Grease to green fuel

When Joe Renwick came to the USC Columbia Technology Incubator six years ago, he had a simple business idea that required sophisticated technological and marketing prowess to make it work.

Petroleum prices had spiked — nothing new there — and Renwick had been experimenting in his garage, using waste vegetable oil to make biodiesel, an alternative fuel that can be used as a drop-in fuel replacement for petro-diesel. His small batches of the fuel worked well enough in his diesel pickup truck, but Renwick wanted to ramp up production to a commercial scale. He needed sound business and marketing advice, technological know-how and a lot of interns.

Renwick got all of that and more from his partnership with the incubator. Midlands Biofuels, one of only two biodiesel producers in the state, now distills commercial quantities of biodiesel that meet or exceed industry standards, and has become one of the incubator's many success stories. Along the way, the university gained a valuable partner in its own efforts to ramp up alternative fuel usage; the campus shuttle bus fleet now uses biodiesel, which burns more cleanly than petroleum diesel and creates fewer greenhouse gases.

On Aug. 14, Midlands Biofuels, based in Winnsboro, S.C., will become one of seven firms to officially graduate from the technology incubator. Previously, 42 businesses accounting for about 900 jobs have, with the incubator's help, made their way from start-up to stand-alone companies.

"Teaming up with the incubator has been a very good relationship for us," Renwick says. "We received a lot of good counsel and talent. In addition to interns, we've hired several USC graduates, and we've designated USC as the first university to benefit from our 'Bio 4 Edu' program, which contributes funding to their biodiesel program."

Renwick's wife, Beth, a 2005 graduate of the UofSC School of Medicine, is now majority owner of the business, making it the country's first woman-owned biodiesel company.

"We want other fledgling businesses to know that USC has an incubator that can really help," Renwick says.

Other companies graduating from the USC Columbia Technology Incubator this summer include Advanced Care Management, which guides families through long-term options; the Weathers Group, a strategic consulting firm; Transfer Point, a biotechnology company specializing in dietary supplements; Varna International, a music event management company; A&Q Nano, which develops biosensing, bioimaging and labeling agents for science and medicine; and IMCS, a biotechnology firm that makes products for the health care industry. In the past year and a half, more than 30 new technology businesses have been enrolled at the incubator, which partners with the university's Office of Economic Engagement. Learn more about the  Aug. 14 event to celebrate the incubator's newest graduates.

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