I’m Doll Avant, Founder and CEO of Aquagenuity.
Most of us remember when the contaminated water crisis in Flint, MI hit national headlines in 2016. When I heard the news, I, like most Americans, was shocked. But as a data scientist and a graduate of Harvard University, I wanted a better understanding of what was really happening. Basically, I couldn’t let it go. How could this be happening in the United States of America? Don’t we have the best water in the world?
I started researching everything I could find about water’s impact on public health in the United States, starting with a water quality project I found during research at Harvard’s School of Public Health. And that’s when discovered a disturbing statistic: there are actually 3,000 locations in the United States with more lead in their water than Flint, Michigan. In fact, 71% of Americans have some form of contamination in their water, yet most of us have no idea.
Most people reacted to Flint as if it were a political problem, marching in the streets and tweeting angry epithets at the governor. The anger was real and justified. But as a data scientist, I saw this shocking water crisis as a data problem: the people who needed critical water quality information simply did not have access to it. I thought, “Why isn’t there an app for that?” So I set out to aggregate water quality data for all 50 states… And discovered that there are more than 57,000 individual water systems in the United States, with wide variations in how and when they reported public water quality data. There was a reason no one had aggregated this data before: it was extremely hard to access, and really hard to make sense of.
But I pressed forward, determined to create the schema for a proprietary database that could make water quality data accessible and actionable for non-technical users. Based on my research, I was named a Global Impact Fellow by Singularity University (the brainchild of Peter Diamandis, Founder of the X Prize, and Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google) at NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley. This was my first clue that I was on to something.
But I quickly saw that the publicly available data was not useful by itself. Your local water utility sends you a CCR (Consumer Confidence Report) every year. Have you ever read it? probably not. In fact, so few people read the reports that many water systems have stopped sending them out unless you opt-in. We asked one water system operator how many people were opted in to receive the reports in his district. His answer? 32. Not exactly popular reading. But I can’t blame you if you’ve never read your local water quality report. Because if I gave you a list of toxins that looked like this, would it mean anything to you?
If you’re like most folks, the answer is a resounding “No!” So I went far beyond compiling a list of toxins into a database that no one understands. I also created a proprietary algorithm — a water score, which is similar to a credit score. It’s an easy way for anybody (even if you don’t have a degree in chemistry or environmental engineering) to understand how good their water quality is. On a scale of 0–100, where 100 is good and 0 is bad. This water score (officially known as the AquaScore Water Quality Index) factors in all found toxins, compares it to known legal limits and recommended health limits, and helps you best understand how your local water quality may be impacting your health. AND what to do about it.
Understanding water quality data for all 50 states took a long time, about a year and a half. During my research, this work in water quality data became personal for me when my dad, who had been a professor, retired to a new house in a small town. He had been there for about a year; then one day, after 72 years of relative health, he was suddenly diagnosed with diabetes. His lifestyle had not changed. His diet had not changed. In fact, the only thing that had changed was his zip code.
That’s when I came across an obscure report linking high levels of arsenic in the local water supply with diabetes. But by this time, my father’s health had taken a turn for the worst, and he passed away from kidney complications in June 2017. It made me wonder: how many other people are being negatively impacted by their water and don’t even know it?
That’s when the light bulb went off for me: if I could build a data-driven technology to predict water crises, I could possibly save lives and help #preventanotherflint. So I decided to re-imagine the way the world interacts with their water using the power of data science and the blockchain. And Aquagenuity (where water meets ingenuity) was born.
The first person on earth that I ever texted about this idea to create Aquagenuity was a great friend of mine: successful tech entrepreneur, MBA and marketing genius Chris “Jonesy” Jones. His father, Mr. Percy Jones, spent 40 years in the water industry, developed a sports drink with Richard Williams (father of Venus and Serena), and was the first African-American to own his own bottled water plant in the United States. Mr. Percy, my mentor and a second dad, introduced me to the water industry and planted the seeds that would later be birthed in Aquagenuity.
So it was an amazing and exciting moment for me when Chris (who has led as CMO and senior marketing strategist for Fortune 500s like Mattel, Adidas, and Dragonchain — a blockchain shop born out of Disney), agreed to join me as Co-Founder and COO of Aquagenuity. Our team has now grown to 8 and we are bi-coastal, working out of both Seattle and Atlanta.
Google gave me global recognition for my work in water technology by naming me a “Woman of Water” and featuring me on their home page (not the search results, THE HOME PAGE — My mom was pretty proud of that). And now, we’re on a mission to bring #datatothepeople by helping everyone understand what’s in their water in real time.
We’re headed on a global tour over the next 18 months to put low-cost technology into the hands of every citizen in every city, because I believe that water is not a political issue; it’s a human issue. I believe that transparent water quality data should be accessible to all. So Aquagenuity is committed to using advanced technology tools to make water quality data easy to access and easy to understand for the average consumer.
Our mobile app, currently available to beta users by invitation only, lets you know what’s in your water; what that means for your health; what type of filter you need; it even lets you search real estate or restaurants by water quality. But the app can be personalized to provide water quality monitoring + access to historical water quality data, not just in your general area, but all the way down to your tap. In real-time.
Since incorporating in 2018, Aquagenuity has been featured by Google, Forbes and WIRED Magazine for “Taking on America’s Water Crisis.” I’ve given a TEDx talk and spoken on stages around the world. Aquagenuity was selected as one of seven technologies protecting the world’s waterways by Ocean Visions, a collaboration of the United Nations’ UNESCO, the Smithsonian, MIT, and the Georgia Aquarium. All because we’re the first in the world using big data to provide real-time insights into water quality for consumers, corporations, and smart cities. And our data can be integrated into any consumer interface, corporate dashboard, or smart device.
We’re making our technology publicly available for the first time at the Smart City Expo World Congress, September 11-13, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia (the first time this global event has ever been held in North America). We’ll then be following up with our international launch in Barcelona in October and November at the flagship event. I’ll be giving a keynote, providing demonstrations, and sharing our technology with thousands of mayors, city planners, heads of corporate sustainability, and innovation groups from around the world. Plus, we’re capturing all of the excitement by filming the pilot episodes for our docuseries, beginning at the Smart City Expo World Congress.
I believe that every citizen in the world has a right to know what’s in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. And at Aquagenuity, we are making it easy for every citizen to safely answer the question: “What’s in Your Water?”
You can find out what’s in your local water for free by registering for an Aquagenuity Starter Test Kit. Learn more at http://aquagenuity.com.