It’s hard to go into business with family. But the Martin brothers can hardly imagine working with anybody else. For them, the formula is paying off: Nitrum Dynamic Paint, which they founded while attending Fort Lewis College, is increasing its capacity to recycle paint, while also contributing to a better world and keeping these brothers connected beyond their college experiences.
Michael (Public Health, ’17) and Daniel (an Accounting junior) have always operated in tandem. They raced motorcycles professionally as teenagers, which brought out their fiercest and friendliest competitive natures. To stay in the motorcycle industry together, they partnered to found their first business, an off-road LED lighting company.
Then they attended college in Durango together. In order to keep participating in the business world together, they decided to continue nurturing their entrepreneurial spirits.
They found the perfect opportunity in FLC’s Hawk Tank Business Plan Competition. Hawk Tank invites FLC students and recent alumni to create a business idea and craft a plan with the help of mentors from the business community. In the end, the business plans compete for a $5,000 first-place prize.
The idea the Martin brothers pitched to the panel of faculty and Durango business leaders was for a company that would collect unused latex paint – the kind you might have sitting around in your shed – and remix it into new batches of high-quality paint.
“It’s rare to find a product like ours,” Michael says. “Can you think of one product that you know is one-hundred percent recycled, that you can buy for cheaper than it costs brand new?”
Nitrum Dynamic Paint took first place in the Spring 2017 Hawk Tank. In the months since the competition, the brothers have put their prize-winning plan into action. They have secured a 25,000-square-foot production facility in their hometown of Tucson, where they now mix and sell eight colors of recycled paint.
In broad strokes, here’s how the business works: Nitrum collects unused paint, such as a weekly drop-off from the City of Tucson. They batch together similar shades to create one of eight colors: white, sand, blue, green, gray, brown, red, and yellow. With guaranteed color consistency within each 120-gallon batch, their main customers are apartment complexes and other large-scale buildings. And the paint is a bargain – it retails at about $15 per gallon, less than half the cost of fresh brand-name paint, with equivalent quality control standards.
"It’s rare to find a product like ours. Can you think of one product that you know is one-hundred percent recycled, that you can buy for cheaper than it costs brand new?"
Already, their demand has exceeded their production capacity. “We’re looking at implementing a new production process to do batch runs at five hundred to one thousand gallons,” Michael says. “We want to do that for all eight colors.”
The idea for Nitrum Dynamic really got rolling after the brothers sat down with Associate Professor of Management Paul Clay. Clay pushed the pair to think more deeply about their idea and consider all the potential issues they might face.
“I think he was really the first guy we talked to when we initially came out with Nitrum Dynamic as the idea,” Michael explains. “He helped us sculpt it in terms of how to get more of the information systems behind it worked out, in terms of stocking and warehousing and what kind of issues we’ll expect to encounter with that.”
Once in the Hawk Tank competition, the Martin brothers met a second mentor: Justin Bates, director of internal operations for Swan Global Investments. With Bates on board, the Martins started bringing their idea to life.
“He’s the big dog behind it for helping us come up and strategize what kind of business plan we wanted to put forth,” Michael says. “After that first meeting we had with him, it came to the point where we were like, ‘We could actually do this and I think we could win some cash with it too.’”
Beyond just the prize money, the chance to have a business plan analyzed and vetted by so many successful entrepreneurs is an enormous advantage for a startup. The Martin brothers took in all the advice and guidance they could.
“The Hawk Tank had us working with a lot of really cool people,” Daniel says. “It was unbelievable from start to finish. Working with mentors and people in the community really changed our perspective.”
For these brothers, college was the perfect time to see if Nitrum’s business model could stick.
“This is a time when you’re still not concrete and solidified,” Daniel says. “And it’s a time when you’re surrounded by ideas. That’s what I love – you can go talk to professors and people in the community.”
For all the guidance Daniel and Michael received, Nitrum’s growth is ultimately possible because their differences complement each other so well. “My brother and I are two different personality types,” Daniel says. “Michael is the operations guy, the get-it-done guy, the scientific guy. I'm the sales guy, working with people, customer service, getting ourselves out there. With that combination, we can work really well together.”
Selling paint is almost a byproduct of the Martins’ shared passion for creating a better world. That motivation manifests in the company itself – keeping unused latex paint out of landfills – but also in their employing individuals with disabilities. To that end, Nitrum partners with the Beacon Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing training and employment to those individuals. Nitrum currently employs five people through their partnership with the Beacon Group.
“They have value and they get a steady paycheck and you just see the smiles on their faces,” Daniel says. “They’re so satisfied with what they do. To have a part in that is really special for us.”
“It’s honestly pretty heartwarming to work with them,” Michael says. “Our mission is to sell paint so that we can grow with the nonprofit and bring in more employees.”
Just as a batch of Nitrum paint is a combination of several paint sources, so the company’s success is a blend of several personalities and perspectives. It’s a mixture of academic support, nonprofit engagement, environmental sustainability, entrepreneurial spirit, and familial bonds.
“We want to go for something bigger,” Michael says. “There’s not many operations like ours. For us, the sky’s the limit.”