PhD student’s research inspires a newfound entrepreneurial interest

Identifying as an entrepreneur wasn’t something Mariana Lopes experienced until she was well into her PhD studies at ASU. With both a Masters degree and PhD in Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering, Lopes didn’t consider starting a business until she discovered a pain point that many people (and industries) struggled with. Through years of research, testing, prototyping iterations and significant interest across both academic and industry markets, Mariana decided to turn her doctoral research into a venture, now called Optical Waters. She developed an adjustable and flexible disinfection technology that purifies water and air devices (i.e. water distribution systems, medical devices such as catheters, intubation devices etc.), which commonly can become ‘clogged’ with bacteria and infection-causing pathogens. Since then, Mariana has received great interest in her product and is in the process of figuring out how to properly license her technology. Currently, she is working with multiple manufacturers to develop her first working prototype and to sell her first device. Marina has won $20K in seed funding through the ASU Venture Devils program as an Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative recipient, and recently won $25K at the ASUio (ASU Innovation Open) under the category of Technology and Social Equity. Read more about Mariana’s story below:

Briefly describe your venture and the problem you are trying to solve

Optical waters has found a way to deliver germicidal radiation into tight channels.

What inspired you to launch your venture?

I created the technology through my PhD and when presenting at conferences, I realized how many people actually wanted to use it and how impactful it could really be if it was marketable and available.

Describe your path to entrepreneurship.

I took a class through my PhD fellowship (IGERT-SUN) that was my first exposure to entrepreneurship. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. It was after I realized my research could have real impact on people’s lives and solve a true pain point, that I began diving into it. I learned more about what it takes and how to develop a value proposition and sustainably finance a business. Turns out that initial class I took was extremely valuable.

What are you most proud of (as it relates to being an entrepreneur or the success of your venture) to date?

Figuring out how to manufacture the fibers at a large scale for production and sale. There are multiple industries and differing technologies that will go into developing it at scale.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?  

Having people talk over me in a meeting that I set up. And having to prove myself over and over every time I talk with a new industrial partner or potential customer.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself for when you first were launching your idea?  

To go faster. To put my whole self into it rather than having hesitations. Just start!

Tell us something interesting about yourself: During my free time, I play competitive Ultimate Frisbee.

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