Thursday, October 18, 2007

Killer Starups -

FOUNDER Jay Mullis, 30

LAUNCHED August 2006

STARTUP CAPITAL $63,000 in prize money from business plan competitions

Jay Mullis is a fount of odd facts about cockroaches. For instance: Roaches can swim. On land they scuttle at speeds up to three miles an hour (yes, someone actually clocked it) but rarely venture more than ten feet from their nest. They eat like truck drivers and tend to prefer sweets, though some also like a dash of sour.

Mullis is so good at understanding the roach that he's building a business around tempting their taste buds. He's betting that roaches will eat his gourmet bait, an environmentally friendly, pet-safe alternative to the highly toxic pest-control products on the market. The main ingredient is boric acid, which has about the same toxicity as table salt and kills insects - including ants, silverfish, and roaches - by dehydrating them. "People are going green at home," Mullis says. "They want something safer than the chemical bombs."

He got the recipe from his grandfather, who developed it in the 1980s. He had mixed boric acid with other secret ingredients to create a sweet, moist dough that could be placed behind appliances and in cabinets. The result was so effective that he was able to build a thriving pest-control business in Georgia. When he died in 1996, he left the formula to his grandson. An MBA student at the University of Georgia, Mullis decided to use the family recipe to fulfill his entrepreneurial ambitions. He formed Mullis Enterprises, came up with the name Green Dragon Roach Kill - "I wanted a mascot," he says, "something that could be fierce or friendly like a dragon" - tweaked the formula a bit, and devised a straw-shaped plastic container for dispensing the bait. "My grandfather used to roll the dough by hand into balls - it's that safe - but people don't want to touch a pest-killing product," Mullis explains. He also began marketing it as a green solution with a kick because, he says, his product scores a double kill, eliminating both the roach that ingests the bait and any nestmates that munch on their fallen comrade.

A competitor could try to reverse-engineer Green Dragon's product, but Mullis has applied for patents on the formula and dispenser to keep copycats at bay. His biggest challenge is obtaining EPA approval. To date, Green Dragon has spent $10,000 on consultants to file the paperwork and on environmental studies required by the agency. Mullis is an optimist, though. He intends to use a portion of his winnings from other business plan competitions to set up production in Danville, Ga., and then target large pest-control companies that treat homes and commercial properties rather than go straight to the retail market. Already, he says, he has orders from four pest-control firms in the Southeast totaling $200,000: "Their customers are asking them for a green solution. I've got it."

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