Crummer-founded venVelo II Invests in ecoSPEARS, a Florida-based Cleantech Developer
The investment from the Florida-focused venture fund will help scale breakthrough technologies to protect people and the planet against ‘forever chemicals.’
By Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS
VenVelo II recently invested in ecoSPEARS, a fast-growing cleantech company developing green remediation technologies that clean persistent toxins from sediment, soil, and water. “It means a lot to have backing from local impact investors such as venVelo that believe in our mission of a cleaner environment,” says Ian Doromal, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of ecoSPEARS. “They’re reinvesting into the community and finding founders in Central Florida, which is great. That’s how it should be. Founders shouldn’t have to start a company here and then move to San Francisco and New York. We’re losing talent. We’re losing great companies that can really help Florida, our economy, and create high-paying, skilled jobs. venVelo is helping combat that.”
Co-founded by faculty of Crummer Graduate School of Business, venVelo is an early-stage venture fund that sponsors growth companies in Florida. The group—which consists of 18 entrepreneurs with previous exists over $200 million—has made 30 investments totaling more than $7 million in 14 companies since launching in 2012. This includes one of their earlier investments, Fattmerchant, an Orlando-based payment processing company which received $25,000 from venVelo for winning Crummer’s annual Venture Plan Competition in 2015. The company, now known as Stax, achieved unicorn status earlier this year when it was valued at over $1 billion.
“I have been part of the Central Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem for the last 25 years,” says Richard Licursi, managing partner of venVelo, who created the fund along with then-Crummer Entrepreneur-in-Residence Allen Kupetz, current Crummer Entrepreneur-in-Residence Peter McAlindon, and Michael Wolsonovich ’09MBA. “In that time, we have seen the number and depth of the entrepreneurial talent increase significantly. We are fortunate to locally have the financial resources and talent to build some extremely valuable companies.”
“ecoSPEARS is using NASA-developed technology to clean soil, sediment, and water by removing carcinogenic materials,” McAlindon says. “Both Serg [Albino] and Ian are great problem solvers in engineering and in business, and we were drawn to the purpose they have in what they’re doing.”
Leveraging NASA-developed technology, ecoSPEARS has developed three remediation solutions that extract and eliminate persistent toxins from the environment, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, 1,4-dioxane, and other persistent toxins. Exposure to these toxins has been linked to numerous health risks in humans and animals, including birth defects, immunosuppression, thyroid disease, and cancer.
The team currently has contracts in Hawaii, Guam, Washington, D.C., Washington state, and Sweden. In Hawaii and Guam, they are making it easier, faster, and cheaper to remove toxins from the soil to restore the once contaminated lands for redevelopment. Typically, the process of remediating contaminated land involves excavating the site to remove the contaminated soil and sending it back to mainland U.S.A. by barge, where it’s either dumped in a landfill or sent off to an incinerator.
According to Albino, for the tens of thousands of tons of contaminated soil they’ve been contracted to clean in Guam, it would currently take at least a year before the soil could be removed from the island because of new hazwaste regulations and logistical delays. In addition, these landowners would face potential fines and penalties while they wait, including from states, counties and the EPA — not to mention the potential risk of exposing more people to the contamination.
“What would easily take more than year, we can do in three months because we’re taking the treatment to the site instead of taking the entire site to the landfill,” says Albino ’10MBA, CEO and Co-Founder of ecoSPEARS.
“Dig and haul is just an expensive change of address form,” says Doromal. “When you take it from someone’s backyard to someone else’s backyard, it’s not out of sight, out of mind. You’re sending it to someone else’s community, and that’s not good enough. We don’t have enough earth on Earth to continue to move dirt around and put contamination into landfills. With ecoSPEARS, we bring our proprietary equipment on site, extract the contaminated soil, clean it, and put it back in its natural habitat—where it belongs,” says Doromal.
ecoSPEARS is the largest investment venVelo II has made since launching earlier this year. In total, the group has invested a total of more than $1.5 million in four companies that also include Urban SDK, Kalagon, and Erbon.
About the photo (left to right): Peter McAlindon (Crummer Entrepreneur-in-Residence & venVelo Chief Community Officer), Serg Albino ’10MBA (ecoSPEARS CEO & Co-Founder), Richard Licursi (venVelo Managing Partner), Ian Doromal (ecoSPEARS EVP & Co-Founder)