Editor’s Note: This recommendation was co-authored by KingsCrowd Senior Investment Research Analyst Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau.
I take due diligence seriously. When I investigate a startup investment opportunity, I spend countless hours reading through the raise page and SEC filings. I scour the internet researching any science or technology that might be involved. I take a deep dive into the industry the startup is working in so I can understand the strengths and weaknesses of incumbents, what disruption looks like, how the industry makes money, and whether the startup I’m looking at can succeed in it. If I have questions or don’t understand something, I reach out to experts to learn more. I talk to potential customers if I can. And of course, I love talking to founders.
With all of that work that goes into vetting startups, I can honestly say that I spent more time looking at Aquagga, the startup we’re recommending this month, than any other company we’ve looked at in quite some time.
Our friends at KingsCrowd first brought this investment opportunity to me. Senior Investment Research Analyst Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau and I spent countless hours looking at Aquagga from every angle, trying to figure out whether this startup could succeed where few have — eliminating harmful chemicals found in a wide array of everyday products that cause all sorts of medical problems, including cancer.
Evaluating first movers in environmental cleanup spaces isn’t easy. The market is incredibly lucrative. The technology gets complicated. Go-to-market strategies and growth require a deft touch. And adoption doesn’t always happen at the pace that founders or investors would like.
That’s why Léa pressed Aquagga co-founder and CEO Nigel Sharp for details on Aquagga’s technology, business strategy, and path to success in her conversations with him. Because any startup that can potentially thrive in a space like this has the potential to deliver significant returns. And we needed to be sure that Aqaugga — and Sharp — could navigate this tricky path.
After hours of researching Aquagga, I’m happy to report that we believe Aquagga is one of the rare startups that can turn destroying harmful chemicals into a massive business. It is one of the best startups managing environmental pollution we’ve come across in a long time. And we believe investing in it is worth the risk.
I’ll let Léa take it from here and explain why we like Aquagga so much.
The No. 1 Solution
Aquagga is one of the few companies in the world that can destroy PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated substances) — harmful “forever” chemicals that never degrade in the environment.
Many everyday products use PFAS, including dental floss, non-stick pans, cosmetics, and firefighting foams. We are in contact with these dangerous chemicals every day. They cause testicular and pancreatic cancers, low fertility, birth defects, thyroid and liver diseases, and many other health problems.
Today, PFAS has been officially found in 2,858 sites in the U.S. and 17,000 sites in Europe, mostly because of industrial, military, and firefighting activities. And that’s not all. PFAS is also found in drinking water, rain, human blood, and even human breast milk.
We need an efficient solution to destroy these harmful chemicals. Some universities are working on it as well as a few startups like Ramboll and Battelle. But as an investor, I don’t want to just back one of the few startups destroying PFAS — I want to back the best one. And that’s Aquagga.
Aquagga won first prize in the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)’s “Innovative Ways to Destroy PFAS Challenge.” The EPA is a powerful entity. It conducts research on environmental and human health protection and has the authority to enforce environmental laws. By winning this challenge, Aquagga has both proven to investors that it is the best solution for this problem and gained the attention of its first clients: public entities and governments.
Aquagga was founded in mid-2019 when the company made exclusive IP licensing agreements with the University of Washington and Colorado School of Mines for their PFAS destruction technologies. I like this collaboration. Great technologies are often born in universities, but startups are the best structures to bring them to market.
Working with the University of Washington allowed Aquagga to maintain low spending in research and development while still having Brian Pinkard’s expertise as the co-founder and chief technology officer of the company. Aquagga generated revenue quickly for a hardware company – $301,685 in 2021 and more than $700,000 in 2022 while turning profitable at the beginning of 2023.
So far, Aquagga has worked as a subcontractor for environmental remediation and PFAS destruction projects worth millions of dollars and led by states, federal agencies, and a large private industrial client.
Most clients first use technologies that can separate PFAS from drinkable water and contaminated sites. Then they have to choose between disposing of PFAS in hazardous waste landfills or destroying them. And the cost is a major consideration.
According to Nigel, disposing of PFAS in landfills costs $3 to $10 per gallon, including transportation and landfill fees. In comparison, Aquagga’s mid-size Steed series product can destroy PFAS from a concentrated aqueous stream at a rate of 15 to 20 gallons per hour and a cost of $0.65 to $1 per gallon, leaving room for healthy margins. To lower the bill for clients and speed up the process, Aquagga partners with a filtering company to get a concentrated stream of PFAS and achieve a site’s complete PFAS destruction in just a few days of continuous operations. The company is currently working on building a bigger version of its product to meet the larger streams of industrial private clients.
Aquagga now needs to accelerate its growth to bring a great return to investors. And its timing couldn’t be better.
The EPA has proposed new regulations to be implemented by early 2024 that will require communities all across the country to test drinking water for PFAS and treat them if they appear at levels higher than four parts per trillion. This is an important first step that could open the market for Aquagga. Nigel didn’t precisely designate drinking water cleaning as one of the company’s revenue sources, as the water stream would be too large and the PFAS too sparse. But cleaning more drinking water will create more dangerous PFAS sludge that would be hazardous, costly, and inefficient to dispose of in landfills. This is where Aquagga would be a great solution, as it can destroy PFAS completely — no disposal required. The EPA’s regulations will also certainly accelerate the need to safely dispose of PFAS in environmental and industrial sites.
When such regulations are passed and a market need is growing, competitors want their share of the opportunity. But this isn’t an issue for Aquagga. It has half a dozen patents protecting the technology and a first-mover advantage, making replication of its solution incredibly hard. As competitors gradually develop their own forms of the technology, the market will grow large enough for several companies to succeed. Destroying PFAS in contaminated sites takes time and winning bids requires an edge on competition — which Aquagga has thanks to its EPA contest win and a series of SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) awards from three other agencies, namely the National Science Foundation, DARPA, and the U.S. Air Force.
An Exciting Opportunity
I feel lucky to have come across Aquagga in 2023 when its valuation is $13 million. It seems high when looking at Aquagga’s 2022 revenue, but Nigel told me the company has at least $2.4 million worth of contracts signed for 2023 and $2.7 million signed for 2024. This already makes the company’s valuation more attractive — as long as the startup doesn’t run into any external issues that would prevent it from achieving its revenue.
There are risks in every startup investment, but Aquagga needs only 20 to 30 yearly contracts worth $400,000 to $800,000 in order to provide investors with a 10x return on their money. And its first three systems are already fully paid for, each able to generate annual revenues exceeding $1 million.
As Aquagga is hiring marketing and sales employees thanks to this raise, I look forward to seeing how the company grows. With great timing, the best technology, and promising upcoming growth this year, I’m already excited to be able to tell investors about the opportunity to invest in Aquagga.
Security type: SAFE
Valuation: $13 million
Minimum investment: $250
Where to invest: Wefunder
Deadline: April 30, 2023
How to Invest
Aquagga is raising capital on Wefunder. If you don’t already have an account, you can sign up for one here.
Once you’re logged in, visit the Aquagga raise page. Be sure to review the deal page and offering documents thoroughly before making an investment. When you’re ready, click the red “invest” button. Enter in the amount you want to invest, starting as low as $250, and then move through the required steps. Make sure that your investment is confirmed, and then you’re good to go.
Startup investing is inherently risky, and startup investors should expect to hold their investments without liquidity for five to 10 years. Never invest more money than you can afford to lose.