120WaterAudit Brings Data Visualization to Contaminant Testing
In most of America, people expect clean, drinkable water to pour from the tap.
However, there are deep cracks emerging in the nation’s aging water infrastructure, and the Trump administration’s Environment Protection Agency has been quietly working to “roll back” clean water protections in favor of industry priorities. Municipalities with tight budgets risk making disastrous cost-cutting decisions like those that sparked the Flint water crisis, which drags on to this day.
This looming public health disaster is what keeps Megan Glover, co-founder and CEO of 120WaterAudit, awake at night.
She began the company, based in Zionsville, IN, with a mission to provide consumers and institutions with easy, reliable kits to test their water for contaminants. A year after launching, 120WaterAudit has partially evolved into “a turnkey customer relationship management solution” for utility companies.
“Our niche is being the consumer interface for water quality managers,” she explains. “Customer service is usually the last thing on their plate. They can use our technology for compliance testing, customer service, and automated results.”
Despite its foray into CRM, the company still offers user-friendly testing kits for homes, schools, and utilities. A kit including an empty 1 liter bottle is delivered in the mail. Customers fill the bottle with a water sample first thing in the morning, six to eight hours after the faucets were last used. They then complete “chain of custody” information and ship the sample back using a pre-paid label.
Once the sample reaches the lab, results are returned to the customer within two weeks. The kits start at $54 for a basic lead test. The process should be repeated every 120 days, Glover says, to ensure maximum water quality.
With a background in marketing technology, Glover started the company after a conversation with her mentor about the situation in Flint. When asked if her water at home was safe, Glover realized she didn’t know the answer. An idea was hatched, and the company started selling direct-to-consumer kits from its website.
It didn’t take long for a public utility company to notice, she says. “Pittsburgh came to us and said, ‘We offer free water-quality testing, but we’re three months behind.’ They had a 20,000 kit backlog, so they asked us to help. We’ve taken their turnaround time down to 14 days.”
The utility had failed the lead and copper test—the same test Flint had trouble with—and needed to ramp up the frequency of testing to every six months, a labor-intensive process. “We developed a platform to break down silos and automate communication with customers,” Glover says.
But a project with the state of Indiana is where 120WaterAudit has really hit its groove. The state set aside money to test every fountain and faucet in its public schools—essentially, anywhere the kids made contact with potable water. The state hired the company to work with its staff and design software to track the process and map the water contact points in each school.
“We developed a Web-enabled field module,” Glover says. Field workers were equipped with tablet computers to map each faucet and fountain from which they collected samples. “We put the results in a database so the state can see it and plan remediation if necessary.”
The secondary goal of the of the database and field collection process was to create a data visualization tool. “Not only dashboards, but also integration into GIS systems,” she says. “We can look at where the high number of customers are and where the water lines are to predict where the trouble is.”
Part of the challenge, she says, is that even when utilities are acting in good faith and testing diligently, if a house or school has old pipes or faucet fixtures that contain lead, the results will show contamination.
“It’s not a fear thing, but a reality,” Glover says. “Every structure built before 1980 is probably going to have lead.”
The state of Indiana has so far kept information on the roughly 850 school districts enrolled in the water testing program in an Excel spreadsheet. This week, that document will be merged with the 120WaterAudit database, and the site will go live on Aug. 20.
Between early seed funding from angel investors and paid contracts, 120WaterAudit has so far been able to support its growth. In order to scale, though, the seven-person company is planning to start seeking investment capital at the end of the year.
There are a lot of potential problems with the country’s water supply, and they aren’t going away anytime soon. The brains of kids are so susceptible to contaminants, Glover says, that she agrees with the CDC’s contention that there is no truly safe threshold for lead. Because of that belief, 120WaterAudit will continue to distribute testing kits even as the company gets more technological.
“We want to be a software-as-a-service company,” Glover says. “But we’re small enough that we’re not turning anyone away. Clients can decide if they just want kits, or they also want to license our software and customer support services. We believe our future is in [business-to-business], but we’re still doing the kits because it’s great for word of mouth and makes us a little stickier.”