An innovator’s journey from idea to market can be challenging and complicated – but also rewarding. Our Innovator Spotlight series explores how inventor-entrepreneurs in our network have evolved since they started their journey. Our goal is to share key learnings and best practices with early-stage science and technology inventors embarking on a path of innovation and entrepreneurship. Our latest Innovator Spotlight is Katie Kollhoff, CEO of NUMiX Materials. Kollhoff is an E-Team grantee and ASPIRE and OPEN Minds participant. The company is creating a product that efficiently reduces the concentration of dissolved heavy metals from water systems across a wide range of pH levels.
What challenge did you seek to solve with your innovation—and why?
Removal of metal contaminants from industrial water streams is challenging, time-consuming, and often seen as more of an art than a science. Failure to do so can result not only in regulatory noncompliance but can also cause harm to people and the planet. We all rely on industry to effectively remove metal contaminants from water to avoid literally poisoning the well.
Also, water is becoming a valuable – and increasingly scarce – resource. We’re seeing global water shortages cause conflicts and rationing. Extreme flooding related to climate change and aging infrastructure are adding strain to water supplies. We need better water treatment technologies to match an ever-advancing society’s increased demands for water.
What have you learned along your innovation and entrepreneurship journey?
Getting comfortable with discomfort is a valuable survival skill. For instance, sometimes there isn’t a right answer. I’ve learned to live with it and find the best path regardless.
Tell us how you’ve integrated environmentally responsible practices into your innovation or process?
We enable resource recovery. Our product is capable of recovering metal contamination from water in a way that renders “pollutants” ready to return into useful life. This approach leaves water cleaner while producing sources of crucial metals that don’t require mining.
How has support from VentureWell impacted your innovation and venture?
The expertise of the VentureWell staff and consultants in the E-Team and ASPIRE programs has been instrumental to how we frame our opportunity and analyze our business model and value proposition.The ASPIRE workshop prepared us for the initial conversations in the investment process, crisis management, and holding effective board meetings. The grant funding has allowed us to further refine our innovation with tests in customer facilities and travel to industry conferences to further engage with people in our value chain.
The relationships we’ve formed through VentureWell programs has created a network of amazing people with a wide range of expertise. We don’t feel stuck if we have a question or problem.
What’s next for you?
We are performing beta tests with local customers to refine our initial product offerings, and executing our plan to scale up production. We are also vetting complementary technologies to maximize our impact as well as raising money to support our production and market validation milestones.