We sat down with Marian Singer, Co-founder and CEO of Wellntel in Milwaukee to chat about the Sweet Water board and also her current projects through her groundwater technology startup.
Allen: How long have you been with the board?
Singer: I’m still pretty new, I joined a little less than six months ago.
A: What do you do besides your work with Sweet Water?
S: I’m a co-founder and CEO of Wellntel which is a groundwater technology start-up that was a winner of the BREW Accelerator in 2014. We commercially launched in July of 2015 to provide a groundbreaking groundwater information system. We create sensors and information networks to provide continuous monitoring information about what's happening with groundwater, which is the most untamed, least measured resource that we have.
A: What are you most proud of in your business and line of work?
S: My business partner, Nick Hayes, and I started this with an idea in 2013 that we wanted to help private well owners protect their property and reduce their risk. There are 14 million private wells in the US and every year about a million of them fail because of water table shifts which leaves infrastructure at risk. Over the course of three years our concept changed from being an idea to a brand new, technology information system. We raised money and got investors and today we have sales in 18 different states. We mainly work with private homeowners, but we have clients who are municipalities, government agencies (such as the US Geological Survey), and environmental engineering firms. Because our product is so unique, groundwater professionals can adopt Wellntel and have a robust data stream that they never had before. I’m proud of the fact that we are changing groundwater information from being invisible to something that is visible and providing the information necessary to make smart decisions about this critical resource that we all rely on.
A: Do you have any advice for other green infrastructure or tech startups?
S: My biggest piece of advice is to always start with a need. A lot of time with tech startups, a project starts with a great idea for a new product and then the majority of time and effort is spent trying to find a market for it. I think it’s so important to start with an actual need, because otherwise you can easily lose track of your original purpose and mission.
A: What kinds of changes do you see happening in the Milwaukee water community and how do you feel about them?
I definitely see an upswing in awareness of water related issues and excitement about the growing Milwaukee water community. The way that universities such as Marquette, the School of Freshwater Sciences at UW-Milwaukee, and UW-Whitewater have started to rally around the issue is really great.
A: And any concerns?
S: My main concerns are that in order to be a hub of water technology, we need to promote increased availability of the skills that are necessary for technological solutions in water industries. Those IT and coding skills are definitely growing, but at a much slower pace than in other parts of the country. I also worry that there is a lack of water technology investment for startups. The community could really benefit from increased attention to local projects and from making growth possible internally in our community. Sixty-five percent of Wellntel’s investment comes from outside of Wisconsin. I would love to see greater excitement from the investment community for water projects.
A: Final question: besides your professional work, how do water issues impact your daily life?
S: I grew up in San Diego and spent a lot of time at the beach growing up. Water has always been a very important part of my personal life and it continues to be that way. One of my favorite parts of living in Milwaukee is the beautiful Lake Michigan. Big bodies of water have always drawn me and I think our water resources are a big part of why Milwaukee is the fabulous city that it is.