Waterlyzer Offers Access to Water Quality Data in the Wake of the Flint Crisis (WIRED Magazine)

ARI KAUFMAN WAS closing in on two decades of success in the technology and online advertising industries in 2014 when he received a dose of life-altering news.

Kaufman–then CEO of Denver-based digital and local marketing solutions leader, Placeable–had been diagnosed with cancer. He was decimated by the ensuing nine weeks of chemotherapy, when he endured five hours a day of treatment.

The experience was pivotal, and he recalls one defining moment in particular: a phone call from a close friend after receiving the diagnosis. His friend survived a battle with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma years before, and had some valuable insight.

“Congratulations Ari,” the friend said. “You’re about to get some perspective.”

Kaufman made it through treatment and found himself fueled by a new lease on life–and, as his friend predicted, a desire to make something more meaningful out of his career. Last year Kaufman founded The Microlyze Corporation, a Denver-based company which combines savvy smartphone technology with simple do-it-yourself tests to improve water quality in cities nationwide. And his pitch for the company’s signature product, the Waterlyzer, won the grand prize at the Pitch Distilled competition in Denver in March.

Something Bigger, And More Meaningful

The win came just six months after Kaufman was invited to the annual 10.10.10 Cities conference, where ambitious CEOs and entrepreneurs gather to try and address different issues affecting U.S. cities. During the 10-day seminar in Denver with city planners, deputy mayors and members of the Environmental Protection Agency, Kaufman was moved by the challenge of using technology to help solve issues of water contamination, stoked in part by the stunning 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the general unawareness that it could happen elsewhere.

“Take an issue like Flint or any of the many water contamination issues that pop up in this country,” Kaufman says. “They’re a blip in the paper or maybe they even become national or international news, but then they’re gone.”

Kaufman hopes the Waterlyzer, Microlyze’s solution, can change that. The device is roughly the size of a hockey puck and comes with a thimble-sized cartridge that consumers can fill with their tap water to test for lead, arsenic or other contaminants. The test results are available instantly via an app on the consumer’s cell phone, and the data is sent to the utility company so that it can spot problems in the communities it serves.

Kaufman says that while people might pay only peripheral attention to a crisis in Flint or a far-off city, seeing real results in their own kitchen will change how they view water contamination and push for solutions.

“The minute you run your personal water through the system – that’s the water you drink, the water you cook with, you bathe your children in – and you see there’s something wrong with it, you’re not going to move on from that,” Kaufman says. “The problem at arm’s length just became your concern.”

Big Markets, Busy Times

Kaufman has a deal for a pilot program with Denver Water, which serves roughly 1.4 million customers in the Mile High City. The company estimates it will take up to 40 years to replace all of the old, lead-lined pipes in the city, but if the Waterlyzer can help identify problems in specific neighborhoods via aggregated test results, Denver Water can potentially cut down on that timeline and bring safer, cleaner water to customers who need it most sooner than expected.