Jefferson City entrepreneurial team tackles
fuel efficiency challenge head-on
Charles Ekstam and Dora Serrano make a great team as husband and wife, and as business partners. Their Jefferson City-based company PureFlow Technologies Inc. produces and markets a device, the Fuel Preporator®, that improves the efficiency of diesel engines by 8-12 percent. It also greatly reduces pollutants and increases engine power.
and the quality help received from MO SBTDC and MO PTAC staff
Since reacquiring the company in 2007 (health problems, that have since been resolved, forced them in 2005 to sell the firm they originally founded three years earlier), Charles and Dora reinvested $1 million in equity and obtained $900,000 in additional capital to reinvigorate the business and market their fuel-saving device.
In the process, the entrepreneurial couple sought the guidance of Jim Gann, University of Missouri SBTDC business specialist in Columbia, to help determine marketing strategy, develop financial modeling, and pinpoint funding sources.
Consequently, since mid-2008 PureFlow has greatly expanded and now has more than $2 million in annual sales. Last July the company moved from an 8,000-square-foot facility to a 33,500-square-foot production plant. A potential set of contracts with a major Department of Defense supplier could increase the company’s sales exponentially, according to Dora.
“We are assisting these entrepreneurs with an approach that involves both MO SBTDC and MO PTAC,” says Gann. “This team approach, mixed with a tenacious entrepreneur and a business-savvy wife, has created a very powerful team that should have far-reaching impact (for the diesel industry) through lower energy consumption and reduced pollution.”
Those are the basic facts of this Mid-Missouri entrepreneurial success story. But there is a story behind the story …
Charles Ekstam has successfully demonstrated his mechanical and entrepreneurial prowess since childhood.
For instance, as a 10-year-old he built a small, functioning tilt-a-whirl-like ride in his parent’s backyard to entertain his playmates. Charles life-size toy didn’t lack for passengers. However, it needed a reliable power source. Instead of horsepower, he designed the contraption to run on kid-power.
“I needed two kids to propel the thing, and I paid them each a penny to run it every time,” recalls Charles. “Then I charged each rider three-cents and I pocketed the difference.”
That innovative and enterprising nature has accompanied him throughout his life. So far Charles has spent 10 years as a retail manager with a KC-area Woolco, four years as production supervisor for Ford, and 14 years as an owner-operator of four over-the-road trucks. All that experience set the stage for more than 18 years as an innovator and entrepreneur who devised and sells the Fuel Preporator®.
Ekstam conceived and constructed the product. He designed and built the production system and much of the equipment. He writes and prints the sales promotion material and instruction manuals. And he markets the more than 20 versions of the product.
His inspiration for the Preporator came during his years as a trucker. The sporadic performance of the Cummins diesel engines on his Class 8 Freightliner 18-wheelers led him to explore possible improvements.
After lengthy investigation, including many discussions with Cummins engineers, Charles hit on the solution. The tenacious problem-solver determined the trouble was with the fuel-supply system, not the engine.
“The presence of air and vapor in the fuel system (which occurs through normal use of the vehicle) degraded the engine’s performance by delaying the pressure built up in the injector, retarding injection timing,” Charles explains. “By removing trapped air and preventing pump cavitation and vapor, the Fuel Preporator® restores correct injection timing and returns engine performance to design levels.”
Pureflow makes and supplies the Fuel Preporator® for virtually all diesel engine applications: sporting, commercial and military. No matter the setting Ekstam and his 18-person crew strive to produce the perfect finished product.
“The object is to provide pure fuel to the engine whenever it’s needed,” Ekstam explains. “If that fuel flow failed, our customers would lose power and more depending on the type of vehicle. Drag racers might lose an award or cash prize. Trucking firms could lose money because of higher fuel costs. In the worst case, combat soldiers in a stalled Humvee could become helpless targets and lose their lives.”
Their team approach to business works well. Charles guides production and sales. Dora, who has an extensive business and economic development background, oversees the financial and administrative sides of the business. However, the enterprising couple also has come to rely on Gann and his MO PTAC colleague Bill Stuby for guidance in exploring SBA-backed loans, grant writing efforts and government contracts.
“Bill Stuby helped write the RFP (request for proposal) for AM General, which could lead to four contracts that could exceed gross revenues of $200 million,” says Charles. “He was also instrumental in helping us prepare for the pre-contract award procurement team visit and inspection.”
“Jim and Bill have worked with us at an intensity that would make it appear to an outsider that they either had a majority interest in the company or we are holding their grandchildren hostage. Of course neither of those scenarios is true. What is true is they represent the right kind of programs needed to help build our great state of Missouri into a national technology leader.”