Ed Cornwell unsuccessfully tried incorporating his ferroconcrete into boat-building and fireproofing materials before finally settling on a sound idea: noise-absorbing SoundSorb.
Boone and Wendi Bucher's company is in a quiet period. Always. Concrete Solutions Inc. (CSI), of Austin, develops and licenses a sound-absorbing compound used in buffers that dim the din along highways and at airports and construction sites. The Buchers have licensed their product, SoundSorb, in more than half a dozen countries, including China, Australia, and Japan.
CSI has been around for 9 years, but SoundSorb was invented more than 40 years ago by Wendi Bucher's father, Ed Cornwell. In the 1950s Cornwell was an aviator in the Marine Corps. While watching catamarans glide up and down the waterways near Camp Lejeune, he came up with an idea for building crafts with ferroconcrete, which he hoped would make them quicker and cheaper. Sounds like a business, he thought. After some initial tinkering with the reinforced concrete, he did manage to build such a boat. "It sank," says Cornwell, now 81 and living in a retirement home in Springfield, Va. "But I'd learned a lot about the concrete. So I kept on going."
Working out of his garage, Cornwell next found he could modify the concrete to create a fireproofing material. Sounds like a business, he thought. Un-fortunately, the ingredients he needed were controlled by a single vendor, which priced him out of the opportunity. "I said, 'Whoa, I'm not getting into that market," says Cornwell. Frustrated, he laid his woes before a friend, who suggested that the concrete might absorb noise. Sounds like a business, Cornwell thought. And finally it was.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan