Lisa: Welcome to the Atlanta Startup Podcast, the briefing room for the innovation ecosystem. I’m Lisa Calhoun, your host and general partner at Atlanta venture capital firm Valor Ventures. I am really excited that Robin and I have in a studio today Doll Avant.
Doll, we first heard you pitch at Startup Runway. Welcome to the program.
Doll: Thank you. So excited to be here. Aquagenuity is launching our product and making it available to consumers– actually right now as we speak. So one of the things we’ve been working on is mapping the water ecosystem. It’s something that doesn’t exist. So in air quality you have this data. And it, there’s sensors everywhere, in most of the Western world, and you can easily count, report your quality. It doesn’t exist for water. So we were the first in the world to map it.
Robin: Do you find it that surprising that they’re just getting round to water?
Doll: Yes, but it’s also we know why because it’s very hard to do. Yes. So many different ways and formats and how water quality is tested for and where that data lives and so forth. So we had to kind of figure all that out. That’s the science and the secret sauce. And uh, we figured out way to get that data and not just down to kind of your local water treatment plant, but all the way down to your home’s tap. So we’re providing transparency in a way that it’s not been done before for water quality. And eventually it will be able to provide that as a real time kind of monitoring and notification system for a city. So as to your suspicion that water at the tap is not necessarily safe–depending on where you live, uh, things like Flint– all of that happens in the last mile from the water plant to your homes tap.
So that’s where you really need to be monitoring. And up until now there has been new insight or transparency into water quality. So that’s what we do and that’s what we’re launching. So we’re making that available to consumers.
March will be the time frame, but all of our beta users will have access now via our web app. And we’re also launching with corporate partners like the Georgia Aquarium and so forth who are helping us to map water quality with the Water Genome Project. That’s cool. But you know, it’s also important for corporations. We have a lot of buildings in the area and a lot of people now are very cognizant of their water bottles and they want to fill up at the water fountain and it would be very nice to know that water fountain that has been in that building for 20 years, that that last mile and right there is still good.
One of a friend of mine actually works for the Senate foreign relations committee, so right in the U S Capitol building and they got an email, she said a couple of years ago, I might want to go get tested. So long story short–old buildings have a lot of lead and you’re being exposed if you, so we’re providing a way for you to note that early, as opposed to having a doctor tell you that you have elevated lead levels….
Lisa: Wow. So how does the app do that? How does this happen in a digital way?
Doll: Yeah, it’s really cool. We’ve taken out of it data and aggregated it into a single database running our algorithm on it. So the water score and mix that really makes that data accessible to a non technical user. So even if I don’t have a degree in chemistry or environmental engineering, I can look at a score.
So 100 is good, zero is bad. I’d also translates to things like heat maps to blue is good, red is bad. Uh, and then we make that available via API so we can push it through our own web app, mobile app. But any, platform that can pull from an API can also display that data. So it should be good for school systems to absolutely. So schools, municipalities, uh, some of your larger think about, you know, the channel that you turn on and get the weather, uh, or when you go to search for a home. Those are the types of sites and vendors that want to use the data as well. Oh yeah. Cause man, if you could know what your water quality is, not only at your temperature house, but what’s going on at your work and where your kids are going to school is going, where you travel.
Hotels to the largest hotel brands in the world are interested in pulling the data.
And then also they want to basically advertise that they have better water quality than the area where they’re located. You know, there’s a lot of well known travel sites that people like to go, but then you hear, Oh geez, you can’t drink the water. Exactly. And when you like to know that if you are going to a particular hotel brand, that one, yeah, you can drink the water and take a shower. Those are all good and our data allows a user to do.
Robin: Excellent. So how did you build the app and you’re just launching it publicly? How do you get the water tap data? I mean that, is there a sensor you’re putting in? How are you doing it? So it’s really good I think because there’s, there’s a lot of room for growth in this area.
Doll: There’s actually no sensor that works to test everything that’s in the water, right? So that science doesn’t exist is one of the things that we’ll be working on with some of our university partners. So right now what we do is use very low tech, low-cost technology to put in the hands of, again, a nontechnical user so they can do these tests at home. So we have test strips. Simply run down onto your faucet, it changes color and then based on that color and use the guide, you can enter that information to the app, scanning into the app or enter it into the web app and it’s going to give you a personalized water score right there at your tap. So what we do is we provide a baseline water score based on data from EPA, public utilities, municipalities, down to the zip code level.
And then if you want that information down to your cap, you’re able to get our starter kits and do that at home.
Robin: Wonderful. Now can I buy these online? Yes they are. They will be available online. If you’re on our mailing list, you’ll be the first to get access to it and it will be available nationwide in March for the United Nations world water day, March 22nd wonderful.
Robin: Awesome. So it is awesome to get on your list. They go to your website?
Doll: Yes, Aquagenuity.com and just see, uh, see where it says check your water into your email and you’ll be the one to get it first.
Lisa: So how did you get into this business? I mean, water quality is intricate. I’ve learned already so much from Doll. For example, um, we were talking earlier and you said water quality varies by season…I was like, Hey, someone tests their tap and they’re just one and done?. And you’re like, well not necessarily.
Doll: It actually changes about as often as your weather. And most people have no idea. So something as simple as heavy rains can affect the water quality of the quality of water coming out of your faucet at home.
Robin: I wouldn’t have thought that. Most people, when you think your water treatment plant is doing everything for you.
Doll: Yeah. And they do a good job and they, you know, most of them are standard in terms of EPA, but again, that last mile, that’s where Flint happens. That’s where, okay, if there’s flooding, if there’s heavy rain, if there’s dumping, if your pipes are leaching, anything could be happening in that last mile and it’s coming straight out of your tap and nobody’s breaking the law, you know, it’s just not being monitored.
It’s not managed.
Lisa: So how did you get interested in this entire shortage?
Doll: So I mentioned Flint. Flint happened. Um, as we all know, it hit kind of global headlines in 2016 that’s when the world found out that about a hundred thousand residents were being poisoned by their local water supplies specifically led. And I find that especially international folks, they don’t necessarily know what Flint is or I’ve explained, but the lead in that water was about twice the amount that would be considered toxic waste. And that’s just because the pipes were leaching. Right. And that led get in that water and nobody was monitoring it. And so when that happened, you know, everybody was really upset of course in here, don’t we have the best water in the world? And America, those types of things. People were upset with the governor and marching in the street and know became very much a political, political issue.
I’m a data scientist and I saw it as a data issue. The people that needed the information about what was in the water didn’t have access to it. That’s really one of the problems that we try to solve that awkward annuity cause right now humans are the sensors alerting us to water quality problems and that should not be, and it, and it’s kind of too late sometimes when the human is too exposed and then you’re all of a sudden finding out if the trigger was from the water.
Robin: I grew up in South Georgia and we were on a well and we were just notified. I want to say it’s been a couple of years that the well water that we’d been drinking ever since we were a little was carcinogenic. And it’s upsetting, right? It’s upsetting. Do and you’re thinking, you know, cause we kept asking the questions, you know, we’re washing our clothes and our clothes come out with, it’s kind of a, um, you know, a yellowish kind of color.
Nothing ever would come out. Why again, even if you bleached it, and we always thought it was from the tannic acid, but you know, just from the leaves and all that other kind of stuff, that’s what they tell you. You know, that’s what they say. Um, and, and over time you realize, no, it’s kind of from where it’s coming from and it’s not being filtered a prop properly. And you know, my parents had been living in that house for 16 years. Yeah. And it’s just upsetting, right. So we always say water is not a political issue. It’s a human issue. Right. So at the end of the day, people are being impacted in a really personal way.
