Aclarus aiming to capitalize on growth in Peterborough’s water technology industry

Posted on Sep 19, 2014

PETERBOROUGH — Peterborough cousins breaking into the water business are keeping the floodgates closed on international markets, for now.

It’s not that Michael and Adam Doran don’t want the business. In the three years since they started Aclarus, a company using ozone technology to help families and businesses filter their water, they’ve be inundated with inquiries. At some point, they plan to expand to be able to meet that need, but they’ve got a local market to tackle first.

Michael was introduced to ozone technology while working out west a few years back. He was working as a fisheries biologist and was becoming frustrated with rapidly declining water quality.

Ozone, he learned, is 300 times stronger than chlorine. It disinfects and oxidizes water, eliminating contaminants, and it does the job 3,000 times faster than methods typically used in water filtration. So he put his career on hold to get to work  coming up with a model that could see that technology be put to use in homes.

After he enlisted the help of his cousin, Adam, who takes care of the marketing side of the business, the two needed a home in a community that’s passionate about water.

Peterborough was an obvious choice, they say.

Michael grew up in Peterborough and Adam in Belleville and the two say the close proximity to cottage country and a strong support system for start-up culture made the City their target.

“We really liked the region,” Adam says. “It’s a great spot to be based out of. You’ve got cottage country, residential areas, agriculture and you’ve got people who really care about the quality of their water. There’s a real ownership to that here.”

Prior, they’d been doing custom-builds in western Canada, but they say that market wasn’t quite ready for ozone systems.

It was a tough go in the beginning, building prototypes, getting approvals and finding some footing in an industry that’s seeing major movement not only in Ontario but in Israel and California as well.

“We’ve seen such a change in the demand for it,” Michael says.

His brother agrees.

“We’re graduates of the school of hard knocks,” Adam says. “It’s a term that’s over-used but that’s what we are.”

The most productive move, was honing in on their focus. The two put blinders on focused on creating models to serve homes, cottages and businesses, instead of attempting to find a solution to wipe large bodies of water free of contaminants.

The two met with the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster, met with manufacturers to form partnerships and were lucky enough to secure some grant money through the Community Futures Development Corporation.

Now, Aclarus’ ozone water systems are the only certified, complete ozone systems that are safe to be used on drinking water.

Last year, the company received award for innovation from the Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve definitely come a long way,” Adam says.

They’re system effectively replaces iron filters, water softeners, chlorination and reverse osmosis filtration system.

It costs anywhere from $ 4,000-$ 5,000 for a system to clean water in a cottage or small home, but Michael and Adam says it’s worth the investment.

“It’s a higher-end product,” Michael says. “It does a lot more so it’s worth a lot more…It’s an economical solution for bad water situations.”

Those smaller systems filter about five to eight gallons per minute. They’ve installed larger systems, at dairy farm for example, that filters 90 gallons per minute. They’ve also installed systems at Fairbanks Provincial Park and in Trent University’s fisheries department. They’re also participating in First Nation pilot projects.

There’s interest in waste water treatment in small and large municipalities, but the two haven’t breached that territory yet.

“We have our foot in the door,” Michael says.

They say Aclarus isn’t out to compete with Noble Purification, another water technology start-up led by Adam Noble that’s looking to clean up Peterborough’s wastewater.

Michael and Adam say they’ve got their hands full and word about ozone technology is continuing to spread. Demands are currently coming in from Brazil, the U.K., the U.S. and Australia.

Aclarus is keeping them at bay.

“Get Canada covered. That’s step one,” Adam says.

The cousins advise anyone who wants to know about the quality of their own water to have it tested by an accredited company.

“As a homeowner, you should have a clear picture of what’s in your water,” Michael says, adding while different smells, tastes and colour can be indicators something is wrong, the aesthetics don’t always tell the whole story. “If you’re not feeling well, that could also mean something’s up.”

Mounira Benallou, supply chain manager in charge of water sector development with Peterborough Economic Development, says new grant money is expected to help attract even more attention to water technology to the region.

The corporation is helping to handle a $ 1.75 million grant given to Fleming College’s Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment in Lindsay, that’ll be doled out to help water-sector companies conduct applied research over the next five years. The money, she says, will help those companies go through complex certification process that can be tough to navigate.

With a strong support system for research-based and hands-on partnerships, she says it’ll be appealing for start-ups.

As well, she says Peterborough has the right community-driven environmental focus to attract the companies.

“We have different groups that are making a difference in these areas, like GreenUp,” she says. “Peterborough has this green, environmental sensitivity. I think that’s how we can differentiate ourselves.”

Peterborough Economic Development is receiving strong support from Water TAP (Technology Acceleration Project) to grow it’s water sector. The organization’s focus is to champion Ontario’s status as a world water technology hub.

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