The World Bank estimates that 20-30% of fresh water is wasted costing the global economy $14B annually. CEO of NALA Systems, Sue Mecham, PH.D. is taking this challenge head-on with her team by bringing new reverse osmosis membranes to market. The company is dedicated to developing new materials, new manufacturing processes, and new source water opportunities. Hear what Sue had to say about the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and how she hopes her advanced materials will impact the world:
What inspired you to solve a problem as vast as a water crisis?
Water is one of those big scary problems of our lifetime. With population increasing exponentially, driving increased industry and agricultural water use, we are removing twice as much of our renewable water resources annually than we were in the 1960’s…this is not sustainable! Knowing that membrane water purification is the most energy-efficient technology but that reverse osmosis (RO) membranes, that are the heart of the system, are 40-year-old technology, I realized that this industry is ripe for innovation.
What social impacts do you hope your advanced materials will have on the world? What is your ultimate dream for your company?
I want NALA to jumpstart innovation in the RO industry by bringing new membranes to market. Our chlorine tolerant RO membranes will enable lower cost and more durable water purification systems, lowering that barrier to entry for low income communities. New membranes will also expand the window of water types that can be treated economically, allowing many communities and industries to increase and even re-cycle their available water.
What’s been the most helpful piece of advice that you’ve heard from the community?
Coming from a technical background into the start-up community, the criticality of the market and business strategies towards achieving a successful outcome have been driven home to me. Early on, one of my mentors, Joe DeSimone told me that the technical part was only 10% of the package for a startup. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around that, but it opened my mind to learning the necessary skills to focus my efforts on the commercialization strategy for our company.
How do you define success?
Success will be bringing a product to market and driving change and market growth in water purification. Along the path to that end goal will be many smaller wins, from technical achievements to building a sustainable business culture that celebrates diversity and innovation.
What would you compare starting a company to?
I would compare the experience to traveling through a funhouse or a haunted house. You have an idea of what to expect but you never know what surprise (or opportunity) will greet you around the next corner. It’s scary, fun, and exciting. The biggest things I didn’t expect were how much I was going to learn and how many interesting people I was going to meet along the journey.