Durham-based NALA Membranes has secured $1.5 million in funding from several investors, the startup announced yesterday. The investors include Raleigh’s Oval Park Capital, Good Growth Capital, Fulcrum Financial Services, and several angel investors, including some from RTP Capital and the WALE Network in Wilmington.
NALA Membranes Co-Founder and CEO Sue Mecham said the money will support the startup’s efforts to commercialize its new generation of chlorine-resistant membranes for reverse-osmosis applications. All in all, she said it is exactly what NALA Membranes needs to get to its next stage.
The current filters on the market require more energy to operate, causing a significantly higher carbon footprint. They also can be difficult to clean since they don’t tolerate chlorine well—chlorine is a standard part of the treatment process—and cleaning can limit their lifetime.
“We’re looking at our chlorine-tolerant membranes as a whole new generation of membranes that will improve the sustainability of reverse-osmosis operations,” Mecham said. “Our new tagline is ‘The new generation of resistance.’ And that’s what we’re bringing to the reverse-osmosis membrane market.”
With the new funding, Mecham said the company will also direct its focus to manufacturing and applications partners with the goal of pilot trials and a commercial launch next year both domestically and in Singapore.
NALA Membranes was initially founded in 2018 after Mecham’s mother, Judy Riffle, a professor at Virginia Tech, had made a successful improvement to the polymers they were hoping to apply to water treatment. [Note: we first profiled NALA in June, 2020, and Mecham was a guest on the Friday Nooner in March.]
“When she told me she had invented that polymer, I immediately saw the opportunity and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to start a company. We need to get these membranes into the market and really change the way people treat water with filtration,’” Mecham said.
Mecham said there are many milestones they still need to hit before they reach a Series A, hopefully by the third quarter of 2023.
For now, NALA Membranes is looking to hire its 10th employee and beyond. The startup will also be looking to move from the First Flight Venture Center‘s incubator space to their own space of roughly 7,000-10,000 square feet in the Research Triangle Park area.
NALA Membranes previously earned a $1 million SBIR Phase II grant from the National Science Foundation in 2021 to develop their proof of concept and pursue customer discovery.
Mecham said she wants to see NALA’s new generation of resistance become standard in the industry, as it could change lives. For instance this shift could mean North Carolina coastal regions will no longer have to deal with PFAs, a type of chemical known to cause cancer and birth defects, that are currently present in some local drinking water.
“Our membranes have the potential to really provide a great solution for that,” Mecham said. “That’s one of the places that we’re working to get that in place as soon as possible because we know that that makes a difference in people’s lives.”