Cimbria Capital, a private equity investment firm based in Milwaukee and Houston, has acquired an undisclosed ownership stake in Fixed Earth Innovations, a 2020 winner of The Water Council's Tech Challenge.
Fixed Earth, a Saskatoon, Canada- and Madison-based remediation solutions company focused on eliminating PFAS pollution and other destructive contaminants, has joined Cimbria as a partner company, which founder Timothy Repas said will allow it to expand in Great Lakes states.
The two-year-old water technology startup has developed a solution that uses custom microbes to break the carbon fluoride bond of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, which are considered forever-chemical contaminants in fresh water.
“A lot of what we do is using microbiology, bacteria and molds to clean up pollution," Repas said. "... PFAS, these forever chemicals, there’s this understanding that they don’t break down, they don’t go away. We’ve been fortunate enough to find the microbes that can actually do that. For us, we think we have this light at the end of the tunnel where we can actually start to tackle this problem in a way that’s a lot easier than what’s currently on the market.”
Fixed Earth and Cimbria, which has its Milwaukee office in the Global Water Centerand focuses its early-stage buyout investments on the agribusiness and water sectors in North America and Europe, connected through their mutual networks.
“Turns out, it’s a fairly small world – a lot of us know each other," Repas said. "(Cimbria partner and senior director Noah Sabich) and myself commonly know a hydrogeologist here in Canada, who at one point introduced Fixed Earth and Cimbria, and being a small word, as we got more involved in the U.S. and meeting organizations like the Water Council, we kept finding ourselves running into (each other)."
Sabich said the 2020 Tech Challenge helped validate Fixed Earth’s PFAS solution to Cimbria. Winners of the biennial challenge receive $10,000.
“They were selected by big partners like A.O. Smith, Badger Meter, Rexnord, which is now Zurn Industries, and, from Cimbria’s perspective, it kind of gave us the idea that Fixed Earth is probably on to something and solidified the relationship that much more,” Sabich said.
Fixed Earth has been working with the state of Michigan as a client for a little over a year, and recently began using its technology in the field there. It’s also working with the Wisconsin Air National Guard to pilot its solutions in Madison, where PFAS is a concern.
Through its partnership with Cimbria, Fixed Earth plans to concentrate its expansion efforts in Great Lakes states, where PFAS is prevalent due to the concentration of manufacturing operations in the region and there is also growing political demand for water and soil remediation, the companies said.
“It’s a very logical transition, given the involvement of the Water Council, Cimbria’s presence in Wisconsin, as well as their pilot project with the National Guard in Madison, to start here,” Sabich said.
Sabich and Dr. Olufemi Osidele, senior regulatory advisor with Cimbria, will also join Fixed Earth as senior advisors as part of the deal.
“This is our chance to expand this technology into bigger markets, and get it from small-scale pilots to real-world application,” Repas said. “We can leverage all of Cimbria’s abilities to grow the business.”
Fixed Earth has five employees, with its main operations currently located in Canada. Its goal is to expand research and development, and eventually manufacturing, operations at its Madison office, Repas said.