Entrepreneur Ray Tarasi could just as easily wear the labels “opportunist” and “niche player” in launching and growing two companies in Pittsburgh in the last 25 years.
The first company he founded is Universal Packing, which makes and distributes a high-tech sealant system for industrial pumps and valves for customers that include wastewater treatment plants, power generation stations, breweries, food processing and refineries, to name a few.
In 2004, Tarasi launched Unirem Inc. to develop and distribute unique and highly effective hydrocarbon remediation tools that are used to clean up oil spills or other wayward petroleum products. Local customers include Alcoa and Sheetz. Uniremo’s product is based on nanotechnology developed by NASA. It allows wax microspheres to absorb and degrade even the smallest particles of oil in water or on land and does not permit the re-release of any hydrocarbon it has absorbed. The product is patented and considered very environmentally friendly.
Unirem has grown to include more than 270 customers and eight employees, and Tarasi believes the steady 30-40 percent year-over-year growth can continue with an increased focus on distribution.
What was the inspiration behind launching Unirem?
The fact that the product was developed by NASA and the oil spill situation around the world. There are oil spills continuously, hundreds of spills a day. We only hear about the big ones like in the Gulf or Alaska. I have found 110 products used on hydrocarbon spills. Ours is the only product that does what any two or three or four of them might do. I saw it as a product of the future.
What’s another differentiator for your product?
Most of the products out there will not work on oil spills on land. Our is a tremendous cleanup product. The old method is to absorb it. But when you absorb it you have to do something with the item you absorb it with. It has to be taken to a hazardous waste dump. One has to pay to haul it and put it there and it takes, on average, 20i years for oil to break down. That’s a long period of time.
What’s been the biggest challenge in growing Unirem?
It has been very difficult getting it used in large spills because it’s more expensive than any other product on the market. My idea was to take a product that was all-natural that could not contaminate or hurt anyone, and the minute it touches the hydrocarbon, they bind and renders the hydrocarbon useless immediately.
You have a real challenge to get it on the market and get people to understand it, believe in it and think they’ve got to have it. When we talk to maintenance people, they look at the product they’re currently using and say if it was good enough for the guy before me, it’s good enough for me. A lot of them don’t want to try a new product.
Typical absorbants sell normally for a fifth of what my product does and they’re used and hauled away to a proper site to be disposed of. You put my product down one time, maybe come back two or three months later to put a finish on it and they’re done.
What did you learn from your time spent on Universal Packing that you applied to Unirem?
Thirty or forty years ago I sold commercial products that were made by somebody else, like nuts and bolts and tires. I started looking for products that were unique and better and had virtually no or little competition. Plus I wanted to manufacture. Manufacturers control everything about the product. They control price, upgrades, how to make it better, where to distribute. Once you learn the skills of taking a unique product to market, you can apply it to a lot of things. You can sell large companies supplies they need for maintenance forever. You have to be competitive. What I do is find the niche. That’s why when I saw the NASA product, I thought it was for me.
What’s next for Unirem?
We’re always looking at new ways to use our products. If you don’t expand into new market s you limit yourself. Our product picks up any hard hydrocarbon like baby oil, olive oil or hydraulic oil. So we found a small cosmetics company in the Bernville that’s making facial products and they developed a facial scrub where they put our beads in suspension in a colloidal and you squirt some on your hand and rub on your face to remove unwanted oil from your skin. It’s better than washing your face. My partner there is Steve Pugliese. He has a lab and a manufacturing operation and he has been presenting it to large cosmetics brands.
— by Joe Petrucci
1405 Parkway View Dr. Pittsburgh, PA 15205