Fuel for Thought

on July 11, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Los Angeles Undertakes Clean Up Of LA River

What began with the father working quietly in a Eugene laboratory is now an aspiring business moving forward under the daughter.

It was a visit to the University of Oregon by Cheers star Woody Harrelson that planted the seed of inspiration in a young Virginia Klausmeier (below).

She was an undergraduate when Harrelson, a passionate environmental activist, arrived on campus one day in an ecogroovy biodiesel bus, then spoke at a sustainability event about the importance of alternative fuels. For Klausmeier, all the environmentalism she’d been exposed to as a kid growing up in Eugene suddenly coalesced.

Ginny Ryan

“That was a tangible moment,” she said.

Klausmeier, who graduated in 2004 with a degree in general science (chemistry focus) and completed her master’s degree at the UO in 2006, went on to a job with a Fortune 500 medical device company. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that her career should be better aligned with her environmental values and, in 2010, she took the plunge, trading the security of a steady paycheck for the challenge of entrepreneurship.

Klausmeier is cofounder and CEO of Sylvatex, a fuel technology company that has developed a renewable blend that is mixed with diesel to lower emissions and meet other environmental mandates. The Silicon Valley startup will work with refineries to blend its product as a simple solution that cuts operating and capital expenses while expanding markets.

Klausmeier is continuing the legacy of her late father, William, a scientist who developed the company’s patented “microemulsion” formula.

“My father was a straight-up chemist; the way he talked was very technical,” Klausmeier said. “He was playing around in the laboratory with stuff when I was a kid and I would play around with it, too, but not with the understanding of what it was.”

Over time, Klausmeier began working with her father in testing and development of products. Following his death in 2008, Klausmeier and a team of investors launched Sylvatex.

The company is actively seeking financial support from UO alumni and others. Sylvatex is also creating its own tailwind: The company has won awards at industry conferences and venture-capital competitions while drawing funding from an internationally known fund, Greenstart, that assists green tech startups.

Klausmeier has also been recognized for her leadership. She was recently named one of the top ten women in biofuels by a trade organization and has been selected among a small group of female CEOs for mentorship by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

There can be advantages to being a young woman in an industry long dominated by men. “I get in the door to a lot of places,” Klausmeier said. “I’m mostly the only woman in the room, and I’m on the younger side, as well. I think I get a lot more attention because people are thinking, ‘who is this person?’ I’m not just part of the masses.”

Klausmeier credits the UO for teaching her to think like an entrepreneur, and human physiology faculty members Sierra Dawson and Li-Shan Chou, in particular, for inspiring her to dream big while maintaining a healthy balance between work and life.

Klausmeier, in fact, isn’t the only Duck at Sylvatex: chief technology officer Kristen Aramthanapon, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 2003, is a longtime family friend now sharing the duties in making the company a success.

“We’re like sisters,” Aramthanapon said. “I run the R and D side, Virginia runs the business side and we split operations.”

What began with the father working quietly in a Eugene laboratory is now an aspiring business moving forward under the daughter.

“It almost takes two generations to think of an idea, develop the technology and get it to commercialization,” Klausmeier said. “The thing that’s driving me is having the opportunity to make such a big impact in the world.”

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of CASCADE, a print and online magazine produced by the University of Oregon College of Arts and Sciences.