The location is North Philadelphia, far from the cutting-edge labs of some of the city's edgiest start-ups inhabiting the University City Science Center, or the suburbs' pharmaceutical companies along the Route 202 corridor.
But it's home to a fast-growing, innovative manufacturer offering solutions to the health-care industry and job opportunities to veterans and others whose backgrounds make it hard to find work.
DiSorb Systems Inc. is a veteran- owned company of 18 employees at 18th Street and West Indiana Avenue that makes products that solidify and disinfect blood and other liquid medical waste for safe and cost-effective disposal by hospitals and surgical centers. Most states allow DiSorb-treated materials to be discarded as municipal solid waste rather than more-expensive-to-handle infectious waste.
CEO Ted McLaughlin, a former Navy search-and-rescue diver, said he expects DiSorb to make $8 million to $15 million this year, and likely triple that amount next year. Its current facility, open since 2006, is in a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Zone, a certification that helps small businesses qualify for preferential access to federal procurement opportunities.
"What you have there is the beginning of a positive experience that the city can then use to say, 'Here's a company that's doing well in this area. Open up your own place and hire from the community,' " said Jonathan Saidel, former city controller and a board member at the Veterans Multi-Service Center, through which DiSorb has made some of its hires. Another is Project HOME.
Enabling the explosive growth that McLaughlin projects is a $1 million high-speed assembly line activated last month that will increase production capacity eight-fold and lead to the hiring of 10 to 12 additional employees by the end of the year, he said.
Ultimately, McLaughlin expects DiSorb's workforce to grow to about 50. For its hires, DiSorb works with local nonprofits to find veterans and "returning citizens" trying to rebuild lives after incarceration.
"We want it clean and organized like a military operation," McLaughlin, 53, of Blue Bell, said to explain the immaculate factory floor. "I went to boot camp. We pattern our operation here like that."
As he spoke, the new line - a mix of automation and human hands - took just one minute to fill 200 two-ounce bottles of a proprietary polymer powder blend used to solidify blood and other fluids drawn into suction canisters during surgery. It replaces equipment capable of filling four bottles at once.
The majority of DiSorb's business is sold through distributors under its own labels - SafeSorb, a solidifier, and SuperSolid Plus, both a solidifier and a disinfectant - and private labels.
The primary ingredient is super-absorbent polymer akin to the fill in a diaper or sanitary pad. The difference is that DiSorb's blend does not expand when it comes in contact with liquid, McLaughlin said.
That enables the solidifiers to be pre-loaded into an empty suction canister prior to the start of surgery, unique among liquid medical waste solidifier products on the market, McLaughlin said.
"Seeing what you've produced at the end of the day is pretty nice," said Paris London, 28, a local resident and former medic in the Army National Guard who was hired at DiSorb six months ago as a temp and is now production line supervisor, a job he likened to the military. "It's the same mindset - having that sense of urgency and keeping an awareness about you. Maintaining your cool when the equipment doesn't cooperate."
Saidel said: "Thank God they're in Philadelphia, because they could be anywhere."
In addition to customers in the United States and Canada, DiSorb has clients in Japan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Colombia.
McLaughlin's entrepreneurial path started after hairline fractures in his back ended his military career about three years after it started. He went on to graduate from Villanova University in 1990 with a degree in economics, and then to a variety of sales positions in health-care companies before starting a home-based business selling used medical equipment in 1998. It was through that business that he came across a fluid solidifier produced by an Australian company. He bought the technology for it in 2001 and launched DiSorb in Philadelphia's Frankford section.
Brooks Hulitt, 41, an Air Force veteran from Chestnut Hill, and a consultant in federal contracting, is DiSorb's president.
About 75 percent of DiSorb is owned by McLaughlin and family trusts, the rest by investors and employees.
"We couldn't scale this business the way we want to scale it without having dedicated employees," McLaughlin said of the employee-ownership opportunity.