09 Jun Exclusive WTN Interview with Don Williamson
Dan Williamson:The CEO of In-Pipe Technology Company (environmental biotechnology) discusses no-net marketing, raising money, and changing the world one sewage plant at a time
Dan Williamson, president and co-founder of In-Pipe Technology Company, has a powerful new proprietary technology that digests waste. Starting at the far reaches of the sewer collection system, In-Pipe continuously adds high quantities of a special formulation of super-concentrated “good” sewage-eating bacteriDW. The “good” bacteria rapidly overwhelm populations of “bad” bacteria that cause various sewage treatment problems. The results are major reductions in problems such as odors, grease, and sludge production along with major improvements in treatment plant efficiencies and quality of the water effluent.
WTN: How does it work?
Dan Williamson: Essentially, our high quantities of special bacteria formulations digest the bad things in wastewater, beginning in the sewer system and carrying on through to the plant. After they’ve eaten all they can, the bacteria die and are turned into harmless water, oxygen and carbon dioxide by other bacteria.
WTN: What is the biggest challenge right now?
DW: Aside from raising money, explaining to people where we fit (are you lifesciences or biotech?), building a team and finding more customers?
WTN: Let’s start with where you fit? Where do you fit?
DW: Our customers don’t really care what we are as long as we solve their problems. For the investment community, we’re not a life sciences company even though we have an impact on public health because of our ability eliminate significant qualifies of bacteria-laden sludge that would otherwise be discharged into waterways or spread on sludge farms. We’re closer to a biotech company because we have a microbial base, we scale rapidly and profitably and there is certainly the potential for genetic based developments in the future.
WTN: What about raising money? How receptive are the venture capitalists? Sewage isn’t exactly sexy. What are the VCs saying?
DW: Most don’t understand it. Because it is not sexy, most haven’t ever been involved in the wastewater industry. And those that are, have been in device oriented funding (widgets and hardware systems). But the thoroughness of the VC experience has made us a better company: more focused and more defined in our message than we were a year ago.
WTN: So what exactly is In-Pipe Technology? Is it a bucket of bacteria?
DW: IPT is a managed service that continuously applies large amounts of natural, safe bacteria to wastewater from dosing stations located at key points in the sewer collection system.
WTN: Aren’t lots of people doing the same thing?
DW: No. There are many people selling buckets of bacteria to wastewater treatment plants, but there the similarity ends. Most plant managers and their consulting engineers will tell you that buckets of bugs don’t work. They’re right because a simple bucket of bugs makes it too expensive to maintain control of the biology.
WTN: What is proprietary about In-Pipe Technology?
DW: The blend of bugs is not patented, what is patented is the process for continual addition of the microbes – this changes the wild population to provide ongoing benefit. And, yes, we have patents covering the process of applying bacteria in the sewer collection system to produce the many benefits. We have trade secret knowledge about the biology of the sewer system, the best formulations of bacteria to solve wastewater problems, and how to produce these bacteria at incredibly high concentrations so that the cost to deliver the required quantities is affordable. A comparison – our service can accomplish with one gallon what it would take twenty 5,000 gallon tanker trucks to do poorly.
WTN: Has it been difficult recruiting people, especially since so many are skeptical of “start-ups?”
DW: Our most recent hire came from the third largest global wastewater company and was very skeptical of the initial claims, but after technical review and peer review, he decided to join us this week. He brings a higher level of scientific engineering to the team. His initial comment (and the first comment we hear from potential clients, employees and investors) was: “it’s too good to be true” (which was my comment six years ago when I first heard about it).
Plus, we’re not exactly a start-up, the R&D is complete, we’ve got customers, staff, revenue and even holiday parties.
WTN: So how do you win deals?
DW: It’s really simple – we provide the service at no net cost to our customer; our technology is so powerful that our customers save more in operating and maintenance expenses than what our service costs. We do this because people are so skeptical of our claims that we need to demonstrate the value up-front.
WTN: Tell us about the genesis of this idea? Where did it come from?
DW: One of the founding partners was investigating the biology of salmonella-free chicken eggs and the other was cleaning up leaky hydrocarbons in a marina. Neither knew of the other’s research. After a referral by a third party, the two came together and combined their research into sewer microbiology. Their common dilemma was maintaining sufficient quantities of good bacteria in a wild biological state. What they were both trying to do was control biology – or input order into a biological community. Independent of that, I bought a dissolved air flotation product line and unknowingly ended up with a consulting contract with the researchers. It’s funny how things happen.
WTN: If you could do it over, what would you do differently?
DW: Started earlier. I sold one company to focus on this in September 2001. I should have started earlier. We’ve invested in 3 years of data to validate the technology. I believe we’re nearing the tipping point because the benefits to the environment have been demonstrated several times. The end game is that this technology is used to solve one of the world’s biggest problems — the lack of sanitation services around the world. And we’re going to get there one plant at a time.
Ben Bradley is the founder of GrowingCo.com and Benbradley.net. If you have questions or comments, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.