WaterSolve among 2012s 50 Companies to Watch

April 29, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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A lot of companies that were organized in the late 1990s suffered badly in the Great Recession, but not WaterSolve.

“We’ve grown right through this recession,” said President Gregg Lebster, who founded the small business in 1999.

WaterSolve LLC has been named one of the 50 Companies to Watch in Michigan this year, and will be honored May 3 at the eighth annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business awards in Lansing.

The Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center, a statewide organization based at Grand Valley State University, assisted nearly 500 small but growing companies in 2011. Of those, 33 will receive the 2012 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch award.

The SBTDC provides counseling, business education, information-based planning and technology commercialization to new and existing businesses throughout Michigan. The organization is located at the GVSU Seidman College of Business, which oversees the 11-region MI-SBTDC network.

In 2009, the SBTDC established an advanced team of specialists called the Growth Group (G2) to prepare Michigan companies for their next stage of growth. The G2 specialists offer financial analysis, help in determining new markets for business development, and identify opportunities for change.

Lebster started working with the SBTDC in March 2011 and attributes his firm’s improvements and increased sales to the center.

“WaterSolve has experienced tremendous growth since working with the SBTDC,” he said. “They provided the experience and tools we needed as a second-stage company to increase our sales and hire more people.”

The company’s sales were in the neighborhood of $3 million last year, a growth rate of 30 percent over the prior year.

WaterSolve provides services and products to municipalities and businesses that need to separate solids from water, such as drinking-water treatment plants and companies that need to remove solids from wastewater as part of the effluent treatment process.

“We deal with a lot of municipalities,” said Lebster. WaterSolve only has nine employees but is active in about 35 states, plus Canada and Mexico. Its customers include several cities in Michigan — such as Detroit, municipalities in West Michigan, and others as far north as Sault Ste. Marie.

Some of its business clients over the years have included General Motors, Veolia Water, Alcoa, Marathon Refineries, Enbridge and Kimberly Clark.

A pivotal moment in WaterSolve’s history was its development of a mobile, chemical-treatment, tracking and monitoring system.

Lebster, who owns the business with his wife, Allyn, said theirs is a “service-oriented company.” It distributes some products and is a reseller on others, but all are shipped direct from the manufacturers to the WaterSolve clients.

WaterSolve is located in Cascade Township on Starr Street, north of 28th Street off Patterson Avenue.

“We’ll go out and set the client up to use our products,” he explained. “We can train their people how to operate our systems and products.”

WaterSolve custom formulates water treatment products, with involvement through the research, production and application stages, and offers local hands-on service and testing. The firm can also address environmental compliance with its on-staff professionals who develop, manage and conduct studies to mitigate risks of contaminated filtering media from various municipal and industrial sources.

The firm’s experience with technical and regulatory issues offers its clients an objective understanding of potential liabilities, and an aggressive start to finding and implementing the effective solutions. The company’s engineering, laboratory and technical services include expertise in scientific disciplines involved with separation of solids from water.

Lebster is a native of Essexville, near Bay City. He is a mechanical engineer with a strong background in chemicals, having worked for several chemical firms after college. He was with DuPont until the launch of WaterSolve in 1999, and his career work has predominantly been with chemicals and water treatment.

Lebster said he sought help from the SBTDC and began working with Stan Pruski more than a year ago “to help us with our next stage of growth.” Like other small companies in a position for potential rapid growth, the issues WaterSolve was facing were “resource issues, cash flow issues, all associated with growth.”

The help from the SBTDC worked so well that the organization nominated WaterSolve for the 50 Companies to Watch award.

“We are thrilled that our clients are being recognized for their success,” said Carol Lopucki, state director of the Michigan SBTDC. “The center placed an emphasis on Michigan’s second-stage companies several years ago when we formed the Growth Group Team and enhanced our tools to assist these companies.”

At the May 3 event in Lansing, nationally recognized entrepreneur Ari Weinzweig, CEO and co-founding partner of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, will be the keynote speaker. Zingerman’s Community, based in Ann Arbor, includes Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Bakehouse, Creamery, Catering, Mail Order, ZingTrain, Coffee Company, Roadhouse, and its newest business: Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to a great audience of other Michigan entrepreneurs and small business supporters,” said Weinzweig. “Michigan Celebrates Small Business is a great event for recognizing those entrepreneurs and businesses who are creating a great future in Michigan.”

According to an announcement from the SBTDC, Weinzweig’s speech will be on “Fixing the Energy Crisis in the American Workplace,” and will address the growing energy problems among employees and leadership in the current business environment. According to Weinzweig, it is resulting in diminished productivity and unfulfilled employees, so he will outline how to follow the “Twelve Natural Laws of Business,” which he said are essential to the success of any business.

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