A Slice on Laura Demmons, Co-Founder and CEO of Sylvan Source
Laura Demmons was a middle management executive who became co-founder and CEO of a thermal industrial-municipal wastewater treatment company. Demmons left her job at Hewlett-Packard at the height of her illustrious career to devote herself to making an impact globally. Linked up with her former colleague at HP, Gary Lum, the two applied their expertise to the industrial energy and water sector and founded Sylvan Source in 2010. Tackling issues that plagued the industry such as the cost and energy needed to treat water as well as the size and complexity of the systems. Sylvan Source systems are half the cost to own and operate, versus the competition. “I thought it would be great if I was going to work this hard if I could make a difference to the world somehow.” To date, Sylvan Source has raised $15 million in funding and will enter its series C round in 2021.
Demmons quickly became a thermal energy expert, and the first application of the thermal industrial wastewater treatment system was born. Additionally, she and her team developed the TERA (thermal energy recovery array) which allows them to recover and move energy “at about the speed of sound with minimal losses across an industrial plant.” This process proved to be incredibly difficult, as multiple experiments were required, some of which appeared more promising than others.
During one particular experiment, everyone involved almost gave up on the project, thinking there were statistical errors preventing them from having success, however, they kept trying and striving for excellence. Oftentimes, more sustainable practices can be costly to convert to, making it a hard sell and ultimately stifling progress. For this reason, Demmons and her team spent 10 years working to get the technology to a point where they could deliver this incredible value proposition.
“I think one of the hardest things was to come up with something that was truly game-changing, and what remains hard today is that there are so many people that have developed incremental innovations that have not invested the research into doing something truly game-changing, so a lot of times people don’t realize how different we really are.”
Sylvan Source was founded in California and incorporated in Delaware, therefore Demmons’ involvement in Arizona’s startup ecosystem was never on her radar. It was only when she visited her parents in Green Valley, Arizona that she became eager to make connections in the state. She decided to reach out to Anita Bell, a power connector with the Department of Energy, who eventually talked her into applying for the University of Arizona Center for Innovation Challenge. Upon acceptance, Demmons and her team started to receive a tremendous amount of support from the people and resources in Arizona. “Arizona expressed an interest in us, and I think startups really love to be loved. You like it when there are entities and states that are business-friendly and want to see their entrepreneurs succeed and are willing to help them get there.”
On the heels of her new success within the Arizona ecosystem, Demmons realized there was a drive and level of tenacity needed to survive within the industry. “Falling into success” is rare, and instead must be balanced with a level of hard work, along with receiving strong input and feedback that you’re onto something big.
For Sylvan Source, success will mean getting their product out there and driving profit, with revenue to the tune of $284 million by year four.