Foxfire helps firefighters with smoke vision

Former Eli Lilly sales manager and volunteer firefighter Zachary Green started MN8 Products, which makes Foxfire high intensity photo luminescent (glow in the dark) coatings and products for firefighters, in 2010.

Green, a Marine Corps veteran, worked in the corporate world for 18 years, first for SAP and then later for Eli Lilly. He had been at Lilly for eight years when the economic recession hit. His choice: move to Indianapolis or take a corporate buyout during one of the worst recessions in history.

"I'm not the type of guy that's meant to be in a cube," says Green. 

As a volunteer firefighter, Green saw an opportunity to use the glow technology to coat equipment that firefighters use in the dark. "I had put the coating on my helmet and then used it in a fire," he says. "The other firefighters were amazed at how effective it was and wanted to use it on their helmets. I knew we were on to something."

Three of the top risks faced by firefighters are visibility, accountability and disorientation. Foxfire illumination helps firefighters keep track of their tools and each other in a dark, smoky fire. The turning point for Green was the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis, the largest conference and tradeshow for firefighters, which welcomes 34,000 firefighters every year.

"We were the busiest booth in the tradeshow," Green says. "We ran out of product samples three times and had to send people back to Cincinnati to get more." That month, the company received over $85,000 in orders, beginning a trend that hasn't stopped.

The new challenge is managing a startup that is growing really quickly – and keeping enough cash in hand to turn around orders. Green has self-financed his company and has used a line of credit to manage the time between manufacturing product and getting payments from customers.

"My training from the Marine Corps taught me to always plan for the worst case scenario, so I had contingency plans for how to manage large, unexpected orders," Green says.

Despite the anxiety that comes with starting a new company in a down economy, Green has no regrets. "I'm having the time of my life."

By Elizabeth Edwards
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