Having fun with preservation

Nichole Jones finds water fleas and fathead minnows exciting.

Actually, it’s the part those organisms play in her life and her new Fostoria business, Bojhun Environmental Services, 111 W. South St. And it’s the idea of protecting the environment and helping other people to protect the environment she finds fascinating.

“I love coming to work. I’m very passionate about the environmental field,” said Jones, the company’s founder and president. “I’m very engaged and interested in knowing more constantly. I’m blessed with the attitude that everything is exciting. It’s very interesting. Life is what you make of it. Anything can be boring and anything can be exciting.”

One of the aspects she most enjoys is keeping up with changes in the field.

“I like to take the approach that I like to learn every day,” she said. “It’s always something different. There’s always new technology. Everything affects the environment. Different technology has to be advanced to be able to keep up. Methodology is different. Nothing is ever going to be the same.”

A simplified explanation of the lab’s work is to conduct laboratory tests for clients to make sure the water leaving their wastewater treatment plants meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

She tests samples of the effluent, the water that leaves the plant after it has been treated, to make sure it’s safe to re-enter nature. Tests must be conducted in different time frames.

“Sometimes it can be 30 days, and sometimes it’s 24 hours,” she said.

The lab is a bioassay lab, which means part of the testing she conducts relates to the reproduction and mortality of water fleas and fathead minnows.

She keeps an appliance that looks like a refrigerator (but it’s not cold) full of water fleas, each of which are the size of a ballpoint pen tip. The minnows also each have their own container in a large lab sink.

Both of the organisms are an indicator of good water quality.

“If they’re present, it’s a good thing,” she said.

“Each little cup is in a different concentration (of effluent),” she said. “There are 10 replicates to determine there are no oddities in the samples.”

For example, 10 water fleas will be living in a 20 percent effluent, 10 in 40 percent effluent and so on.

Almost daily, the water fleas reproduce asexually “and a cup has a whole bunch of babies in it,” she said. “Each baby gets its own cup.”

Reproduction numbers and data are recorded.

“You want to have more of a broad range of data so, if there is an anomaly, it’s not going to throw (the results) off,” she said.

Her clients are wastewater plants and industrial factories with wastewater plants that aren’t large enough to have their own labs.

“It’s just more cost-effective for them to send it out to a commercial lab rather than pay for somebody to staff a lab,” she said.

Clients include Tiffin’s wastewater plant and other area plants, as well as municipal plants near Cleveland. There also are industrial plants, including some in Michigan.

“The farthest is about two hours away,” she said. “They either ship samples or deliver them. And sometimes I do sampling at locations.”

The lab also performs general chemistry testing.

“We try to be a resource for wastewater permits,” she said. “A lot of companies, with me starting out, have been very supportive. It’s been amazing.”

She said she and her clients often learn together and help one another.

“They turn to me for some things and I turn to them for some things,” she said. “We have a symbiotic relationship.”

For example, Jones might tell her clients about advances in tests and sample collections.

“And I’m really big on reading up on the code of federal regulations,” she said. “I’m a nerd.”

Jones is a member of the Ohio Water Environmental Association, and uses a website and social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook to get the word out about the lab.

“I never heard of (the village of) French Creek near Cleveland until they found my website,” she said. “They’ve been very supportive.”

The lab has more than 50 customers in fewer than six months.

“They all have different volumes. Some of them are seasonal, some are consistent. Some are one-time customers,” she said.

Although the lab has been in operation for several months, she said it originally opened under the name Cinagro.

“I had to change it because there was another one with a similar name and there was some confusion at the very beginning,” she said. “They didn’t say anything, but I saw a problem.

“So I needed to come up with a new name. I thought and thought. I thought about ‘preserve’ and different interpretations of ‘to preserve.'”

But every name she considered already was in use.

Finally, she decided to consider a different language, and she has a Korean friend. Bohjun is the Korean word for “to preserve.”

Jones said she was born in Toledo to parents who didn’t graduate from high school, but she went to school and lived most of her life in Fostoria until she graduated in 1997.

“When we were young, I was in a foster home,” she said. “My parents couldn’t afford us.”

She said the community and schools in Fostoria were good to her.

“The people that live here don’t look at you for what money you have or what money you don’t have,” she said. “If you’re a good person, you deserve a chance.”

She said many good teachers helped her on her way.

