Lisa Granquist Dorward: Working Toward Cleaner Water
By Jim Schakenbach
2,500 years ago, Greek philosopher Thales wrote "All is water, and the world is full of gods", becoming the first recorded person to attribute the composition of all matter to a single "element". It is perhaps no surprise he chose water as nature's most fundamental building block.
Today, we still recognize water's vital role in the world and understand the critical need to maintain and protect a clean, fresh supply. Increasingly, that's becoming harder to do as the world's population grows and pollution takes a steady toll on our fresh water resources. Fortunately, there are companies like Biosource, Inc. of Worcester doing something about it, helped in part by people like Lisa Granquist Dorward, WPI '00.
Biosource was started by Marc Andelman WPI '85 and has been researching technology for desalination and removing contaminants from water for the past several years. With a recent $5.4 million contract from the US government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Army's Tank Automotive Research & Development Engineering Center (TARDEC), efforts have been stepped up to provide the US military with equipment to extract and process potable water from combustion engine exhaust. Biosource's technology incorporates something called a flow-through capacitor to remove dissolved contaminants from water-based liquids and gases, such as exhaust vapors. A low wattage power supply is used to charge the capacitor and attract contaminants to carbon surfaces where they are captured, leaving behind clean water. The Army plans to install equipment developed by Biosource in Humvees currently seeing service in Iraq. The company's flow through capacitor system will process almost a gallon of potable water for every gallon of fuel burned, enabling each Humvee crew to reduce the amount of fresh water they carry, making more room for critical cargoes such as fuel, munitions, food, and medical supplies.
Helping in this effort is Granquist Dorward, a graduate of WPI's School of Industrial Management (SIM), a WPI four-year certificate program of in-depth management education for those already in industry, with a core objective of the development of management skills essential to executive action. "I think that the management training that WPI offers through SIM allows industry professionals to perform with the best," states Lisa. "Many major Central Massachusetts companies have depended upon WPI to train their management teams through SIM over the past fifty-four years." Lisa's unabashed enthusiasm for WPI and the SIM program is understandable - her brother David also attended SIM and her father, Paul Granquist, SIM ('67) was awarded the school's prestigious Albert J. Schwieger Award in 1991 for outstanding leadership and effective business management. There's yet another connection to WPI through her husband Tom Dorward's family - his great-grandfather, Arthur D. Butterfield, was a WPI mathematics professor in the early 1900's.
Lisa came to Biosource in 1999 through a family acquaintance, working nights part-time in Andelman's upstairs home office, handling the paperwork being generated by Biosource's first DARPA contract. Within a year, Lisa was working full-time for the fledgling company as its business and contracts manager. Since then, its technology has attracted a lot more attention, as a contaminant-free alternative to consumer water softeners, as a more effective desalination process to produce fresh water from salt water, even as a waste water treatment process to help extract methane gas from deep underground pockets where it is trapped by brackish water that, if released untreated above ground, would harm the surrounding environment.
It is this coal bed methane produced water process that Biosource is using as a case presentation for a WPI Venture Forum. The company hopes to have its presentation closely examined by the Venture Forum's panel of experts to help improve its offering to private companies investigating cost-effective methods for handling this contaminated water. In the meantime, Biosource, which has until now survived on bootstrap financing and DARPA contracts, is looking to expand into the private sector, in part by negotiating lucrative technology Iicensing deals. Lisa credits WPI's SIM, the Collaborative for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and the Venture Forum with providing the kind of knowledge and assistance needed by a young company looking to grow its business.
"The Venture Forum is really true networking where you can meet people going through the same regulatory and developmental issues you are, and you can hear about them in a non-threatening atmosphere. Because of the connection to WPI, the service providers that attend don't give you the impression that they're there to take advantage of your business and your ideas," comments Lisa. "It's a whole different kind of an atmosphere - it's productive. The feature presentations, case presentations, and the review panels are great - you can go there to learn. The panel members the program committee selects are outstanding. When we present our business plan to the panel we'll be taking notes."
Lisa advises other entrepreneurs to take advantage of other people's experience and then "plan, plan, plan". She also encourages budding businesspeople to exploit the valuable resources to be found both on-campus and off. "We have outstanding resources both in Worcester and at WPI," she observes. "There's also the (WPI) Bioengineering Institute for students interested in the biotech field and thinking 'Do I just want to work in somebody else's lab for the rest of my life or do I have some ideas - so what do I do and how do I do it?' Between the Bioengineering Institute, the Venture Forum, and the progressive Department of Management , WPI alone offers tremendous resources for students and entrepreneurs, " she continues. There was an article in a recent issue of Fortune Small Business that stated that management graduates who have taken classes in entrepreneurship make more (money) than their non-entrepreneurial counterparts. There's no question that WPI graduates are among the best in the world, but technical savvy and skills alone aren't always enough. You have to know 'Where do I go? Whom do I connect with?' The resources at WPI can show you how to do that."
For Lisa, Marc Andelman, and the others working at Biosource their hard work and the knowledge they gained through WPI are beginning to pay off. With 15 US patents issued, and many pending worldwide, interest in their water treatment technology is growing both here and abroad, enabling them to present to the United Nations Development Programme and the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture Headquarters in Dubai, among others. "This technology isn't just about the military or water softeners, there is interest worldwide-this could impact a lot of people."