John Gradek is the co-founder & CEO of Water Warriors, based in Cincinnati, OH. A crowd favorite at the 2019 Accelerator Demo Day, John and his partners Dr Rakesh Govind and Steve Chamberland have bootstrapped their way to an enviable position, generating considerable revenues not only domestically but also in India. At every turn, they’ve impressed the IH2O team with the ability to do an amazing amount with not very much. We sat down with John to hear more about the Water Warriors story.
What problem do you solve for your customer?
Wastewater operators are under pressure to control nutrient pollution by removing molecules from their wastewater streams that they were never equipped to remove. They face increased regulation, capex upgrades they can’t afford, fines, it can even effect their license to operate. The pressure is immense, and with algal bloom issues like you’re seeing in Lake Erie, Cape Cod, the northern Gulf of Mexico, all over the place, it’s only getting worse.
We provide retrofittable technology for wastewater operators to remove harmful contaminants — nitrogen and phosphorus — that other technologies struggle with. This means we’re part of the solution of stopping the causes of these blooms at source, and we get amazing numbers from a simple retrofit solution.
What is the impact in water you want to have with Water Warriors?
We want Water Warriors to help solve harmful algal blooms and nutrient contamination. As the world warms and algal blooms become more common, the harmful effects on the environment and our drinking water supply are only going to escalate. The acceleration of reported issues in 2019 has been pretty frightening. We can treat the water biologically with our biomedia and aeration products, without asking utilities or wastewater managers to rework their entire infrastructure. It’s basically a massive, cheap capacity upgrade in a box.
We’re also pushing the envelope. We can’t ignore the impact of agricultural runoff in the problem we want to solve. We have just launched a product that adsorbs nutrients with proprietary pellets, helping us work on stormwater and non-point source runoff from farms and fields. The pellets can then be returned to the fields as nutrient fertilizer. If that sounds like we have created something like a closed loop system for fertilizer recycling, we think we have…
What are your priorities for 2019?
We are looking to complete scaled pilots for a US municipality, a major international airport and a Fortune 500 industrial wastewater treatment system. If it all comes together, which it looks like it will, it’ll blow our plan numbers out of the water. We’re working pretty hard, but it’s a nice problem to have.
How has Imagine H2O helped you so far?
Just by being in the Imagine H2O program we have industry validation as a water startup. That’s huge for us, because our system is both highly effective and simple, which bizarrely can be a hindrance to people really getting it. They’re looking for the catch (there isn’t one). Our technology has been vetted by their experienced judges and water companies and investors realize that. We can get further down the road in these interactions faster. The conversations we have been able to have through IH2O introductions have been illuminating and productive to put it mildly.
What would be your advice to entrepreneurs entering the water sector?
Patience and persistence. There’s a big old pot of gold out there if you can find the pain point, build the product to deal with and then sell the hell out of it, but it takes time, and it takes a lot of listening, and more emails and calls than you could think possible. I wouldn’t swap it for anything else, though. We feel like we’re making a difference, and the other IH2O founders feel the same way.
Sum up your IH2O experience so far in 3 words.
Fan • tas • tic