The flourishing startup scene in Los Angeles is exemplified by the dynamic and varied entrepreneurial environment at UCLA. The Magnify Incubator at CNSI stands out as an illustration of the diverse range of early-stage businesses thriving in the area.
Among the innovative companies at the Magnify Incubator is Active Membranes, which is reshaping the future of freshwater through membrane desalination. With freshwater becoming increasingly scarce worldwide, sourcing and operating resources like seawater and industrial wastewater are expensive.
Active Membranes addresses this challenge with its patented technology, featuring electrically conducting nanofiltration and reverse osmosis spiral-wound membrane modules that actively resist scaling and fouling.
Active Membranes' technology significantly diminishes the costs and environmental footprint associated with these processes. Its versatility extends to any membrane-based water treatment system, spanning various scales from household point-of-use applications to expansive commercial plants. With the potential to address a broad spectrum of markets, the combined market opportunity for this innovation exceeds $20 billion.
The value add to a startup company from a university standpoint is a showcase that goes beyond teaching, and creates an engine for business ideas and growth. Here at UCLA, we are growing and developing young minds for success after college which is directly translatable to future skills and solving societal problems and that is exciting when we can create ideas that address specific problems. In the case of Active Membranes, it is fresh water.
David Jassby, Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UCLA
David Jassby is also the co-founder and advisor for Active Membranes.
Outstandingly, the company is garnering acclaim not only within its industry but also from the broader startup community. A testament to its excellence, Active Membranes secured the prestigious 2023 GWI Water Tech Idol Award for “Developing innovative solutions for inland desalination plants to reduce concentrate volumes and increase fresh water supplies in water short areas.”
Additionally, the company achieved a significant milestone by securing $30,000 in funding as part of the inaugural UCLA Innovation Showcase held at Google's Venice Beach headquarters, presented by the Venture Accelerator at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
This showcase provided a platform for startup founders within UCLA's entrepreneurial ecosystem to pitch their ideas to venture capitalists and vie for funding opportunities. Arian Edalat, Co-Founder of Active Membranes, received recognition for the company's groundbreaking innovations in the water treatment and desalination sector.
We are targeting water problems that are local which is providing fresh, clean water to Southern California. But all this translates to global climate efforts. We are seeing the support for entrepreneurship not only in our campus administration but in the local and state sectors as well.
Arian Edalat, Co-Founder, Active Membranes
The company takes pride in its remarkable team of co-founders and staff, notably Eric Hoek, a co-founder and professor of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA and a member of the CNSI. Notably, Hoek had prior success with the first Magnify incubator startup, NanoH20, which was successfully acquired by LG Chem in 2014.
Interestingly, Hoek played a significant role in naming the company Active Membranes.
“The state-of-the-art membranes today are passive barriers to contaminants while allowing water to pass,” Hoek notes. “Those contaminants build up in the membrane surface and cause dramatic, sometimes catastrophic loss of performance. Active’s membranes have the same basic separation performance, while actively resisting the buildup of contaminants, and so they maintain high performance much longer and with less pretreatment than the current generation of commercial products. Hence, the name Active Membranes.”
Active Membranes stands as the sole water-focused company in the Magnify incubator at CNSI. This incubator offers valuable resources, including co-working laboratory and office spaces, along with essential business support, catering to the diverse needs of startup companies.
This support allows startups like Active Membranes to succeed by accelerating their access to innovation infrastructure needed while increasing their capital efficiency and market opportunities.
Nikki Lin, Director, Magnify Incubator
Edalat openly acknowledges that the support provided by Magnify has played a crucial role in the early success of Active Membranes.
Edalat stated, “There is so much networking taking place in the incubator environment. As founders we see each other regularly, showcase our businesses and technologies and get ideas from each other.”
Currently, Active Membranes has a promising future ahead. The company is set to transition to a new facility in the coming months and is simultaneously conducting field pilots in California and Arizona.
“We are looking for people who are interested to come to these events, see how our technology works, taste the water,” concluded Edalat. “We want everyone to see how this can be an engine for growth to recover more water, minimize water pretreatment requirements and is ultimately a less complex solution with a smaller footprint.”