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Featured Students and Alumni

Laurelle BantaCOO at NUMiX Materials

"The analytical skills I learned as an Engineer—critical thinking, problem-solving, attacking the problem in a systematic way that's logical—have been helpful."


Laurelle Banta has always had an interest in sustainability. She garnered her love for all things environmental by exploring nature and studying animals. In her undergraduate studies, Laurelle focused on alternative energy sources because she believes that broadening the traditional landscape of energy production is the only responsible way to fulfill growing energy needs domestically and internationally. After studying abroad in China, Laurelle's concentration shifted towards nuclear energy and policy—with a focus on nuclear waste remediation. Laurelle noticed that the technology to treat wastewater produced in nuclear processes was outdated and she began working on ideas to maximize treatment technologies. To progress her idea, she took NUVention: Energy, a course that helps students develop their cleantech ideas into businesses. There, Laurelle met a group of people interested in developing a better treatment process for the removal of heavy metals in water. Seeing its future applications in nuclear wastewater, she jumped on board the team. They formed a business called NUMiX Materials and have won several competitions and grants. Laurelle’s and NUMiX’s mission is to treat water better so that our heavy metal treatment leads to clean water resources and advances the progress of humanity. Because without water, human civilization halts.

Farley Q&A

How did the idea for NUMiX come about and how did your team form?

I joined the NUMiX team the first night of the NUvention: Energy [Winter 2018] class. As a class, we went around the room sharing our ideas. Katie was sitting in front of me so she went first and she described this idea of recovering metals and remediating water using this material that Northwestern already had. When it was my turn to talk, I said I was interested in nuclear waste remediation, a lot of that through water. As Katie talked more about this material Northwestern had, she said that there were ways for it to work in nuclear waste. I thought, ‘That sounds perfect for me,’ and I jumped on the team that night.

The next time we met, we gelled it out, figured out what our strengths and weaknesses were, and what we were going to do and what our plan was. During that class, we learned about an opportunity called Clean Energy Trust, which would allow us to get money right off the bat. We applied for that within one week of meeting each other. That same weekend, we were all working on the application. Though we didn't get it, from the get-go, we knew we needed to go all the way on our idea.

...And your interest in nuclear waste and cleaning it up?

My interest in the area started in college, sophomore or junior year. I was interested in other types of energy resources and nuclear energy is a huge one. Other countries use it. In France, 80% of what they use is nuclear. It is a really awesome resource that no one is really talking about, maybe because they are scared of it. Sure when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong, but if you update and keep up with the technology, it’s a lot easier to keep it safe.

In between my junior and senior year, I studied abroad in China. A significant portion of their energy also comes from nuclear power plants and they are always building new ones. I think they're building a lot of 4th generation plants. Most of the U.S. power plants are 2nd generation which is outdated and we should update them. I did a report on nuclear policy during my study abroad as well.

What were some challenges you had to overcome as an entrepreneur?

Being more outgoing because I'm not much of a people person. I don't really like meeting new people, but it's something you have to do [as an entrepreneur]. You have to learn what they're doing and network. I was nervous about doing that, as a person that's very introverted.

One time that was really memorable for me, facing this challenge, was when we went to the Rice Business Plan Competition. I was really exuberant. It was great and I had a fun time and it showed me that I should get out of my shell more.

What does your role at NUMiX entail?

My official title is the Chief Operating Officer or COO. Like the title says, I do all of the operations, the day-to-day things to keep everything running. That includes a lot of lab management and application management. We have a lot of grants that need to go through. I manage all of that. I also make sure everyone does their tasks for the week. I’m there to make sure everything is smooth because, without that, [the business] will fall apart.

What skills did you learn as a student that help you as an entrepreneur?

I went here [Northwestern] for undergrad so a lot of the analytical skills I learned as an Engineer—critical thinking, problem-solving, attacking the problem in a systematic way that's logical—have been helpful.

As far as entrepreneurship goes, I’ve learned the importance of researching and digging into who your customers are, who your competitors are, and understanding the whole system so you can get your head in the game and be a better entrepreneur. Pretty much all of the entrepreneurship skills I learned, I learned from NUvention: Energy. That was my first ENTREP class.

How did attending Northwestern impact your journey?

NU has given me a lot of opportunities that I don't think I would have if I went to other places. I'm from Florida. If I had gone to the University in Gainesville, I don't think I would have had any of these opportunities to learn and to do things that are very hands-on. Northwestern is a hard place to learn and grow, but when the opportunities are there—opportunities that are only available because NU makes them available—you need to go grab them.

In May of 2018, I graduated with a Master's of Science in Law program. This is a program that combines technology, science, business, and law. A lot of the aspects you'd find in a company, doing a contract negotiation, IP, licensing and all of the other aspects of owning a company where science and technology are the mainstays we learned how to do, so the program has been useful. Everything I learned in the MSL program has popped up while working with [NUMiX] and I've used everything I have learned. My degree has been extremely useful and I loved getting it.

How do you feel about where you are now?

I wasn't expecting to be where I am right now at this age, so young. I was expecting to start my own business after I went through to the corporate lifestyle and learned on that front and into my mid-thirties. But this opportunity came up and I'm an impulsive person and this is what I do. I grabbed the future.

Where do you see NUMiX going in the future?

I expect NUMiX to be doing great things. We have production going smoothly right now. I see us producing at a higher level and having customers where we can pilot our idea and see how well it works. That's in the next six months or so.

In the next nine months, I expect to have the first customers wanting our product and our team making a lot of product. I'm excited for it!

As far as my role and where I see myself in the future, I see myself continuing with NUMiX and working harder to become a better COO and learn how operations really work. This is my first operations job. With the new school year starting, a lot of entrepreneurship events are also getting started. I see myself doing a lot more of those, meeting entrepreneurs and going to entrepreneurship events in the city, and living the entrepreneurship life.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to be in business but aren't sure where to start?

Getting started I didn't know what to do so I wasn't sure where to go and where to start. It seemed really intimidating to do NUvention: Energy. But the first step is so easy; you just jump in, and you're there and then it goes from there. Once you start [getting involved in entrepreneurship], it's hard to stop. So just start! Make your entrance and you can do it! You can go to The Garage, the Farley Center and there are many student groups on campus who do entrepreneurship as well.

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