December 9, 2022
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Blue-Tech Takeover: Nov. 1 Pitch Night focuses on water innovation | Business

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TRAVERSE CITY — Normally green is the focus of TCNewTech as pitch presenters vie for a $500 cash prize.

The Nov. 1 event is all about diving into the blue.

For the first time, the monthly TCNewTech event at the City Opera House will be go blue and has nothing to do with politics or salty language. While themes are not uncommon at the event for technology-based startups and entrepreneurs, this will be the first time Pitch Night has focused on “Blue-Tech, otherwise known as Blue-Economy or water innovation,” according to a release from TCNewTech.

TCNewTech is partnering with other organizations on the Nov. 1 event like M-Tec, 20Fathoms, Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse Connect and the Water Innovation Labs.

One only needs to look at a map to find Traverse City’s place as the hub for Blue-Tech.

“Traverse City is very well-positioned naturally to be the central location for water innovation,” TCNewTech Event, Sales, and Marketing Director Chris Nesbit said. “We also have a lot of the supporting needs for it. We have fiber internet that’s crucial to research. We have connections in the area well-positioned to support water innovation.

“TCNewTech is here to bring together those companies looking to maneuver in that space and help launch that.”

In addition to the normal Pitch Night presentations, TCNewTech will also provide updates on water-innovation advancements in the region. That begins earlier on Nov. 1 with Hybrid Robotics on WTCM radio and continues at the City Opera House with a success story from OLA Filter Corporation.

It was at TCNewTech in July 2021 that OLA Filter delivered the winning pitch to claim the $500 prize.

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“Last year we were very early stage,” OLA Filter co-founder and Chief Technical Officer Theresa Smith said of the July 2021 event, the first TCNewTech held in person since March 2020. “We just had an idea. We had no funding, we only had a prototype. The $500 we won wad the first money we had made.”

OLA uses a filter cartridge that attaches by a universal thread to a faucet. Inside the cartridge “is a tightly bundled loop of hollow fiber membranes with microscopic pores that block bacteria, parasites, cysts, micro-plastics, protozoa and sediments — leaving you with pure drinking water,” according to its website. It prevents water-born diseases like cholera, e-coli and giardia.

OLA Filter Corporation used the award from its July 2021 win to open a bank account, Smith said.

OLA Flter quickly ramped up from there — coupled with crowd-equity fundraising — allowed the company to build, test and take the product to market.

The OLA Filter is built in Guatemala and is available direct to consumers on the company website,

Smith said OLA Filter has been based in Traverse City since she moved to the area a year ago. Smith co-founded the company with Elizabeth Clandos after leaving a 20-year career as an engineer with Toyota to join one where she could make “more social impact.”

OLA is working with another Traverse City company, Hacha Products, which is the authorized distributer for OLA filters. The company recently became part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief as well as the Global Empowerment Mission (GEM) in Florida.

OLA sent 380 of its filters to Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian and will ship out 140 to Haiti next week to help with a cholera outbreak.

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Hacha Products owner and CEO Kimberly Meek and Smith will discuss OLA Filters rise in the Blue-Tech ecosystem at TCNewTech on Nov. 1. Hacha Products is a certified Women-, Minority- and Disability-Owned Enterprise founded in 2015.

While Meek and Smith won’t be making a pitch at TCNewTech, they will be doing so Nov. 15 at the 2022 Fall Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Pitch Competition. Meek and Smith are among 12 finalists.

The Traverse City duo were among 500 applicants whittled down to 46 for the second round of the event.

There will be six entrepreneurs making water-innovative pitches on Nov. 1 at the City Opera House.

The event will also be livestreamed on TCNewTech’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages as well as its YouTube channel.

The in-person and virtual audience will vote for the winning pitch after the competition, with the winner receiving a $500 cash prize, provided in November by Hagerty.

Scheduled presenters include:

  • Henry Westlind for VirsaQuest. An early-stage startup based in Marquette, VirsaQuest is “a franchise rental business utilizing their own stand-up paddleboard (SUP) design leveraging technology from three fields including SUP, sea scooter and solar technology,” according to a release from TCNewTech.
  • Dana Lowell for Lilypad Labs. The Holland, Michigan-based Lilypad is a shareable solar boat that uses “clean energy and autonomous mobility technology” to offer “an approachable alternative boating experience designed to bring people together on the water while requiring little to no boating expertise,” according to its website.
  • Rose Daily, a Michigan Tech University doctoral candidate will will pitch her research on detecting, measuring and tracking per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) in the field. Chuck Meek of Solve for X, L3C will “give the business case — and market opportunities — for doing so,” according to the TCNewTech release.
  • Ed Bailey will pitch his project Water Innovation Lab Great Lakes (2.0). Bailey is the director of Operations and Business development for the Marine Center at NMC. The Water Innovation Lab Great Lakes “proposes to support and develop early-career entrepreneurs in the ideation and development of new and innovative technologies supporting the issues surrounding the Great Lakes by expanding on the successful pilot program completed in September,” according to a release.
  • Hans VanSumeren will pitch his project, Lakebed 2030 – Mapping the Great Lakes. Director of the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute at NMC, VanSumeren created Lakebed 2030 to focus on the “management and sustainability of the world’s greatest freshwater resource (using) baseline data and information that is currently unavailable,” according to a release.
  • Francis Criqui for SuPyRec, which is a company marketing “multiple products resulting from recycling difficult to process plastic waste, disrupting flow of micro plastics into watershed and other ecosystems,” according to a release from TCNewTech.

TCNewTech’s final event for 2022 is scheduled for Dec. 6.

To apply for a future Pitch Night event, visit or email Nesbit at

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