With only 7% of women graduating college in 2016 earning a “STEM” degree, diversity is becoming a growing concern. In addition, there has been a lack of underserved and underrepresented entrepreneurs in the cleantech industry. But Clean Energy Trust and U.S Bank have made their mission to support these minority groups. Therefore, they started the US Bank Inclusion Award, a grant awarded to female entrepreneurs and/or people of color who are building cleantech companies.
Some of the benefits include $25,000 and 12-month business mentorship from Clean Energy Trust. On June 30, 2020, Clean Energy Trust announces NuMix materials as the recipient of the U.S Bank Cleantech Inclusion Award.
To learn more about NuMix materials, a startup that recovers metals from contaminated water, and why CleanTech decided why they were the right fit for the award, we sat down with Clean Energy Trust CEO Erik Birkerts and Numix Materials CEO Katie Kollhoff.
Why Clean Energy Trust awarded NuMix Materials
With the U.S using the most water than any other country, this resource is something we must be more deliberate in using. To make matters worse, we cannot assume our tap water is safe, for example, the Flint, Michigan case.
Birket says “NUMiX Materials caught our attention because they understand that impactful solutions must be simple, economical, and easy to implement”. With NuMix utilizing intellectual property developed at Northwestern, its innovative approach uses proprietary sorbents to remove toxic heavy metals from water.
In addition, NuMix Materials founding team fits perfectly with U.S Bank and Clean Energy Trust’s belief. “The gravity of the climate imperative is so significant that we can’t be selective in who receives funding and support and who does not. We need the best minds working on solutions, irrespective of gender or skin color,” Birket adds.
Diversity in NuMix’s team
So how did this diverse team start? In Kollhoff’s previous job, she saw the inefficiencies removing certain metals from water. With the founders all attending Northwestern, Katie, Matt, and Olivia took their good workflow to NUVention, an energy course focusing on building clean-tech companies.
Their group was the 3 out of the 4 women in the 20 person class, which shows the lack of inclusion in STEM industries as a whole. Therefore, companies like NuMix Materials will set examples for other cleantech companies. “We committed to digging into our diverse origin stories as sources of strength for our development. Even so, more work has to be done to enhance a culture of inclusion, to ensure we recruit and retain the best candidates, and to encourage everyone we work with to bring their whole selves to the table,” Katie tells me.
With the $25,000 from the award, NuMix Materials will use the funding for the next technological milestone. Katie tells me they “aim to execute a field trial to harvest and refine dissolved metals from a contaminated stream. The funding goes toward production of the sorbent, analysis of pre- and post-treatment water quality, and subsequent metal purification.”
These are just some examples of what minority groups in cleantech can do with opportunities. With STEM fields mostly male-dominated, we must provide the support and opportunities to underrepresented groups. The US Bank Inclusion Award is a great step in the right direction. But there are still not enough programs like this. Hopefully, more companies will use NuMix Materials as a role model for a diversified team focusing on STEM topics.
Jalen Xing is a Writer at theRising and the co-founder of Students For Hospitals. You can pitch him stories at jalen.xing [at] gmail [dot] com.