Not many college grads would dare skip out on the rite of passage that is job-hunting after graduation, especially not in today’s precarious economy. But that’s exactly what Pedro Santos, 28, did after earning his MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management two years ago. Santos, a clean technology innovator who is revolutionizing the field of natural gas, was simply executing the strategy he carefully mapped out as a 15-year-old high school junior growing up in the Dominican Republic. “I had a very clear idea of starting a company, “he said, “so I never interviewed for a job.”
That same studied approach led Santos to stumble on a discovery that promises to cut the cost of natural gas production—a $6.9 billion industry—while widening the spigot of clean fuel for natural gas vehicles. Now CEO of his own company, OsComp Systems, Santos spends his days shuttling between his Boston engineering team and his Houston headquarters as he prepares to bring his first product to market next year. WellSpar—a compressor that decreases the amount of energy needed to compress and transport natural gas— is already garnering buzz and awards even before its official launch. Indeed, Forbes magazine named Santos one of the 30 most outstanding young persons in the energy sector in 2011, and the Intel Foundation awarded the company $25,000 in an entrepreneurship challenge. “The oil and gas industry is a very slow-moving industry,” says Santos of the excitement generated by his invention. “If this works, this is one of the first major changes to the industry in the last 50 or 100 years.”
Santos’ roots as an innovator can be traced back to his Dominican childhood, and science seems to run in the family. His great-grandfather, a refrigerator technician, was one of the first recorded individuals to emigrate to the Dominican Republic from China. As a teenager, Santos accompanied his father, an elevator technician, on jobs around the capital, Santo Domingo. One of the fundamental components of elevators are compressors, and young Pedro grew used to seeing the mechanical devices both at home and at work sites. “I actually tore apart the first one at age six,” he recalls. “I put it back together, but there were parts remaining, which is a very bad sign.” He attended bilingual Spanish-English schools in the Dominican Republic, where he says he was always a good student, but “my gift is a really good memory. Anything I see, I typically remember. I’ll read a random magazine and I’ll remember the content. And I put all those elements together to come up with a creative solution.”
While in college, Santos saved up money to OsComp Systems, but it was in an old and unlikely place that he found his inspiration—mechanical magazines from the 1800s.“That was the industrial revolution. Every genius back then was working on mechanical devices,” says Santos. “And the amount of mechanical creativity that we can find in that century, is much, much better than what we can find today. Very few mechanical elements have not been invented before.”
Now, the technology his company has created is poised to make unprofitable gas wells profitable again—and has far-reaching potential as U.S. gas prices continue to rise. Already, there are 120,000 natural gas vehicles on American roads, and 14.8 million worldwide. As more infra-structure for natural vehicles is developed, Santos and his team are working to ensure there’s a steady supply of an inexpensive and clean fuel alternative.
Santos offers advice to those who want to follow in his footsteps: “It’s not about being the smartest guy in the room. It’s not about going to the best schools. It’s about who is willing to make the most effort and learn and improve and change. By working hard, you can make up for whatever you lack in inspiration with perspiration.”