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The University Magazine

Rising from the flames Creator of asbestos substitute succeeded despite setbacks

Bal Dixit

Bal Dixit '74 served as a panelist at the first 'Shark Tank' event in May. Student entrepreneurs gave short presentations on their business ideas and the panelists asked questions and awarded prizes. Dixit, a successful entrepreneur, is a member of the RIT Board of Trustees. (Photo by student photographer Rigo Perdomo)

As a panelist at RIT's first Shark Tank event, Bal Dixit had tough questions for the would-be entrepreneurs.

"Do you have any experience in

this industry?"

"Who is your competition?"

"Who are your potential customers?"

"What advantage does your product offer?"

"What's your profit margin?"

"How much money do you need to finance the first year?"

Dixit '74 (MBA) knows what it takes to launch a successful business. He founded Newtex Industries Inc. in 1978 and today serves as chairman of the board. The company, based in Victor, N.Y., is the pioneer and leading global producer of high-temperature textiles for thermal management and fire protection. Dixit pioneered the first safe and commercially viable alternative to asbestos.

Dixit, who has received numerous awards for his achievements, serves on a number of advisory panels and boards, including the RIT Board of Trustees. He has given presentations about small business and often advises entrepreneurs.

He began his career in the corporate world. An engineer, Dixit worked for several major companies, ultimately setting up "the most modern factory in the world to manufacture asbestos" in Canada.

That was in the early 1970s. Then the Environmental Protection Agency determined that asbestos was a carcinogen linked to three types of cancer. Dixit, who had been involved in the ground-breaking studies and helped prepare the tightened regulations for asbestos, suggested that his company begin developing a substitute.

The management wasn't very interested.

"It was very frustrating," Dixit says. "I got fed up and I quit."

He started experimenting in his garage. He wrote a business plan. Things began happening very fast - within six months he was producing a product that eventually was named Zetex.

Initially funding the project through his personal finances, Dixit was able to raise $114,000 from investors and, after being turned down by many banks, ultimately secured a $250,000 SBA-guaranteed loan.

"Only in this country - the free enterprise system - can you do it," he says. "Fortunately, the concept took off."

Zetex got a tremendous boost when a press release on the product got picked up by the Chicago Sun-Times just before a major safety industry show. A substitute for cancer-causing asbestos was big news.

The road to success wasn't without bumps. In 1980, the two-year-old company suffered a devastating fire just days before the annual stockholders' meeting. Dixit called his employees together and asked them to pitch in to help get the factory back in production. Without waiting for an insurance settlement, he moved forward and, with everyone working day and night, the factory was back in operation in two weeks.

"People thought we were finished," says Dixit. "The only thing that survived the fire was our fabric. It's a testimony to the people that we were able to survive."

Employees referred to the recovery as the "Dixit Fixit," and the story is related in two books by Andrew J. DuBrin, former RIT business professor (Getting it Done: The Transforming Power of Self-Discipline and The Inner Core of the Resilient Manager).

Today, Newtex manufactures in Victor, N.Y., and sells globally under three business units: Performance Materials, Extreme Protective Safety Apparel and Engineered Systems. Recently, Newtex's NXP 2000 Fire Entry Suit was featured by National Geographic in the TV series How the Earth Changed History-The Gift of Fire.

The life of an entrepreneur is not easy, he says. "You have to be a risk-taker. But if you've done your homework, you minimize the risk.

"I was not born for working for someone else," he continues. "I wish I had started sooner."