In college, Athos Rostan Jr. majored in science so he could become a dentist. Instead, he joined the family's wholesale bakery in Valdese and sold bread, buns and rolls for 18 years.
Now, as president of Hildebran-based AR Energy Systems Inc., Rostan, 48, uses his biology and chemistry every day: "It's afforded me the opportunity to speak intelligently about wood and biomass," he says.
Wood and biomass are what his business is all about. His company makes machines that recycle sawdust, wood scraps and newspapers into briquettes that can be used in industrial boilers.
But Rostan still has a lot of selling to do. His primary mission? Convincing furniture manufacturers to buy his product so they can use their wood waste as a cheaper source of energy.
Since its founding in 1989, Rostan's three-employee company has sold only six units, which run from $40,000 to $100,000 a piece. And those went to the Northeast, where energy and landfill costs are high.
"There is so much potential for this here in North Carolina," he says. But these days, many furniture companies may be more worried about staving off Chapter 11 than high electricity bills. A marketing effort that has included hiring a public-relations firm, producing brochures and setting up booths at furniture shows and trade expositions has so far come...