If I can be an entrepreneur, anyone on the planet can be an entrepreneur!
To learn more about the Core City: Cleveland program, click here.