Dignitaries including Governor Walker tramped the grounds Monday of what is becoming home to the Milwaukee Water Council.
The gathering officially launched the renovation of a seven-story warehouse in the Walker’s Point neighborhood.
Planners say the building will open next summer and will “incubate” water-related innovations from a blend of businesses and universities.
What received less fanfare Monday was the fact a small local company joined the list of tenants.
WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence visited Xela Innovations and found a company determined to make its mark internationally in the world of washrooms.
I first encountered Todd Muderlak three years ago under “extreme” circumstances.
His rented warehouse on Milwaukee’s northwest side was almost as cold inside as “out.”
He was dressed in shorts while racing to fill a last minute order for 270 waterless urinals.
Today, Muderlak is decked out in a business suit when showing me Xela Innovations’ comfortable new home in Glendale.
“You’ll see everything from urinals to soap dispensers, to hygienic handes to to air care machines, it’s covered with prototypes and working models,” Muderlak says.
A small team works here, mostly innovators.
Engineer Brian Handley tweaks an air freshener dispenser from the comfort of his computer screen.
“It’s an aerosol system that mounts on the wall, it provide fragrance primarily to a washroom. It’s kind of unique, it’s got a auto can drop, so when the can has to be replaced, it’ll drop so you’ll se it, it will drop below the dispenser,” Handley says
Todd Muderlak quickly jumps in to clarify that the rapid spray is NOT aerosol driven, but rather with “a green compressed gas”.
Muderlak says his brand goes easy on the environment.
“We’re literally packing innovation into every category of the washroom, both privately and commercially,” Muderlak says.
The 41-year-old says when he came out of UW-Madison with a graduate degree in entrepreneurship, he was thinking about creating jobs and opportunity.
What did not top his business list was “all things bathroom.”
But destiny called when Muderlak’s father – an accomplished industrial designer – devised a clean door handle.
The magic comes with each yank.
The plastic sleeve covering the handle is replaced by a fresh, germ-free cover. Muderlak voice becomes increasingly animated, as he skims over 20 other innovations his team is developing.
“We are in the process of finalizing a revolutionary, what we call, hybrid urinal, that allows you to conserve 99 percent of your water, but still leverage some water to ensure things are flushed if you will. Leveraging those places that do have water, that want to use water for certain reasons, to do that. And that’s going to be an exciting product that we’re working heavily on right now, Muderlak says.
The source of Muderlak’s passion becomes immediately clear when his father, Ken, bursts through the door, waving a fist-sized model in his hand.
The 67 year old is breathless with discovery.
“This is for urinals, to make them waterless urinals. What I’m working on right now is a way of connecting this to the urinal, so that it is airtight. Millions of these urinals,” Ken Muderlak says.
The elder Muderlak says the design came to him in the middle of the night, and he set to work on it immediately.
Son Todd Muderlak will be off to Texas soon, with such innovations in hand.
He along with some other Wisconsin entrepreneurs will have 15 minutes to pitch their products to Chinese investors.
So what does this all have to do with the new Milwaukee Water Center?
Xela Innovations has decided to have a presence there, perhaps just a desk; but the prospects of additional business ties inspires its owners.
Muderlak is particularly keen about the center’s laboratory where his company could test its creations and brainstorm with fellow researchers about water-related products.
“I mean testing facilities can cost upward of $100,000. We need people and apparatuses to help test our products. So right off the bat having access to that as a member of this group and this building is essential and cost justified,” Muderlak says.
Xela Innovations will join the likes of Badger Meter and the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences.
Muderlak is doing a bit of behind the scenes business cultivation.
He hopes the center will install some of his company’s restroom solutions.