Detroit Encore Entrepreneurs Blaze New Trail With LithFire-X

Gerry Flood has spent his career pioneering and selling preparedness. For 20 years, he was a salesman for AAA. He also started his own metro Detroit-based company, called CeaseFire, which manufactured automatic fire suppression products.

CeaseFire garnered such a reputation for expertise that when ValuJet flight 592 crashed in the Everglades in 1996 after a fire broke out in the cargo area of the plane, killing all 110 passengers, CeaseFire was the only private company invited to testify before a Congressional inquiry into the accident. Flood eventually sold his company to a group of investors, expecting to use the proceeds to fund his retirement.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. CeaseFire’s buyers mismanaged the business into the ground. In his mid-70s, Flood, an easily smiling Air Force veteran who’s quick with a joke, suddenly found himself wondering what he should do next.

In 2011, Flood enrolled in Detroit’s TechTown business incubator with the idea of starting a new business selling fire suppression systems for clothes dryers. During a pitch contest at a chamber of commerce meeting, Flood recognized a fellow TechTown founder named Ron Butler.

Butler had retired after 22 years with the Detroit Fire Department, fighting fires out of Engine Co. 58, a beleaguered fire house in a particularly bleak part of Detroit’s East Side. Butler, who holds a master’s degree in instructional systems design from Wayne State University and is a doctoral candidate in human and organizational performance improvement, is only in his 40s, but he too was in search of a new business venture. His pitch that night was for an emergency response company he had recently started.

Flood and Butler began chatting and soon realized they shared an abiding interest in suppressing fire. It was just days after a couple of Chevy Volt battery packs had caught fire in simulated crash tests, eventually sparking a federal investigation into the safety of Chevrolet’s flagship electric vehicle.

“It was huge on the news,” Butler recalls. “There was lots of money invested by GM in electric batteries, but [the fires were] important to the whole industry.”

“I said, ‘Wait a minute. This vehicle self-ignites?’” Flood adds. “We just started talking about it and we realized we had a common language.” It was during that conversation that the seeds were planted for their startup, which harnesses the kind of ingenuity that made the Motor City famous to address a key threat to the emerging market for electric vehicles. One could argue that perhaps only these two encore entrepreneurs had the right combination of background, skills, and timing to establish a company like LithFire-X.

In 2012, the new partners started LithFire-X, a startup developing fire suppression systems for lithium-ion batteries. LithFire-X also advises a variety of U.S. manufacturers on safety concerns related to medical devices, notebook computers, and other products powered by lithium-ion batteries.

The consulting part of LithFire’s business, which helps generate revenue for the business, stemmed from some investigative market research Flood did.

He started with Chevy dealerships first, then any dealership that sold hybrid-electric … Next Page »

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