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.
Julie Bliss Mullen, is a Ph.D. candidate and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow (NSF-GRF) in Civil Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a research focus in innovative drinking water treatment solutions. Prior to her studies at UMass, Julie worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an environmental engineer in the Drinking Water Unit for Region 1 (Boston, MA). Julie is a proud alumna of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) where she studied Environmental Engineering and Environmental Sustainability and Policy. Her experience in and dedication to providing clean water solutions was the prime motivator for founding Aclarity. When Julie is not working or conducting research, she is likely cooking, hosting loved ones, or travelling the world with her family and friends.
Julie has received several honors for her work, including the 2018 Innovator of the Year Award by the Northeast Water Innovation Network, the 2018 Harold Grinspoon Entrepreneurship Spirit Award and the Alumni Award, and the 2018 Lemelson-MIT “Eat it!” prize, rewarding technology-based inventions that involve food/water and agriculture. Most recently, she was named one of Forbes “30 Under 30 for Science” in 2019.
Barrett Mully received his MBA in 2018 from the Isenberg School of Management. He received an undergraduate engineering degree from Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 2003. Barrett spent the first part of his career in the Merchant Marines sailing as a licensed engineering officer aboard ocean-going vessels. He spent the majority of his career as a control room supervisor and Senior Reactor Operator of a nuclear power plant for almost ten years. With a strong engineering, operational, and management foundation, Barrett looks for his past experiences and his time at Isenberg to make him an effective member of Aclarity. Barrett is an avid cyclist, enjoys the company of friends and family, and loves being a father.
Quynh-May Dao is a graduate from the University of Connecticut and received her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. She is very interested in green energy and sustainability. Her Capstone project was aimed at developing a process to kinetically purify food wastes into activated carbon, producing by-products such as syngas and bio-oil. Her passions include cosmetics, traveling, and trying new foods.
Dr. Orren Schneider has primary expertise in evaluation and implementation of advanced water treatment technologies including coagulation/clarification/filtration, oxidation/disinfection, algae control, adsorption, and membrane technologies. He has extensive experience with pilot plants specializing in collection and analysis of data for scale-up to full-scale operations. He holds a BS in chemical engineering from Cornell University, and an MS and Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is a member of AWWA, IWA, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has served as the chair of the AWWA national Plant Operations Research Committee and the NJAWWA Research and Technical Transfer Committee. He is also a member of several other local and national AWWA committees.
Chris Sims is a Partner at The Alchemy Fund, a venture capital firm which develops high-potential projects between tech hubs. Alchemy is the successor to Fresh Pond Partners, a successful seed-stage incubator in Cambridge MA. Chris spent the first half of his career as an entrepreneur in West Coast B2C and B2B e-commerce start-ups. He then turned to larger companies, leading projects for Bain & Company and managing a business unit at Yankee Candle. Chris blends these perspectives in his work at Alchemy and in his MBA course at UMass’s Isenberg School of Management. He has a BA from Harvard and an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Chris lives in Amherst, MA with his wife and two sons.
Xian (“Max”) Ma is a doctoral student from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, working part-time with Aclarity. He received his bachelor degree from Tianjin University, China, and master degree from University of Massachusetts Amherst in environmental engineering. His research include advance oxidation process in drinking water treatment, disinfection byproducts, and big-data analysis in public health area. His current focus is searching innovative technologies in water treatments. He is a member of AWWA and ACS. Max is looking for bringing his knowledge he learnt back to China after graduation. He is a good swimmer, a fisherman, and an expert in data analysis.
Advisors & Mentors:
Dave Reckhow is currently professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Director of the EPA Center, Water Innovation Network for Small Sustainable Systems (WINSSS). Prior to coming to UMass, he was a Post-Doctoral Research Associate with the Compagnie Générale des Eaux in Paris. Dave has degrees from Tufts University (B.S.C.E.), Stanford University (M.S.C.E.) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Ph.D.). His current research interests include general aquatic chemistry, chemical oxidation of organic compounds in water, coagulation processes, removal of chemical pollutants in water, and aquatic organic matter in natural systems and drinking waters. He has special interests in trace organic compounds, disinfection byproducts and ozonation processes for drinking water treatment.
Kent Whitney holds a BA from the University of Massachusetts and is currently retired from his position as of the one of the longest running presidents in Smiths Group and the longest running President in Millitech’s history. Prior to joining Millitech, he worked at Raytheon Corporation for twenty years with positions including RF Technical Director and Program Manager (PM) for the SATCOM Division. In these positions he was responsible for several multi-million dollar development and production programs involving state-of-the-art satellite communication systems. Now retired, Kent enjoys consulting and mentoring local startups.
Karen Utgoff holds an A.B. from Oberlin College and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She is an independent management consultant with expertise in market-oriented business strategy, entrepreneurial marketing, technology commercialization, new venture and entrepreneur development. She works on fundamental market-related issues and at the intersection of market, product, and venture development. Her clients include new ventures, existing small businesses, and research organizations that recognize the value of commercializing technology and/or developing products based on the needs of potential customers.
Springfield Venture Fund