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Motorcycle Ride Ignites Dream To Bring Spark Plugs to Market

MULTISPARK LLC

President and CEO: Scott Applebaum.

Net income: Not disclosed.

No. of local employees: One full-time employee, two part-time employees plus contractors.

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Investors: Applebaum holds a majority interest. Other investors include friends, family and workers.

Headquarters: San Diego.

Year founded: 2007.

What makes the company innovative: Manufactures a patented spark plug with a star-shaped tip.

A motorcycle ride up the long, straight grade of state Route 52 out of Santee turned into one of the most exhilarating experiences of Scott Applebaum’s entrepreneurial life.

Applebaum, 48, runs Multispark LLC, a small business which is bringing a new kind of spark plug to market.

He recalled that he had just spent time in a motorcycle shop in Santee, testing both common spark plugs and his own model. The point was to see whether his plugs improved his motorcycle’s performance. They did. The shop owner found the plugs increased horsepower and torque.

Applebaum kept the PowerStar plugs in his bike and rode home elated, taking the freeway west from Santee then driving north on Kearny Villa Road. “It was the realization of a dream,” he said.

Launching the product at a Las Vegas show in 2009, Applebaum said he got another boost, when he found people wanting to buy his product for the price of his choosing.

Since then others have taken notice.

In October, the California Energy Commission awarded Multispark a $95,000 grant to investigate use of the spark plug in buses running on compressed natural gas.

And in December, Connect, the local program for entrepreneurs, gave the spark plug its Most Innovative New Product Award in the clean technology category.

Unique Design

Unlike a conventional spark plug, Multispark’s PowerStar plug has a star-shaped tip, offering multiple gaps for the spark to jump. (A spark plug ignites fuel in the cylinder of an internal combustion engine, pushing against a piston. That motion eventually powers the wheels.)

Multispark markets plugs with five-point or eight-point star tips.

Applebaum’s company holds three patents on the plugs and is pursuing a fourth. The chief executive also claims trade secrets on how the plugs are manufactured. Zoltan Takarich, his vice president and chief operating officer, came up with the manufacturing technology.

Applebaum claims his plugs are more efficient than their counterparts, and that they utilize fuel better than conventional plugs. What’s more, he said PowerStar plugs cut down on emissions, reducing nitrogen oxides 5 percent and carbon monoxide 30 percent.

Laird Mooney, chief executive officer and president of American Motor Products in El Cajon, says he plans to market PowerStar plugs to the fleet market. His business plan calls for bundling several gas-saving or green technologies for his customers.

“In a fleet, even 5 percent savings of fuel is huge,” Mooney said.

Mooney said he recently installed PowerStar plugs on two of his vehicles and took them from San Diego to a show in Oregon. One of the vehicles, a stretch limousine, normally gets 18 miles per gallon. With the new plugs, he said, it got 21½ miles per gallon — and would have gotten more if the highway hadn’t gone through mountains.

Challenging Market

People will have to pay a little more for Multispark’s products. The suggested retail price is $14.95 for the automotive spark plug, and $17.95 for the motorcycle version.

By contrast, online retailers were selling a standard model Champion spark plug for $2.25 to $2.49 apiece last week.

Applebaum said it’s a matter of economics, and that unlike Champion manufacturer Federal-Mogul Corp., “I’m not making millions of spark plugs.”

Eventually, the entrepreneur said he wants to bring manufacturing in-house.

Applebaum is now participating in Connect’s business development program, called Springboard. He’s also seeking funding. However, he said, he’s not interested in the short-term exit strategy people frequently inquire about.

Applebaum worked at one time as a design engineer for Applied Micro Circuits Corp., aka AMCC, which was previously based in San Diego and has since moved its headquarters to Silicon Valley. He is a lifelong auto enthusiast whose first car was a 1974 Mercury Capri.

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