Testing the waters

Oconto County entrepreneur creates portable purification system

Posted on Sep 1, 2017 :: Small Business Spotlight
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

For Marianna DeMyer, it was an idea she just couldn’t let go — so much so she was willing to part with a beloved possession to fund it.

DeMyer and her husband, James Gilmet, own a business called White Knight Commercial Funding, which creates funding solutions for businesses.

A startup approached the business seeking funding for a device that incorporated ozone and was designed for use in dental offices. The startup didn’t launch, but inspiration lodged in DeMyer’s head. She wanted to create a portable water purification system.

DeMyer, of Lena in Oconto County, had recently sold a second business she owned selling yachts, so she decided to devote herself to developing her new product. One small issue: She needed capital, so she sold the engines out of her own boat.

In 2012, DeMyer launched Roving Blue and created a prototype of a water purification system using ozone. She put it to the test on a 30-day Alaskan wilderness expedition, and it successfully supported a group of 10 people.

The company obtained seed funding in 2014, which allowed DeMyer to write a patent and hire an engineering firm to evaluate the prototype. DeMyer tapped Green Bay engineering firm Associated Machine Design to perfect the prototype. It helped design a waterproof mount plate made of urethane that sits flush in the suitcase-like unit, called MVP, and cradles the filters.

In identifying a market for the system, DeMyer, who holds a degree in science communications from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, quickly realized the military could benefit from such an innovation. She packed up the MVP and brought it to military events both to increase recognition of the company and gather feedback on the products.

“You can go to these military events and they’ll have personnel there testing the equipment, so it gives you credibility,” she says.

The MVP unit, which DeMyer says also could be used for disaster and humanitarian applications, weighs less than 25 pounds and produces up to 1.8 liters of water per minute.

Roving Blue’s products use ozone made from water, whereas most products use ozone derived from oxygen. This makes the MVP ideal for the military, DeMyer says. Deriving ozone from oxygen presents challenges in high altitudes or humid conditions, and units often need to bring extra equipment to address those. Making ozone out of water mitigates these problems.

Ed Driscoll, CEO of Green Bay’s Bonewerks Culinarte, chose to invest in Roving Blue after seeing DeMyer’s products at the Water Quality Association convention in Orlando. He had heard firsthand from people in the military about limitations they faced in purifying water. They often must treat it with chlorine, which tastes bad and is hard on equipment and expensive to transport.

Ozone, which is naturally present in the air after a thunderstorm, is far more powerful than chlorine, DeMyer says. It removes off-tastes and odors and boasts antiseptic properties.

“That’s kind of our tagline,” DeMyer says. “Other companies may make water that is clean, but our unit is the only one that makes water that can cleanse.”

Roving Blue received a Defense Alliance Architect of Defense award in 2016, and in 2018, the MVP will be integrated into the U.S. Army’s Bradley infantry fighting vehicle.

While DeMyer, who designed all of Roving Blue’s products, has found success with the military, she also recognized the need to diversify her offerings. To reach the commercial market, DeMyer launched the O-Pen, a pocket water purification system, in 2016, as well as a home ozone appliance called the Ozo-Pod.

Geared toward international travelers and adventurers, the lightweight O-Pen retails for $200. Users place the pen in a glass of water, wait three minutes, and have a purified glass of water. DeMyer contracted with international independent laboratory SGS to test the pen. Based on the results, Roving Blue can claim 99.99 percent effectiveness against contaminants such as E. coli and salmonella. Users can place the Ozo-Pod in a sink or bowl to clean produce, kill bacteria and break down herbicides and pesticides.

The products, available for direct sale on the Roving Blue website, are slowly reaching a wider audience. “It’s an uphill battle getting traction, getting it visible,” DeMyer says.

Beyond the household, DeMyer has designed commercial OEM components that she says could provide huge opportunities to the food and beverage industry. The device can be hooked up to in-feed lines for ice machines, providing a way to sanitize. Bars and restaurants, which typically rely on an outside service to flush beverage-dispensing lines, could also use it.

“There’s just so many applications,” says Driscoll. “This is really going to
be something.”

With water crises looming in many parts of the world, DeMyer sees opportunities for tank units that could purify collected rainwater. For that reason, she views export as an important component of her business.

DeMyer completed the ExporTech program, run through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity. She’s participated in trade missions to the United Arab Emirates and India and plans to make a trip to Japan and South Korea for an upcoming mission.

Ultimately, DeMyer says she would like to license Roving Blue’s innovations to other groups and companies. Long-term, she says she doesn’t see herself as the CEO for the company and would like to find a new CEO and sell it. If that day comes, perhaps she can reclaim her prized possession.

“My dream someday is to do well enough that I can put my engines back
in my boat.”