The winner of this year’s $100,000 MIT Entrepreneurship Competition is commercializing new water desalination technology.
Nona Desalination says it has developed a device capable of producing enough drinking water for 10 people at half the price and with 1/10th the power of other water desalination devices. The device is about the size and weight of a case of bottled water and is powered by a small solar panel.
“Our mission is to make portable desalination sustainable and easy,” said Bruce Crawford, CEO of Nona and MIT MBA candidate, in the winning speech, presented to an audience in Kresge Auditorium and online.
The traditional approach to water desalination relies on an energy-intensive process called reverse osmosis. In contrast, Nona uses technology developed in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics that removes salt and bacteria from seawater using an electric current.
“Because we can do all of this at very low pressure, we don’t need the high pressure pump [used in reverse osmosis], so we don’t need a lot of electricity,” says Crawford, who co-founded the company with MIT researcher Junghyo Yoon. “Our device consumes less power than a cell phone charger.”
The founders cited issues such as tropical storms, drought and infrastructure crises like the one in Flint, Michigan, to emphasize that access to clean water is not just a problem in countries. in development. In Houston, after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in 2017, some residents were advised not to drink tap water for months.
The company has already developed a small prototype that produces clean drinking water. With her winnings, Nona will build more prototypes to give to early customers.
The company plans to sell its first units to sailors before moving into the U.S. emergency preparedness space, which it estimates to be a $5 billion industry. From there, he hopes to expand globally to help with disaster relief. The technology could also be used for hydrogen production, oil and gas separation, etc.
The MIT $100K is MIT’s largest entrepreneurship competition. It began in 1989 and is organized by students with support from the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the MIT Sloan School of Management. Each team must include at least one current MIT student.
The second prize of $25,000 went to Inclusive.ly, a company that helps people and organizations create a more inclusive environment.
The company uses conversational artificial intelligence and natural language processing to detect words and phrases that contain bias, and can measure the level of bias or inclusivity in communication.
“We’re here to create a world where everyone feels invited to the conversation,” said MBA candidate Yeti Khim, who co-founded the company with fellow MBA candidates Joyce Chen and Priya Bhasin.
Inclusive.ly can analyze a range of communications and make suggestions for improvement. The algorithm can detect discrimination, micro-aggression and condescension, and the founders say it analyzes language in a more nuanced way than tools like Grammarly.
The company is currently developing a plug-in for web browsers and hopes to partner with large enterprise customers later this year. It will work with internal communications such as email as well as external communications such as sales and marketing materials.
Inclusive.ly plans to sell to organizations on a subscription model and notes that diversity and inclusion are becoming a higher priority at many businesses. Khim cited studies showing that a lack of inclusion hinders employee productivity, retention and recruitment.
“We could all use a little help creating the most inclusive version of ourselves,” Khim said.
Third prize went to RTMicrofluidics, which builds home tests for a range of diseases, including strep throat, tuberculosis and mononucleosis. The test is able to detect a host of bacterial and viral pathogens in saliva and provide accurate test results in less than 30 minutes.
The People’s Choice Award went to Sparkle, who developed molecular dye technology that can light up tumors, making it easier to remove them during surgery.
This year’s $100,000 event was the culmination of a process that began last March, when 60 teams applied for the program. From this group, 20 semi-finalists received additional mentorship and support before eight finalists were selected to present.
The other finalist teams were:
Astrahl, which develops high-resolution, affordable X-ray systems by integrating nanotechnology into scintillators;
Encreto Therapeutics, which discovers drugs to satiate the appetite of obese people;
Iridence, which patented a biomaterial to replace minerals like mica to make the beauty industry more sustainable; and
Mantel, which is developing a liquid material for more efficient carbon removal that works at high temperatures.