From Tehran, Iran, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Toronto, Ontario, to Buffalo, N.Y., Seyed Nourbakhsh’s journey has certainly been different from most entrepreneurs who settle in the Western New York area. While well-traveled, it’s his strong desire to make an impact as a chemical engineer, entrepreneur, and businessman that truly defines his story.
“I think the underlying desire to have an impact in what you do and being responsible for the success or failure of an enterprise has always been attractive to me,” said Nourbakhsh, the founder and CEO of Buffalo-based Formarum Inc.
Under Nourbakhsh’s leadership, Formarum has developed the most efficient micro-turbine of its size in the world, one that generates electricity from the flow of water in small to medium pipes.
“This is our core intellectual property and expertise, and it has many potential applications,” said the Ryerson University (Toronto) graduate. “The first application of this technology is in our swimming pool product, Dive Smart Sanitizer, which is being commercialized by our U.S. subsidiary, Dive Pool Systems. Dive Smart Sanitizer is a self-powered device that can be easily installed in less than an hour by pool owners in existing pool plumbing and converts manually chlorinated pools into saltwater pools. In addition to salt conversion, Dive also produces algaecide onsite to control algae growth and comes with built-in Wi-Fi for mobile monitoring and control, drastically simplifying pool operations and eliminating the need for manual chlorine and algaecide addition to the pool by the owners.”
For anyone who has ever owned a pool and struggled to keep the water clean and clear, Dive Smart Sanitizer is a godsend.
“The spark that started this venture, which is my first startup, was a $5,000 grant from Ryerson University to try my idea out, and everything grew out of that,” Nourbakhsh said. “Capital is definitely the number one resource that drives the pace of growth. I would say the second factor are the people on the team that make the most difference. The impact of incubators … that combine capital and mentorship is priceless.
“Finding the resources — capital and people — to survive and grow are definitely the hardest challenges in a startup, especially in an R&D-intensive startup like ours that takes three to four years to commercialize,” Nourbakhsh continued. “Tapping and exhausting family and friends’ investments was the key to our success to date, although it definitely increases the stakes and adds a tremendous amount of stress to the already stressful life of founders. As for the people, giving all early employees a meaningful stake in the company is a powerful tool that motivates them to stick with you when things get tough and creates a sense of trust and loyalty, which is very necessary in a startup.”
As of this writing, Formarum had a staff of four engineers and was in the final stages of adding two more people to the team, with an additional four to six outsourced assembly technicians coming on board once production starts, likely this month.
Although Buffalo may not be the ideal climate for year-round enjoyment of pools, the city was still an ideal location for the company to establish its manufacturing site.
“Our decision (to locate in Buffalo) was not primarily based on where the most number of pools are, but our resources,” Nourbakhsh said. “We wanted to manufacture and operate our products in the U.S., as the U.S. is the largest market, but we also wanted to be close to Toronto, where we still have a great network and our engineering and R&D laboratory is located. Buffalo is an ideal location in that respect. After working in Buffalo for a year and seeing the support of the community, the decision was a simple one.
“There are moments of joy when things go well," he continued. "For example, when we closed our first purchase order or when the beta units performed perfectly. But usually, there is a constant worry that more can and should be done to succeed, which although not pleasant, provides a tremendous drive to do the best we possibly can.
“We are at a very exciting stage when, after four years of engineering, we are starting production in February and delivering the first products to our customers in March. Our first priority is to deliver a great product and make sure our customers are happy. In the long term, we aim to develop other applications for our core turbine technology to grow the business.”