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Bheemappa For A Clean New World
Sunday, October 1, 2000

With a postdoctoral degree in biochemistry, multiple publications in several academic journals to her credit and a teaching position at SUNY Buffalo, Devi Bheemappa has achieved nearly everything that a researcher can wish for. However, if you’re looking for her in a classroom, you won’t find her. Bheemappa is the CEO of DeCopier Technologies, a Massachusetts company that has developed a patented new technology that removes toner from laser printed and photocopied papers and makes them reusable.

Classroom to Boardroom

“I guess I’m a little impatient by nature,” explains Bheemappa. “Much as I loved being a researcher, I could not be happy with the slow pace of work that scientific research involves. You sometimes have to wait for years before you see the fruit of your labor.” Not someone to sit around and let things pass, Bheemappa decided to go for a career change. She earned her MBA in marketing from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and has not looked back since.

“I had always been interested in working for a cutting-edge technology company, not just another dot-com,” says Bheemappa, explaining why she decided to join DeCopier. DeCopier fitted the bill in every respect. For one thing, the DeCopier technology, being less understood by the market, challenged Bheemappa in a way few dot-com ideas would have. Secondly, unlike most dot-coms, it had a tangible product and many barriers to market entry. Third, the technology could save millions of trees. And finally, the cost-benefit proposition of the technology made sense to her, which — being the businesswoman that she is — was the most important consideration to her.

Conversely, Bheemappa was ideal for DeCopier. She had already worked for several technology companies in sales and marketing positions, including Canon, Fujitsu and Global Data Corp. She had also co-founded a dot-com, TrueAdvantage.com, in 1998, which provides private-labeled sales leads and RFP solutions for the B2B marketplaces, portals and communities that match buyers and sellers cost effectively. She sold the company for $15 million to Dbusiness.com in June 2000, when she found that the market was becoming “fuzzy,” and her company needed a partner with an established presence. She was definitely the person that DeCopier founder Dr. Sushil Bhatia was looking for to take his idea to the market place successfully.

Changing the World

DeCopier has already won celebrity status as a 1998 Discover Magazine awards finalist for technological innovation, and again in 1999, as a finalist in the Netherlands’ IDNL industrial innovation competitions. “Sushil is something of an inventor [he has 10 patents to his credit], and [DeCopier] is his latest invention,” laughs Bheemappa.

Bheemappa is dead serious, however, about her work at DeCopier. She truly believes that the technology will change the face of the world, or at least the work world. “We were supposed to be moving toward a paperless office with the help of technology,” says Bheemappa, “but we have ended up being even bigger consumers of paper. Copiers, printers and fax machines have all contributed to this increase in consumption.”

But it is not only the waste management companies and environmentalists who are or will be enthusiastic about the DeCopier. “There is another very important application of this technology which people sometimes tend to overlook,” Bheemappa points out. “And that is in the area of corporate security. If you want to get rid of some really sensitive documents, you can do so with the DeCopier. It will not leave a trace.” Whereas shredding is not a foolproof method, tests have shown that there is no way to reinstate what the DeCopier has removed, Bheemappa claims.

“So far, the company has been concentrating on getting the product patented, which it did in the March of this year,” Bheemappa said. “Now we have to take it to the next level, and that is generating profits.” As CEO, that is Bheemappa’s responsibility. With five years of marketing, sales and management experience behind her, it should be a piece of cake.

The DeCopier fluid has already generated a significant response, according to Bheemappa. The company has been talking to several paper recycling mills, and is looking to have at least one to two purchase orders from them within the next six to ten months. The company will start marketing the DeCopier fluid to paper recycling mills in the next year.

On the machine side, the company is currently negotiating with equipment manufacturing companies in Europe (Netherlands) and Asia (Singapore and Japan) to market the machine through technology licensing.

With a small management team and less than a dozen employees, DeCopier is as nimble as any startup can hope to be. It recently closed its second round of funding and is looking to recruit a dozen more people before the end of this year. With the combined US market for the fluid and associated products alone being close to $9 billion, Bheemappa and her company are indeed in a very comfortable position at the moment.

Outside work, Bheemappa is involved with a residential treatment center in Lexington, MA, that works with troubled teen-age girls. She hopes to start something similar in India some day.

So how did this researcher turn into a business savvy CEO? Bheemappa says that growing up in poverty, education and outside-of-the-box thinking were the keys to her growth. Education is a tool that she exploits everyday, but the outside-of-the-box thinking that is crucial to her business, she says, comes from beating the odds and learning from her mistakes. Bheemappa adds that gender has never been an issue to her. “I do not believe in the ‘glass ceiling’ theory that many women constantly talk about.” Her business philosophy is simple, she says: “I am in this game as long as I do a better job than the guy/gal next to me. The bottom line is to make sure I do my job right every day.”

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