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April 25, 2015

New Businesses in Florida

What were these small businesses thinking?

Amid one of the nation's worst recessions, these entrepreneurs forged ahead.

Mike Vogel | 1/30/2012

Ray Hicks
CO2Meter, Ormond Beach

Measuring Carbon Dioxide Levels

For grins a couple months ago, Ray Hicks checked to see when he had his first customer contact at his new company, CO2Meter. Hicks, a cheerful, chatty sort, found it came the same day in October 2008 as one of the market's first big tumbles.

The 58-year-old Michigan native says he was undeterred. He started his first business, supplying silk-screen signs and photo studio props, at 16. Through the decades, he built businesses largely in the photo and optics field, earning a slew of patents, before selling to Kodak in 2000. He met his future wife, Irene, a South Africa native working in the gas detection industry, in Michigan. They bought a place in Ormond Beach to escape the cold.

A life of leisure didn't suit him. Hicks took over the garage for CO2Meter, which manufactures inexpensive sensors of carbon dioxide levels, "oodles and oodles" of them. "You've got these idiots saying there's global warming. Another set of idiots saying there isn't. I really don't care. I just want to measure CO2 concentrations," he says.

He sells to manufacturers who install his products in their equipment and has found a market in the packaging, pharma, food, brewery and fermenting industries, universities, HVAC businesses and consumers. Hicks tells of the unexpected interest from California greenhouse marijuana growers (higher concentrations of carbon dioxide promote growth) and egg hatcheries (more CO2 helps the hatch rate). Schools buy his products because students don't do well when breathing in too much CO2 in stuffy classrooms. Ever been stuck in a warm meeting room dying for coffee or feeling vaguely ill? Hicks asks. It's not all that body heat; it's the carbon dioxide concentration, he says.

CO2Meter farms out components to Florida companies and does final assembly in Ormond Beach. It employs just six full time and has less than $2 million in revenue but is growing fast, Hicks says.

Ray Hicks (with wife Irene) sells his CO2Meters to manufacturers and consumers. Revenue is just under $2 million. [Photo: Martin Christopher]

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