We’re absolutely thrilled to be back with another featured startup series. This week we chat with BioFiltro who recently won the FoodBytes startup competition in San Francisco. BioFiltro is a startup that aims to recycle waste water used in industrial processes and agriculture into clean water for agriculture and organic fertilizer. This is all done with the help of earth worms through a system called BIDA.
The BIDA system utilizes the symbiotic harmony of earthworms and bacteria to deliver a biofiltration system that catalyzes upon natural processes. Learn more about this process here. The industries that are able to commision Biofiltro’s BIDA system would able to remove 99% of water contaminants and reduce energy costs by 95% while conserving one of earth’s most sacred limited resource, clean water. Tune into our chat as we learn more:
What prompted you to start BioFiltro? In other words, what are you doing differently that others have not done before?
We looked to nature for solutions – Mother Earth has had billions of years to R&D solutions to global issues so we figured why not focus on just improving and catalyzing natural processes. Most wastewater treatment (WWT) technologies involve chemicals, heavy aeration, rocket scientists, and complex flow designs to promote biological growth and thus biological treatment of wastewater as it truly is the microbes and bacteria that facilitate wastewater treatment. BioFiltro, on the other hand, looked for a natural catalyst. The secret to our sauce (and patent) is the earthworm. They are what aerate our system, generate microbes, and maintain a stable environment for our bacteria and microbes to flourish. The major economic and environmental upside is that the earthworm does this all in exchange for food, and not pay, chemicals, or energy. Our systems remove up to 99% of wastewater contaminants in a four hour process – most WWT technologies require days if not weeks and thousands of dollars of energy and/or chemicals to do that!
Can you tell our readers how your innovation/product/service helps the world?
Our systems rely on sprinkler heads, pumps, and worms to deliver high quality water treatment. What that really means it that we are a very accessible and realistic WWT solution for a vast array of industries and geographies. BioFiltro’s system democratizes access to wastewater treatment and water reuse. For many communities and industries in developing and developed countries, WWT can be cost prohibitive, impractical due to their geographic location, or impossible to operate given their limited resources. Thanks to our system’s simplicity, we provide sanitary wastewater treatment on Antarctica, enable wineries in Napa to reuse winemaking water for vineyard irrigation, or maintain the sanitary treatment needs of a rural town of 10,000 people. In being simple, we solve a lot of complex problems.
With 23 years of research and development into the BIDA system, what were the major challenges being a startup in Environment and Waste Management?
Proof of concept – every country, every region, every state, every county, every town has a different standard and/or regulation on wastewater treatment. When we arrived to the USA, we had years of experience operating in Chile and New Zealand, two countries which have very developed WWT regulations, standards, and requirements, sometimes even more strict than here in the United States. Nevertheless, none of those labs, case studies, applications, etc, were accepted here in the United States. We had to go and pitch to each Water Board, each county, each city and explain our system and its efficacy. Simultaneously, we had to search for a winery, dairy, processor, and municipality that would take on a free pilot just so we could have something in place for prospects to come kick the tires. Even when we started having full scale commercial operations successfully operating, there was and continues to be a level of doubt that we need to surmount – our technology is disruptive in its simplicity and people have a hard time believing that the solution can be as simple as worms and microbes.
Spanning across several industries with BIDA plants situated in 8 countries, what do you think is next for BioFiltro?
Truly democratizing wastewater treatment – we are gearing up a financial model that transforms us into a distributed utility. We call it Wastewater as a Service and what it means is that BioFiltro will design, engineer, permit, build, and maintain our wastewater plants for all of our clients at no upfront cost. Instead, clients receive a monthly usage bill where BioFiltro shows them how many gallons were treated that month and bills them a fixed fee per gallon. We have taken away the financial barrier of capital investment in order to open up our services to all.
What are the challenges trying to set up the BIDA system in different countries? Do you start by looking at local partners or do you target large corporations?
A major challenge in being in WWT is that you need to validate your technology not only with buying clients, but also regulating authorities. What that means is we need to not only establish sales partners with companies who know major local prospect companies, but also relationships with engineering firms who can navigate the political maze that is the permitting process. We have plants installed with large multinationals, but that hasn’t proven to have notable influence as each of their plants are regulated differently and thus our technology needs to show that it’ll a) work and b) comply in the local area.
Can you share with our readers how BioFiltro has managed to break down cultural barriers that has impeded its progress?
Being an international company, we always strive to hire locals as soon as we can. We tried starting as a Chilean company with Chilean employees in the United States and quickly realized the value of bringing in Americans. At the end of the day, our clients and sales are strongly influenced by relationships, and it’s a completely different ball game when you can chat about the local football team rather than spend time explaining why it’s called futbol and not soccer in Chile.
You recently won the FoodBytes Startup Competition. Tell us some of highlights of your pitch and event?
FoodBytes was great experience – it’s basically a two day boot camp that has you meeting awesome start ups and amazing mentors who challenge your way of thinking about your company. When we won, RaboBank and FoodBytes immediately followed through with meetings and networking opportunities that are helping us garner more attention on a national and international level.
There are currently countries in our world that cannot afford clean water and waste management systems such as BIDA. How do you plan to overcome this?
Our ultimate goal is to establish a BioFiltro B Corporation in which we will use our WAS model as almost a community opportunity for fellow processors to invest in the capital investment of BIDA Systems going in in rural developing areas. Ultimately, agricultural operators like dairies, wineries, and food companies look for diversification like all companies. If we can enable these operators to co-invest with BioFiltro in projects across segments then they can rely on a steady income from outside their industry.
Here’s BioFiltro pitching at FoodBytes in San Francisco. For more information on BioFiltro visit: http://biofiltro.com/en/
Looking to see more food startups? FoodBytes is coming to Montreal on May 16. Come and see some innovation, networking, and pitches. Get your tickets here: http://bit.ly/FBMTLTix