Doll: I went to Harvard for undergraduate. I went back to the school of public health, tried to understand the problem and discovered that actually 3000 locations in the United States with more lead in their water in Flint, Michigan, which is 1,003 thousand, which is actually closer to 4,000.
It was reported by Reuters and you know, but people just, we don’t, we don’t care. We don’t get that well, and we don’t think it’s going to be our house. It’s not our neighbor. And so, you know, things like the Erin Brockovich chemical, you know, known to cause cancer. It’s in all 50 States. It’s actually not regulated by the EPA, it things like that. There are thousands and thousands of examples of kind of water quality issues and in the United States, let alone globally. And it’s really, it fundamentally comes down to the fact that people don’t know what’s in their water, uh, until a large group of people start getting sick. And so I really say, well, why isn’t there an app? Kind of a little bit too late. Why isn’t there an app for this? Uh, and like I said, I found out why there wasn’t one.
That data had not been aggregated to the single point because it’s really, really hard to do. They’re 57,000 individual water systems in the United States. All different formats. They report all different times, uh, once a quarter or some of them once a year. They re they don’t test the program much. So maybe about 120 right now. Uh, things that are on the list of EPA requires that you test for.
There are 80,000 chemicals that are illegal to be used in industrial processes in this country that are being found in our waterways. So there’s a huge gap in the data. And so that’s the problem that I set out to solve with [inaudible].
Lisa: Wow. Well not to look too far ahead because obviously this is something we need and I’m excited to see it come into the world and I’m looking forward to this launch publicly. And even when you came into the studio today, did you bring us a test?
One of the things that we do is we position ourselves as a kind of the Amazon. So once you find out what’s in your water, we have a partnership with companies, for example, like hydro V nay one shark tank a year or so ago. And they were funded by Mark Cuban. So this is a water filter company that takes data.
They didn’t actually have the data to, we have better data, but they take data about what’s in your water locally and then they customize a filter that’s certified. You remove what specifically. Yeah. So it’s not a one size fits all. It’s customized.
Think of all the companies that use water–84% of companies are water is one of their major assets in terms of their manufacturing process. What are they putting out on the back end of the manufacturing process? How are we measuring and making sure that remediation is working. These are the types of things that opportunity in our data platform can start to measure and report in a way that’s transparent so consumers can protect their health. But also cities now can start to use the data forecast to kind of look at the city at a macro level and see where we need to deploy resources or you know, we should do an infrastructure project and prioritize this area versus that area based on data, not based on politics, uh, data-driven society, sustainability, sustainability.
Lisa: You said the Amazon for, and you mentioned hydro view, but are there more filters? Products? Give us a sense of how big is this water marketplace?
Doll: Well, there’s two ways to look at it. One is if you look at the state of infrastructure just in the United States, uh, it’s crumbling.
It’s about a hundred years old. See the de-rating or the American society of civil engineers in order to try to fix all of the pipes in the United States, it costs about a trillion dollars and that translation is not going to happen anytime soon. Please give it up. You combine that with like statistics by the United Nations says by 2030 I will have a 40% greater demand for clean water than is supply on the planet for the first time in history. That means that we’re moving to a world where you can no longer take water and water quality for granted. Very similar to the shift say and then maybe in the forties people used to leave their doors open and now we have ADT and everybody locks their doors and it’s a thing everyone has to have an alarm monitoring system. We’re moving to the space where everyone going to have to have some type of filtration and or some type of something because we just can’t keep up with, uh, the issues that are facing us.
So from that standpoint, just the number of people buying the existing filters and things are on the market will spike and a lot of that will come through our platform. On the other side of it, there are things that are inside of NASA. For example, some of our university partners, sensors, lot of really cool technology that has not been commercialized in the water or quality space that we’ll be able to bring to market for the first time. So that would kind of increase the number of devices that are available in the marketplace. Wow. Well you have a global perspective on this and a really national footprint and how you’re building the solution. How many sources of publicly available water are in your product now? Uh, how many data points, data sources? Um, there are well, data points, there’s probably close to 75 million data points inside the database right now.
