Story by Lauren Schatz, images provided by ModernBlox
“We started as an idea,” said Swapneel Deshpande (Neel), cofounder of ModernBlox, an entrepreneurial company that creates custom-built residential and commercial buildings out of shipping containers.
The company was an idea of Deshpande’s friend and fellow international student, Ben Loh, who recognized the growing need for sustainable and affordable housing, as well as the widespread availability of shipping containers.
“In the U.S., these containers were coming from China and different countries,” Deshpande said. “It’s more economical for these countries to make another container rather than have it shipped back. That is why there are millions of these containers in the U.S.”
Shipping containers are also known for their structural integrity. In fact, they can withstand winds up to 250 mph when anchored down. Their strength lies in their material – Corten steel, which is a weathering steel known for its durability.
The benefits of shipping containers extend beyond their availability and strength; shipping container buildings are also soundproof, portable, sustainable, affordable, eco-friendly, and fast to build. Despite these benefits, not everyone saw the potential in Loh’s business idea.
Loh pitched his idea in a business plan competition at Oklahoma State University in 2012. Though the judges encouraged Loh to pursue his dream, his plan ranked very low in the competition.
“Nobody believed that something like this could be done,” said Deshpande. “But Ben still kept pushing.”
A couple of years later, Ben met up with co-founders Deshpande and Lee Easton to see if they’d like to join him in his efforts. The team agreed to pursue the company and start the building of their first “blox.”
During the heat of an Oklahoma summer, the three poured blood, sweat, and tears into the construction of their DemoBlox. Not only did they devote a majority of their time and energy into designing their blox, but they also had to put in tremendous amounts of physical labor.
“On weekends when everyone else was out partying and having fun, we were building something that nobody believed in,” Deshpande said.
Months later, their hard work paid off; the DemoBlox was finally completed in February 2016, and people were shocked to see the “before and after” photos of the modern shipping container home.
“People were completely blown away by what we could build,” Deshpande said.
Fast forward a few years later and ModernBlox is a successful and quickly-growing company, operating out of a 400,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Tulsa. They’ve branched out from their DemoBlox and created a variety of other products.
“We offer products and solutions,” Deshpande said. “Products are something we completely design . . . and solutions are like custom orders.”
The company’s patented products include the following:
- 1Blox, their classic, 360-square-foot housing design
- BarBlox, an affordable bar space
- HuntingBlox, a sustainable hunting cabin
- Great Barrier, a self-sufficient, eco-friendly unit that, according to modernblox.com, “is designed to go off-the-grid where no power, water, or waste conditions are available.”
The company’s solutions, on the other hand, are designed specifically to meet their clients’ visions. The team of four – which includes Loh, Deshpande, Easton and Chad Magruder, will sit down with their clients to figure out exactly what they want and how to make it happen. However, it sometimes takes some “thinking outside the blox” to do so.
One problem that was brought to them in the past year was the need for a large break room for a company in Tulsa. Their solution? A CenterlessBlox, which they made by cutting out the center of the containers and then stacking them together like Legos.
Whether they’re building a product or a solution, the team has a specific process they follow. Each project goes through four phases – the design phase, manufacture phase, delivery phase, and installation phase. Though it seems like this would take a lot of time, it typically takes only one month for the team to tackle a project and create a custom blox.
Customers looking to purchase a blox can find the prices and more information on modernblox.com. The shipping container creations currently range from $49,000-65,000.
“The price is very competitive,” Deshpande said. “We don’t advertise to be the cheapest in the market, but we are not the most expensive as well. The product that we provide, we completely believe in it—that it will be one of the best products you have ever seen. That is something that we try to achieve. Our partners are very efficient and hardworking. We are available at 3 a.m. if someone wants to call us and talk about containers.”
Deshpande said the Stillwater community has been extremely supportive during the startup of ModernBlox. One Stillwater local even allowed the team to build their DemoBlox on his land. The professors and members of Oklahoma State University’s entrepreneurship department have also been helpful in providing resources and knowledge.
“Stillwater is a good place; it gave us our start,” Deshpande said. “We want to take our Stillwater company to a bigger level. We will see if we can build something bigger and make a name for Oklahoma.”
With the rapid success they’ve had so far, it’s clear that ModernBlox will continue to succeed in their endeavors to change the world—one blox at a time.