James J. Quinn thinks he has a better mousetrap, but he doesn't expect the world to beat a path to his door. He would, however, like a little help beating a path to the world's door.
Quinn, president of Industrial Services International Inc. of Bradenton, Fla., was among the American businessmen who went to Zimbabwe last September at the expense of the Agency for International Development.
AID was experimenting with ways to transfer technology to Third World countries. Quinn was looking to expand the market for his product: Terra-sorb, a superabsorbent soil additive that captures and holds moisture where growing plants can use it.
AID is still evaluating its experiment, but Quinn is ready to issue his opinion: "It was an absolute success. No question about it."
As a result of contacts made during the exhibition, Quinn's firm is working on marketing agreements with three firms in Zimbabwe and two in South Africa. Crates of Terra-sorb left by ship last month for Africa.
There really isn't much new about Terra-sorb, a starch polymer that looks like coarse sawdust. The Agriculture Department developed the technology more than 10 years ago. Government scientists, intrigued by its ability to soak up hundreds of times its own weight in water, called it "super slurper." But the technology sat on the shelf until Quinn's firm saw its practical potential.
What the product does is hold moisture in the soil, where plants can use it, rather than letting rain run off or sink to the water table. The Bradenton firm sells tons of it now, to plant nurseries and other horticultural operations, as well as to cemeteries.
The firm is experimenting with Terra-sorb seed coatings as a way to improve germination rates and give tender seedlings a head start.
Quinn's company says the product has great potential for helping developing countries increase their food production, and he says he's eager to start a manufacturing plant in southern Africa with African employes.
"It's a whole lot better than just pumping money into those countries," Quinn said. "And most of them aren't interested in having another Borden or Dow sitting in the back yard."