The Value In Diversification
It all started in a garage. Joe Renwick, cofounder of family-owned, South Carolina-based Green Energy Biofuel, recounts the 2007 story that set the path of the company in motion. “I met a guy who knew a guy who knew how to make biodiesel,” he explains. “He taught me how to make biodiesel in my garage, and I built my own dual-reactor processor and I got bit by the bio-bug, as they say.”
Renwick was regularly making fuel from waste cooking oil recycled from the local tapas restaurant, The Bee’s Knees, in downtown Augusta, Georgia, and had made eight batches of fuel when he lost his job as an account executive at the bank he was working at. Meanwhile, his wife, Beth, was finishing up her residency in emergency medicine.
Renwick took a job selling pharmaceutical drug manufacturing equipment, gaining valuable experience as a salesperson and fluid process design. Unfortunately, the sole owner of the company passed away and he found himself out of a job again. “I moved back home (to Winnsboro) with my tail between my legs, unemployed, and ran into an old friend from college from The Citadel, and the two of us decided to start a biodiesel company,” Renwick says.
That partner was old football teammate Brandon Spence, and the duo started Midlands Biofuels LLC in 2008. Renwick understood the biodiesel part of the business, while Spence, who had worked as a small business specialist at the U.S. Department of Commerce, knew the intricacies of starting a new business.
The initial equipment the two acquired—which was bought by maxing out credit cards and a loan against Renwick’s pickup truck—is still in operation today. “By 2009, we were ASTM certified and making fuel; the only biodiesel company in the state of South Carolina, running unopposed for years,”