EO Cincinnati Blog
MN8® Foxfire | Saving Lives & Employing Others
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Being named Ohio’s “entrepreneur of the year” in April was enough to
confirm for Zach Green that quitting his job as an Eli Lilly brand
manager to start his own business was the right move. But seeing the
announcement of his award in the paper alongside the news that his
former employer would layoff 30 percent of its sales force “was the
ultimate validation,” he says.
With a high-paying job and a promising future on the team that had
launched Cialis, Green faced with a tough decision two years ago.
In his spare time, he’d been inspired by a TV show about photo luminescence technology to mix the compound into a silicone band for his volunteer firefighter’s helmet.
“Most people don’t know what true darkness is,” he explains. For an
emergency responder it can be when “someone’s hand is four inches from
your nose and you have no idea how many fingers they’re holding up.” A
glow-in-the-dark helmet would let his fellow firefighters see him on the
job, or find him if he fell through a floor. The first time he wore his
enhanced helmet in a fire, he says, “Guys were throwing $20 bills at
me. They all wanted one.”
In October 2010, Green started spending weekends driving to fire
departments hawking his illuminated helmets. In six months, he says, he
made about $5,000 selling from the trunk of his car. Then his fire chief
persuaded him to take it to the next level. “You have a product that’s
revolutionary,” Green says the chief told him.
While green glow-in-the-dark tape has been used on exit signs and
stairwells in some buildings, applying it directly to firefighters’
apparel and tools had not been done before in the U.S., Green says. He
and his colleagues saw how it could save lives. “When you look at what
kills firefighters, it’s often getting disoriented so you can’t get out
of a dark smoky environment,” Green says. Photo luminescence
applied to a window, a door, or another firefighter can guide the way
out, he says. Taped to an axe, it lets a firefighter recover a misplaced
tool to break a window or shine light under a bed to locate a victim.
The technology could also save victims of fires. “People died walking
down 110 floors in total darkness during the 1993 bombing of the World
Trade Centers,” Green notes. “Just a little bit of light on the stair or
railing can make such a difference at helping people get out safer and
What about flashlights and electronic strobes? Green says what all
emergency responders know well: “Anything with batteries or electricity
is going to fail when you need it most.”
His Eli Lilly boss tried to talk him out of it, but Green quit his job,
refinanced his house, maxed out his credit cards, named his business MN8 (as in “emanate”), and headed to the giant FDIC firefighting trade show in 2011. He did $85,000 in sales in a month.
Since then, Green has developed more than 50 “MN8-Foxfire” safety and
egress products using a Japanese patented pigment that he says has been
engineered to glow brighter and longer than less expensive versions. His
offerings, all made in America, include signage materials, adhesive
stickers, magnets, and paint. He has hired a dozen
full-time employees, established a board, raised a round of venture
financing, leased an 8,000-square-foot warehouse in Cincinnati, and
engaged a salesforce of nearly 200 firefighters. Ultimately, he
envisions 1,500 sales reps, all from the firefighters’ brotherhood.
He compares the business model, which enables firefighters to earn a
side income after investing $125 in a sales kit and demo tools, to an
Avon or an Amway “without the multilevel-marketing bull—it’s just direct
sales.” So far, his products have reached 55,000 firefighters in 25
countries, generating over $1 million in revenues, he says. He sees the
future of the business in industrial safety, lighting large workplaces
and sports arenas—Nassau Coliseum in New York is already a customer.
“It’s the perfect storm of an innovative product, a great strategy, and
good people working with us,” Green says. And for him, running this
business is far more exciting than marketing Cialis.
Article Originally Posted on Yahoo News: