Every year, more than 300 million tires are thrown away in the United States. This equates to nearly a billion gallons of oil wasted.
However, one startup in Franklinton is hoping to reverse those numbers.
“This is about giving tires a better end of life, a better destination,” said Chris Hare, the CEO of PRTI.
Currently, the bulk of thrown out tires end up in landfills, littering the country with waste, Hare said.
“We’re relying on an existing infrastructure that is literally 100 years old,” Hare said. “And it’s spread out across the country. I believe that there’s a need for different ways of creating energy and different ways of consuming energy as we go forward as a country and as a world.”
PRTI is one of those different ways of creating energy.
Founded in 2013, PRTI is a solution to the fact that tires do not decompose naturally. By “cooking” tires, PRTI is able to recover the materials traditionally lost in burned tires and transform them into energy, producing three fuels and steel as new end products.
Before PRTI, Hare was a serial entrepreneur from the United Kingdom. He spent a large amount of his career in the aerospace and automotive tech industry before becoming what he called a bridge between young tech companies and their older, larger counterparts.
“Innovation flourishes in young companies because it’s a different environment,” Hare said. “It’s more nimble. It’s more fun. It’s more energetic. It’s faster-paced. However, big companies are what it takes to scale because then you have access to institutional capital and you have much more resources available to you. One doesn’t exist without the other.”
Small and large companies are two different beasts that often don’t understand each other, so Hare stood at the intersection of innovation and resources from the two sides. From consulting in this space, Hare met PRTI’s founding team. Pretty soon, he was thinking about how to transition the startup into a more market-ready mode with the help of Jason Williams, the Traingle-based Founder of FastMed who serves as Chairman of the Board at PRTI, in which he is an investor.
So far, PRTI works with the tire logistics companies and operates out of one location in Franklinton. But, according to Hare, that’s just the beginning.
This plant as well as future ones will be able to process around 2.5 million tires, requiring only 30 workers. The headcount for each site is relatively low because PRTI’s technology has been fully automated, Hare said.
This year, PRTI made it onto the 2022 Triangle Tweener List. Its recent funding round of $3.7 million in July of last year was also noted, although Hare said PRTI had purposefully remained mostly bootstrapped up until that point, based on the experiences of team members in past ventures.
“We’ve all run businesses that had institutional capital too early,” Hare said. “And sometimes that can challenge your overall direction because your mission and your goals may not be aligned with the institution.”
With so much startup experience accrued in PRTI’s executive team, Hare said they are aware that as a startup they must stay nimble and keep experimenting.
As one of Hare’s mentors said, a flight from Denver to London makes 6,000 course corrections in flight, but it still gets to London.
“You’ve got to take your pulse every day and say, okay, is this the same market that it was a year ago?” Hare said. “If the answer is no, then don’t build the same business because it may not be applicable.”
Hare said as a company leader, he’s also recognized you can’t be tactical and strategic at the same time. You have to give yourself time to step back and reflect on the big picture because otherwise, months might pass without you realizing the world has changed.
For instance, seemingly overnight, the world changed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. PRTI had to shut its headquarters down due to state orders, losing many employees in the process.
Raising money also became increasingly challenging during this time. Instead of in-person meetings with investors, Zoom pitches became the norm.
“It’s absolutely not the same when you’re meeting someone for the first time, especially if that person is an investor,” Hare said. “That made the initial phase of the pandemic very, very hard.”
At the same time, suddenly the everyday person was more aware of supply chain challenges as well as environmental, social and governance factors in businesses. One other silver lining of the pandemic: it fostered deeper analysis of where PRTI was going.
“It forced us to stop,” Hare said. “I think it forced a lot of people to stop, and that allowed us to really take stock and figure out what we are doing next.”
And what is next? Expect PRTI to build out locations across the country and even globally. The startup is already in discussions with other areas of the United States, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.