There was a time when founder, Justin Krook fell off an elevated floor at a construction site and landed on a metal rod that plunged 9 inches into the middle of his back. Impaled on the metal rod, for 27 terrifying minutes he wrestled with the real possibility of a life without the use of his legs.
Krook sees this incident as having led to his new life as an entrepreneur and the inventor of a new photoluminescent pigment used on construction workers’ safety vests. “This technology is something new and never seen before,” said Doug Peterson, a risk manager and northern region safety director at United Contractors Midwest. “I’ve seen nothing even remotely as effective as this product.”
However, when his father got sick, he felt obligated to take over his contracting company in New Ipswich, N,H., where Krook grew up. It was 2006, after six years in the construction industry, when the accident happened. Krook and his crew were building an inside loading dock for a company that makes mortar shells for the government. He was showing a co-worker where to cut an opening in the building’s wall to create a entryway for supply trucks to unload materials in a secure location. Then he stepped back. “I fell back off the floor and landed on a metal bar that went up 9 inches in my back and almost leaving me paralyzed,” he said. “It was one of those life-changing experiences.”
Despite the intense pain, Krook used those 27 minutes to think about the future. “After I was hurt, I started to look at the world differently,” he said. “I wanted to protect workers from going through what I had gone through….that was something that I became passionate about.” After spending six months recovering from his injury, he was back at work on a job in Mississippi building a 40,000-square-foot pool. During the project, he and a few engineers were looking for a way to identify the pool’s edge at night.
It was decided to try a readily-available chemical, but it wasn’t bright enough to be seen in ambient-light. That was when Krook, relying what he learned in a “few” chemistry classes at FSU, began searching for a luminescent compound that could be easily seen outdoors and in ambient light. “I literally set up a lab in my garage and started doing some research to figure out how photoluminescent pigment actually works and how I could take that and increase the intensity so it would be seen outside,” he said. “The whole idea just started from that pool.”
While taking a business class at Clark University in Worcester, he started seeking out chemists who could help him with the project. Edward Kingsley, who holds a Ph.D in chemistry and is a technical program manager at UMass Lowell, provided the technical assistance Krook needed. “I was impressed by Justin’s focus, drive and work ethic along with the fact that he has a very collaborative work style,” Kingsley said, adding “keep in mind he worked on the project for two years without a paycheck, it has not been an easy road for him!”
“It was about two years later that I actually had a way to increase the intensity,” he said. “The ‘ah-ha’ moment was when I showed this to a family friend who had invented a product back in the ’80s.” His family friend, impressed, told him it was time to find a patent attorney. That was in December 2012. Of course, Krook won’t reveal how he increased the results but people like Kingsley are impressed with what he has discovered.
“I am a Ph.D chemist with 30 years experience in technical product development and spent many years developing photoluminescent materials,” said Kingsley. “I was amazed at how much Justin accomplished with no formal training or experience with material science (and) with much fewer resources.” “The hardest part was convincing my wife that using everything we had saved towards an unknown product that may or may not work and even if it did, would it sell?” “The purpose of a high-visibility garment is to make a person visible,” Krook said. Before the discovery, once a construction worker stepped away from the light, they were invisible. Now workers can be seen hundreds of feet away using Krook’s product. The glow lasts up to eight hours. “I can see the cars hitting their brake lights when I am out here in the dark moving traffic control,” Peterson said.
“People are more aware. It’s an extra layer of protection.” That extra layer of protection for workers was exactly what United Contractors Midwest was looking for. “The reason why we love this product is because it is cutting-edge,” said Peterson. “These guys appreciate that UCM is willing to spend the extra money to give them that extra layer of added protection.” Kingsley echoed Peterson on Krook’s product being innovative. “I am very familiar with the development of photoluminescent materials and knowledgeable about companies developing such materials,” he said. “Justin’s photoluminescent tapes were better than any of the competitors I had previously evaluated. The combining of the photoluminescent coatings with the retroreflective coatings differentiated his product from others.” At that point Krook, still a lone entrepreneur at the time, needed someone to help push and manufacture his product. He began pitching his product to companies and came across Viz Reflectives UK, which was already making silver-reflective tape and garments.
Krook and VizReflectives owner Nick Rowbottom soon struck an agreement. Krook would license the glow material to Viz Reflectives, which would in turn manufacture the product and attach it to construction garments. “Part of our agreement was I wanted to still be involved,” Krook said about working with Viz RefIectives. “I didn’t want to just license it and then wash my hands of it so the agreement is, I am responsible for introducing and selling into all of North, Central and South America. Right now, they are doing all the manufacturing and then I take it, introduce it and sell it.”
Viz Reflectives manufactures the tape, then sends it offshore to be sewn onto the garments and then shipped back to the United States to be sold. “We didn’t want separate brands that would cause confusion in the market, so I started Viz Reflectives North America and we decided the tape would be sold under VizLite®DT and our garments under Alpha WorkWear,” Krook said. Krook started the company about 14 months ago. He’s been using LinkedIn, a business-focused social-media website, to market his product. That connected him with Peterson and United Contractors Midwest, and has recently met with Exxon Mobil, Jacobs, Archer Western, Kiewit, OldCastle, Con Edison, National Grid among many other very large companies. “They loved it,” said Krook, adding that he “now has a fire-retardant version of the tape and our FR garments currently under construction.” Krook has also met with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, MBTA and NHDOT. “With so many fatalities on the roadways we feel it is a no-brainer to add a 3rd layer of protection.
We would like to meet with the Departments of Transportation in all 50 States” Krook adds “there is no doubt in our minds not only will we prevent accidents but also save lives!” He said he introduces the product the same way to every company. “It’s a great feeling knowing that I am pitching a product that could literally save someone’s life,” Krook said. “It’s not just a product to sell or some kind of gimmick. It’s a real, industrial-safety, lifesaving product and a lot of companies are seeing it the same. That is very gratifying knowing you are out helping people.” Krook has turned this into a career and he hopes it can eventually create job opportunities for locals in North Central Massachusetts. He said once the manufacturing machine in the UK gets up to 50 percent capacity, he is looking at local places to open manufacturing. “I always said if this ever went anywhere, I would want to help create jobs,” Krook said. Krook is not there yet, but he has upgraded his lab and moved into a new office building in MA.
Viz Reflectives North America
P.O. Box 101
Lunenberg, MA 01462
Contact on Twitter at: @Vizreflect
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