In 2007, high school student Daniel Gómez Iñiguez was working on a chemistry research project about the production of biodiesel. This project would become the tip of a big iceberg—one that highlights just how far vision and innovation can take a small group of individuals. And, above all, the difference they can make.
At the University Tecnológico de Monterrey, Daniel studied chemical engineering and administration and audited a biodiesel class. He began to attend conferences, where he met three other students—Guillermo Colunga, Antonio López, and Mauricio Pareja. Along with other students, they formed an informal club, where they performed research, running experiments that intrigued them.
The Birth of a Business
Through their discussions and research trips, the foursome realized that—despite an energy boom in Mexico—Mexican companies were distributers, and not producers. They were importing technology from Germany and the United States. In response, Daniel, Guillermo, Antonio, and Mauricio formed a nonprofit to conduct biodiesel research. It was 2009, and they believed they’d found a new way to produce biodiesel; their research could pave the way toward making Mexico more energy independent. They soon discovered that it wasn’t easy to receive grants from the government. So, they became a for-profit, got a client, and opened their first plant in Tabasco, Mexico.
The name? SOLBEN—a made-up word combining the Spanish words for “solutions” and “biodiesel.” SOLBEN sells technology to produce biodiesel from non-food sources, and provides help (through training and other programs) in the biodiesel production process. Their short-term focus is on structure, centralization, and market positioning. They soon hope to include diversity in their operations. And, over the next 10-15 years, they want to launch SOLBEN on the Mexican stock exchange and develop corporate governance.
Making Waves in Energy
In just a few short years, SOLBEN has grown to include plants in Chiapas, Yucatán, and Tabasco, where it produces biodiesel using different kinds of vegetable oils, including castor bean and Jatropha. Their plants generate an output of more than 10,000 liters per day from different types of vegetable oil.
They have garnered countless awards, including the Global Student Entrepreneur Award, SANTANDER Innovation Award, Talent and Innovation Challenges of the Americas 2011 Award, NY Stock Exchange Intelius Entrepreneurship Award, Mexican Stock Exchange Entrepreneurship Award, and the INC 30 Under 30 Award.
Branching Out and Giving Back
SOLBEN also takes great pride in giving back. It has gained significant visibility since its formation, participating in more than 30 national and international conferences to spread the word about entrepreneurship and green energy, and to inspire young people to drive positive change in their communities. “SOLBEN is working hard to teach young people the tools we use as entrepreneurs,” Daniel said.
“What good would it do,” Daniel said, when asked about why SOLBEN participates in so many conferences, “for me to be traveling around the world getting amazing opportunities if I cannot share them with others?”
Part of these world travels brought SOLBEN to India, where they “searched for people who would like to use our technology for producing biodiesel in an efficient and cheap way.”
A Bright Future
Daniel’s dream is to increase the quality of life of fellow Mexicans, and to position SOLBEN as the biofuel company in the U.S. Innovation is one of SOLBEN’s key pillars—they have always entered new markets by developing high social impact techniques, and they boast strategic allegiances with various internationally-ranked research centers. The green energy firm aims to contribute to the pursuit of sustainable development by creating new technologies and services for the production of alternative energy and residue handling.
SOLBEN—a company where the average age of employees is 25, born from the innovation of a group of students—is well on the way. Its story highlights just what can be accomplished when a passion, an idea, and an opportunity combine to create a business.