Chief Executive Officer of HMSolution Margaret Lengerich SCMIM’13 was awarded $50,000 Sept. 12 by the Slater Technology Fund for her water purification technology company HMSolution, a company she built out of the research she did while a graduate student in the Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship master’s program at Brown. The Slater Technology Fund is an independently chartered economic development fund that focuses its venture capital investments on businesses based in Rhode Island.
HMSolution is a water treatment technology company that sells water purification systems that remove arsenic and 15 other toxic contaminants from drinking water. The systems use iron-based absorption technology to remove arsenic from water. The system differs from its competitors in that it does not use chemicals in the purification process, does not require changing filters often and costs less.
The technology is capable of reducing concentrations of arsenic from 200 parts per billion — a toxic level — to undetectable levels.
The World Health Organization reported in 2014 that 200 million people within 70 countries are ingesting an unsafe level of arsenic. Ingesting arsenic can result in cancer, skin lesions, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity, diabetes and developmental delays, the WHO also reported.
Arsenic is ingested mainly through drinking contaminated water, eating crops that are grown through contaminated irrigation systems and preparing food with contaminated water.
Making a positive impact in the lives of others is an important part of the works she does, Lengerich said. “I feel more inspired and more motivated when I know what I am building is going to create a benefit for someone.”
Lengerich explained that the master’s program she completed here requires students to choose one of various technologies developed by Brown professors to work on for the remainder of the year. Students were also able to propose their own ideas to work on.
It was during her time at Brown that Lengerich encountered the research done by Professor of Engineering Joseph Calo.
Calo and other researchers “had filed a patent around this method of removing arsenic from water,” Lengerich said. After doing more research on the impact of arsenic poison today, Lengerich discovered that this was a serious problem in her native country of Chile and decided to join the venture.
“I became very passionate about this project and solving the problem,” she said.
After working on the project for two years at Brown, Lengerich founded HMSolution in 2013 — the same year she graduated.
Latin America is the company’s primary focus in the short term, Lengerich said. “In the north of Chile and Argentina, they have very high concentrations of arsenic. Those are the areas where I would like to bring the technology,” she said. Often the areas hardest hit by this problem are in rural, poor communities that cannot afford access to safe water, she added.
HMSolution aims to sell to community water systems, beverage companies, agricultural companies and households. “Every day there are companies in Chile that want (this product) to be installed,” Lengerich said.
The company will be able to start selling the water purification system in about six months, Lengerich said, and the company needs between $1 million and $1.5 million to commercialize all market segments — including municipalities, residential schools and hotels. A quarter of this money would be used for testing and verification, while the remainder would go toward overhead and marketing.
Lengerich said being a female CEO in her line of work has been a challenge.
“(Investors) haven’t seen many women entrepreneurs who have been successful, or they are not very (well-)known,” Lengerich said. “What you don’t see, you don’t believe.”
One investor recommended bringing a man into the company to bolster its validity. Lengerich was “shocked” by the proposition.
But Lengerich said she is optimistic about higher participation among women in the field. This attitude toward women from investors is changing already as more women become entrepreneurs, she said.
“I hope that this will be an encouragement for Brown alums — and women in particular — to start businesses,” Lengerich said.