Now 36, Jones has three daughters ages 17, 11 and 4.

She wants her daughters and other young people to know being smart certainly is cool.

And she wants to support students in finding their place in the world. In her first months in business, she already has had two University of Findlay interns working for her.

And she likes to be a positive role model.

One of her interns had an issue in high school with “being smart wasn’t cool,” she said. “She had a really hard time in high school because of it.”

When children are young, she said they naturally find science interesting.

“As a kid, you’re watching a reaction like a color change or something,” she said. “It’s science. It’s interesting. Science is cool, but then it all fades away as they get older.”

Older kids allow the need to “fit in” overcome their individuality, she said.

“Looking at what is all around you and being excited about what is all around you,” she said. “I just think that there’s so much naturally and it’s too bad we’re losing it.”

Jones is a UF graduate with a degree in pre-veterinary medicine, biology and chemistry.

“The odd thing about it is, when I started college, I took an environmental class and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really neat,'” she said.

But she said she didn’t know about environmental jobs at the time.

“I did what seemed like more of a challenge,” she said. “I decided I wanted to be a doctor. And I loved animals, so I applied for the pre-vet program and was accepted.”

But instead of applying to veterinarian school after she graduated, she applied for a job at a commercial lab right out of college.

“That’s how I got interested,” she said. “I decided to start making money instead of spending money. At the time, my oldest child was starting kindergarten, and I would have had to commute to Ohio State.”

She found the lab work really interested her.

“I just started there and really liked it,” she said. “I kept growing and learning more. I just tried to make the best of it. Anything is possible.”

She worked there for 11 years, where she was manager and supervisor of field activities before she decided to open her own business.

“I got to know the different aspects of the commercial environmental side of what we do as a lab,” she said.

For a long time, Jones said she never thought about opening her own business.

“What made me really believe is a lot of people at my previous job,” she said. “I was always the go-to person.

“Basically, I learned so much on my own time,” she said. “I would do so much studying. I became more knowledgeable about things than people who have been in the industry for a very long time were.”

As she started to think about working on her own, soon there was no doubt in her mind it would be the right move.

“I wasn’t nervous or scared. Not even a little bit,” she said. “Maybe I should be, but I don’t how you can fail when you’re passionate, energetic, disciplined and hard-working. It’s about not letting yourself be defeated, about welcoming constructive criticism.

“I’m doing it to support other people. There’s nothing selfish. I enjoy being a resource for other people.”

When she decided it was time to make the change, she decided Fostoria would be the home for her new business.

“I’d been commuting over an hour to my previous job,” she said.

The community came to her aid again when she applied for a $50,000 loan.

“The revolving loan committee awarded me a loan that the community offers at a very low interest rate to get my business started,” she said.

After much paperwork and several presentations, she said she was thrilled to get the loan.

“They’re really excited about this business in Fostoria,” she said.

Jones said she started remodeling a former tanning salon in August 2013.

“There were walls everywhere in here,” she said.

She bought used lab tables online and modified them to make them taller. She installed a new ceramic floor. And she searched for used equipment.

“Some of it’s new,” she said. “But I wanted to save money wherever I could.”

After remodeling the building and buying equipment, the lab opened in June.

“I’m an optimistic person. I just think there’s so much potential here,” she said. “There are so many great people who have come just from the city of Fostoria.”

Of course, she said she wants to be able to pay her bills and live in comfort, but her goals are not financial.

“My goal is to be a resource and to be a source of employment for the community,” she said. “I want the lab to make a great positive impact on the environment.”

In addition to an employee, office manager Rhonda Frankart, Jones foresees hiring more people in the future.

“We’re definitely growing,” she said. “I want to continue adding on more testing capabilities. I’m always trying to learn and grow beyond just being a common lab because I want to keep learning.

“I want to stay focused on being a resource for anything that may come up in the environmental field,” she said. “My goal is to be positioned for growth to continue and, obviously, in order to retain a business I have to be profitable. To be able to offer environmental compliance solutions. That’s my big thing.”

And that’s for the benefit of the water fleas and minnows, and the rest of nature’s creatures.

“I’m just really grateful,” she said. “You surround yourself with the people who believe in you and don’t listen to anybody that doesn’t.”

For more information, visit bojhun.com, call (419) 436-7066 or email info@bojhun.com.