As an undergraduate studying environmental policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Julie Bliss Mullen was interested in water early on in her academic career. She landed an internship at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) drinking water unit doing work that focused on both the policy and engineering aspects of water quality. But it was a life-changing trip to Guatemala as an undergraduate with Engineers Without Borders that put her on the path to develop a revolutionary “plug-and-play” water purification system that is changing the way water treatment is done. Sparked by whitnessing firsthand the negative effects on people and communities that arise from a lack of access to clean drinking water, Julie was determined to make a difference in people’s lives by finding a way to get clean water to more people.
That pivotal point was one of many that led to Julie’s startup company years later, Aclarity, LLC, and its core patent-pending electrochemical water treatment technology. Based upon research conducted in Professor David Reckhow’s Water Innovation Sustainable Small Systems (WINSSS) laboratory, Julie’s novel Electrochemical Advanced Oxidation Process (EAOP) purifies water with electricity, a more sustainable and efficient approach for water treatment.
Julie got the idea in 2015 for her new technology when she was in charge of looking at new and innovative technologies that companies would bring to Reckhow’s lab. As Julie tested her technology she knew she had something significant to offer the water treatment world. With Reckhow’s help, she explored commercialization opportunities for the technology, eventually filing a patent application through the campus’s Technology Transfer Office. She also took a series of entrepreneurship courses offered through the UMass Amherst Isenberg School of Management and its affiliated Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship to learn the business side of taking a technology to market. She enrolled in a customer discovery course in early 2017, which helped her figure out what potential customers care about and what they would want when it came to water purification and quality. This class opened Julie up to the business and entrepreneurship world, and was a stepping stone for launching her startup.
Julie also met her business partner, Barrett Mully ‘2018 MBA, in the Isenberg classes. They took first place in the campus’s 2017 Berthiaume Center Innovation Challenge, receiving $26,000 in seed funding to further their concept. Since forming their alliance, they’ve successfully pitched their product to innovation audiences, acquiring over a $1M dollars of funding to further develop their products and to launch their business.
The duo has since led Aclarity to new heights and continues to garner support to bring the technology to market, including a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research program, $65,000 from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and $27,500 from the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator. Aclarity successfully secured a pre-seed round of venture capital funding in the summer of 2019.
The company is also looking at larger applications in industrial wastewater, which is an issue for industries such as agriculture, power, pharmaceuticals, and beverage. The other advantage of what Aclarity is doing is its breadth. The technology destroys contaminants rather than concentrating them into a brine for disposal, and even broaden the idea of water treatment to chemicals like PFAS which are currently thought of as being around forever.