Doll: W pull from EPA, we pull from public utilities, we go capacities. Um, we’re bringing on more and more university partners. So anyone who has kind of a data said that obviously the water quality data itself but also kind of correlated data. We’re, we’re able to pull that in and make it, get you working with the weather channel so that when they give us a report they can say, yeah, this is the weather and this is how your water is, do going to send this to them. We were actually talking to them. They’ve been very supportive. Very cool.
Lisa: So is the U S a laggard or a leader when it comes to water quality? Because these stats make me feel like we’re pretty much a laggard, but, but you’re the expert.
Doll: We are still a leader in the sense that, you know, in the twenties and thirties of the, you know, previous injury, we figured out how not to perish instantly.
Yes, I’m drinking water. Right. And so that was the big innovation. And so it’s been almost a hundred years now and that’s kind of been the last innovation. But meanwhile, the U.S. has also been a leader in pollution. Right? So I mentioned the 80,000 chemicals are so completely legal to be used in industrial processes in this country, about one point 2 trillion gallons of wastewater being dumped into our waterways every single year. Right. So we’re just, the innovation is not keeping up with kind of the demand and the pollution that we’re putting back into the water supply. So we’re leaders and laggards.
Lisa: And why Atlanta? Why did you choose to launch this here?
Doll: I was born and raised in Atlanta, so I feel like I should get a sash and a Tiara. I tell everyone welcome to Atlanta.
You know, they tried to get us to San Francisco about a year and a half ago. We know typically what happens with the tech company, right? We said, we were raised here. We’re going to change the world from here.
We’ve gotten a lot of great support. A lot of the Fortune 500 obviously are based here, Coca-Cola, welcomed us to their Bridge Community, uh, two years ago. Uh, we’ve, we’ve had a tremendous support home. You know, the the founder of Home Depot also founded the Georgia Aquarium–they’re our first partners that have come on board and water’s important to them. Exactly. Yes. So you’d like the Atlanta ecosystem. Atlanta has been great.
Lisa: Since you looked at San Francisco, is there any reason that you didn’t want to go out there?
Doll: I think that Atlanta is superior to other markets because you’re able to access people with great depth of knowledge, resources, access, uh, in, uh, without being kind of in the circle. Like you could literally move to Atlanta and within 30, 45 days just go to different events and you’ll be talking directly to you know, somebody a very influential and that’s not necessarily true in other cities just because you know, the way socioeconomics work and you have invited into the circle and so forth. Atlanta is a very open place where you can build a network even if you started from zero.
Robin: I think the South has a lot of that. We’re very open, like to connect to other people, very welcoming and looking to help.
Doll: That’s exactly right. That’s been my experience.
Lisa: We usually like to ask founders, who would they give a shout out? I mean a person who’s helped them on their founder journey in the Atlanta community –someone every founder in Atlanta should meet.
Doll: I’ll say two, one, I’ll say Cynthia Curry it over at Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. We did not know until recently how much support they give to the startup community, but also they’re really great at connecting you to other entities in Atlanta, other fortune 500 who are their members and so forth. So the Metro Chamber is great. I would also honestly truly say with no bias, Lisa Calhoun.
I’ve been through it all–like we’ve been fortunate enough to win a lot of awards and go through all the accelerators and incubators and so forth. But some of them are better than others. And my experience with Startup Runway and the Valor team has really been exceptional. You actually provide real value, kind of practical things that a startup can do to move forward. And that’s something that we don’t, we don’t always get.
Lisa: Thank you, Doll. It means a lot from you. I know our listeners are going to want to be a part of what you’re doing. You know, some portion of our listenership is going to say, wow, how do I get involved?
Doll: Well, uh, the best ways through our website. You can find out more about the water genome project here: watergenomeproject.com.
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