DES MOINES, Iowa — Ames-based startup company, Gross-Wen Technologies (GWT), was named the Startup Technology Company of the Year during the Technology Association of Iowa’s 2019 Prometheus Awards Thursday night.

The Startup award recognizes an early stage technology company that has demonstrated significant market potential, creativity and a promising future.

GWT is working to solve one of the world’s largest problems — water quality. Founded in 2014 by Dr. Martin Gross and Dr. Zhiyou Wen, GWT uses its patented wastewater treatment technology, called the Revolving Algal Biofilm (RAB) system, to recover nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater.

State and federal mandates passed in recent years will limit the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, can discharge in their effluents. GWT’s RAB system, based on technology developed at Iowa State University, provides Iowa municipalities and industries a means to cost-effectively, and sustainably address new wastewater permit requirements.

Managing Principal, Next Level Ventures Craig Ibsen presented the Startup award to Gross, who accepted on behalf of his company. As the startup co-founder met with Ibsen on the stage he joked, “Craig, we are raising some money right now, so just keep that in mind.”

Iowa home-grown pride was front and center throughout Gross’ acceptance speech as he shared, “We are an Iowa company and we are proud to be from Iowa.”

In a follow up statement, Gross said he is from a small Iowa town and is particularly proud that his company offers an Iowa-grown solution to address new wastewater permit requirements.

GWT made its first sale to the small community of Slater, Iowa in December 2018. Gross said the Slater installation will be deployed next week.

“To start, we are focused on Iowa’s small, rural communities as our target market,” Gross said. “They will be most affected by new discharge limits as they struggle to find and pay for new water treatment options. Having to raise residents’ water and sewer rates to cover costs could prove detrimental to these small communities. A great way to drive people out of town is to make it too expensive to live in town.

“Slater’s total wastewater treatment plant upgrade, using GWT’s system, will cost an estimated $4 million compared to a $6 million alternative the city was considering. Our cost-effective, sustainable solution allows them to keep residents’ sewer rates reasonably priced while meeting their clean water needs.”

GWT’s process has been approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and shown to be an effective, safe and reliable option to treat wastewater.

“Our algae system does more work than what it really needs to today,” Gross said. “And, as stricter permit requirements come through in the future, the City of Slater is already a step ahead by using our technology. It’s very forward-looking of them to put our system in, meet their permits today, and prepare themselves for tomorrow’s stricter permits.”

Gross added that, not only is having access to clean water both an environmental and public health necessity, clean waterways also provide Iowans more opportunities for recreation, sports, and an overall better place to live.

“It means a great deal to me personally that our solution offers small, rural communities the opportunity to meet their clean water needs and thrive. I look forward to what the future holds and am really excited to start deploying our technology to address Iowa’s water quality problem,” Gross said.

GWT is a member of the ISU Startup Factory’s inaugural cohort that graduated in June 2017 and is part of the Ag Startup Engine. GWT’s offices are housed at the Iowa State University Research Park.

“We appreciate all the support that Iowa State University-based programs such as the Ag Startup Engine and ISU Startup Factory have provided over the years to help us grow our business,” Gross said. “Again, being from Iowa, I couldn’t be more proud of the things we are accomplishing here.”

Other finalists for the Startup Technology Company of the Year award included DenimFirefly PhotonicsGain Compliance and MakuSafe Corporation.


About Gross-Wen Technologies, Inc.:
Gross-Wen Technologies is an Iowa-based company working to solve one of the world’s largest problems, water quality. The company was founded in 2014 by Dr. Martin Gross and Dr. Zhiyou Wen, and is based on a technology they developed at Iowa State University. The algae system is capable of cost effectively recovering nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater. For more information on GWT, visit

About Startup Factory:
The Iowa State University (ISU) Startup Factory is a 52-week intensive program housed at the ISU Research Park (ISURP). Entrepreneurs in the Startup Factory receive formal training, resources, and access to a network of business mentors, advisors, counselors, and investors in two 26-week blocks: the first a formal curriculum centered on business validation, and the second, customized to their individual business needs. For more information on the ISU Startup Factory program, call 515-294-7444 or visit

Julie Lelonek
Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations