Water pollution is a big problem. And like most pollution problems, it’s difficult to tackle on a large scale. 

Clean Earth Rovers is trying to address this problem head on using small water-monitoring buoys and autonomous cleaning vessels. The buoys monitor water on a small scale to identify pollution, and the cleaning vessels are dispatched to clean it up. We sat down with Clean Earth Rovers founder Michael Arens to learn more about how the company is empowering municipalities and coastal communities to make informed decisions about the health of their coastal waterways.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Funding Round Details

Clean Earth Rovers logo
Company: Clean Earth Rovers
Security Type: SAFE
Valuation: $4,000,000
Min Investment: $100
Platform: Wefunder
Deadline: Aug 31, 2023
View Deal

In your own words, how would you describe your company?

Clean Earth Rovers is eliminating operating inefficiencies in coastal water management. The current method of water quality monitoring and pollution response is being done manually — which results in gaps in data for beach health and safety and puts workers in dangerous environments when responding to pollution events such as oil spills or harmful algae blooms. Clean Earth Rovers aims to address these issues by developing water quality data infrastructure in coastal regions using our low-cost and low-voltage water quality monitoring buoy. This technology provides key decision-makers with real-time information to identify and address harmful chemicals and bacteria present in the water.

From there we provide our autonomous vessel, the Rover AVPro, as a practical solution to clean the water. This fully autonomous pollution response system is versatile and can be used for oil spill cleanup, fish kill, algae bloom removal, marine debris cleanup, remote site and facility inspections, and advanced water quality monitoring for layered sensing programs.

The need for technology like Clean Earth Rovers’ is global, as water quality and the presence of chemical and physical contaminants have damaging effects on communities, economies, and marine ecosystems. Oceans, lakes, and rivers are too vast to manage such challenges manually, which is why we must take a scalable and efficient approach. Clean Earth Rovers represents a turning point in addressing these issues by automating water management. In many ways, it is like a Wall-E for your waters, handling all types of pollutants.

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

I was inspired to take the leap to start Clean Earth Rovers as a senior in high school. I was in a public speaking class and was first introduced to ocean plastics by a fellow classmate. I was extremely frustrated and appalled that I was just learning about a major world issue at 18 years old. I decided to spend the summer working on an early Rover prototype with my dad and then continued to build off of that through my time as an undergraduate.

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Our team came together serendipitously. The next critical point in pushing forward after building the initial prototype was participating in Xavier University’s Big East Pitch Competition and winning the first round. I was advised by a professor (and current CER advisor) to find a co-founder to support the journey. This is where I pulled in David, who I had met across the hallway in our dorm building. He was also an entrepreneurial studies and management major who had expressed his passion for solving the problem in the past. From there we were advised to participate in the University of Cincinnati (UC) pre-accelerator and would go on to meet our third co-founder, Jonathan, during the pandemic. Jonathan is from Ecuador and studied mechatronics engineering and had just completed his masters in mechanical engineering at UC. We reached out to him on Linkedin and were off to the races with the help of early grant funding from the UC 1819 Venture Lab.

What is the most important lesson you learned in your journey as an entrepreneur?

To be dependable and to take ownership of your mistakes. Being a founder is difficult, and there’s a lot you don’t know when you dive into it. You’re bound to make mistakes as you go and it’s really critical to be transparent and take ownership for them when you do. It builds a culture of trust and transparency that every organization should have to support each other. I also think dependability is critical. Your word is only as good as you are, and if you aren’t dependable, neither is your word. Again, this goes back to building trust with your team, customers, accolades, investors, and more.

How do your vessels clean the water?

Our vessels clean surface water only. We use two HDPE pontoons bolted together in a robust aluminum frame to ensure that we can capture as much debris as possible. Our skimmers can collect up to six inches below the waterline. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced with Clean Earth Rovers and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge we faced with Clean Earth Rovers was building our team and finding the right expertise to help accelerate our growth and progress. In the early stages we took any help we could get. And as people have come and gone, we’ve been fortunate enough to build a team that’s extremely passionate about our work and committed to the growth and success of Clean Earth Rovers. We are building highly technical things that require vast amounts of expertise from differing fields. Up until 2022 we were cycling through engineering students, and it was hard to retain the talent we needed. Over time, we’ve been fortunate enough to build a core group with the right people on board to help us grow. With that being said, everyone who has been a part of Clean Earth Rovers has added value and contributed to our success today, and we thank them for the roles they played in our startup story!

What is your vision for the company and how will you achieve it?

My vision for the company is to become the top producer of water quality data around the world. We want to be the leader in smart monitoring technologies so that infrastructure and knowledge about the health of our waters is never a question. Along with that we want to build a fully integrated autonomous network of Rovers to create the largest infrastructure of automated pollution response in the world. Similar to keeping the fire extinguisher in your kitchen, we never want a Rover to be out of reach to manage something like an oil spill. 

We have a long way to go before we are operating at this scale. We will work toward these goals by working with local governments and researchers to start building data infrastructure around the U.S. Additionally, we will be working with coastal businesses and communities to start scaling our “cleanup as a service” around major coastal cities. Our focus will begin in California and Florida, which hold the two largest U.S. markets for our work.

We look forward to seeing where Michael and his team take the company. Clean Earth Rovers is currently raising on Wefunder.