Local entrepreneur wins Water Challenge with plan to decontaminate ground water
By Catherine Lyons
New Orleans Entrepreneur Week's inaugural Water Challenge 2011 culminated yesterday with the bestowment of $50,000 and business development support to NanoFex, a high-tech company based in the New Orleans area that will use new, local technology to make the country's groundwater cleaner.
NanoFex was one of three finalists who pitched their business plan to a panel of judges, which included entrepreneurs and leaders in business and environmental affairs.
NanoFex's winning idea revolves around the widespread problem of contaminated groundwater (the water many people drink). Using Louisiana sugarcane and crab and crawfish shells, NanoFex makes a product that binds to contaminates like arsenic, chlorinated solvents and heavy metals, and breaks them down into harmless carbon dioxide and water.
While much of the technology and chemistry behind why and how it works was beyond me, it was clear that NanoFex presented an innovative solution to a common problem.
"With NanoFex, we will create green collar jobs in New Orleans," said David B. Culpepper, CEO of NanoFex who made the winning pitch. "Our hope is that within 10 years, we will be employing several hundred people in the region. We will help New Orleans retain and attract knowledge-based workers."
While NanoFex left a winner, Grasshopper Mendoza, Executive-in-Residence of the Water Challenge, said the entire event was a success because they were able to get the community talking about problems facing water in our region.
"Our hope with this event was to try to get people to reapproach the water systems, and create resilient, adaptive, and restorative approaches to our water, while also creating businesses and jobs," Mendoza said. "We wanted to get the community engaged in this discussion and realize they are part of this environment."
The Water Challenge was the brainchild of The Idea Village's Co-Founder Tim Williamson and Greater New Orleans Foundation's Marco Cocito-Monoc. The concept for the challenge came out of a conversation a year ago, after Williamson was flying over Louisiana's marshes and asked himself how he could tap into New Orleans' vast water supply.
Mendoza and her partner, Steve Picou of the LSU AgCenter, started creating the process and recruiting businesses and ideas in January. They successfully recruited 23 ideas from six of the Greater New Orleans and River Parishes.
Finalists were chosen by the Water Challenge's advisory board and Horizon Initiative's Water Management Sub-Committee, of which Mendoza is the chair, and which seeks to bring professionals in the water industry together to discuss comprehensive approaches to our city's water issues.
While only three finalists were chosen, Mendoza said all 23 applicants will be followed up with and connected to The Idea Village's resources.
Picou and Mendoza agreed that their definition of success for the event was to "kickstart awareness and a conversation," and that definitely happened.
"We have made people aware that in New Orleans, we have the resources, the experience from Katrina, the expertise, and the water wealth," Mendoza said. "We need to start appreciating our water."
University of Southern California '09
B.A. Print Journalism
B.A. International Relations
Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/clyonsinNOLA
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]