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Stories of Success After Service
How A Navy Officer Turned A Big Idea Into A $118M Business After Service
Grant Page was working intently one night in 2013 in the U.S. Naval Academy engineering lab when he met his future.
Page, a senior and midshipman first class, was developing a thesis project that was helping him graduate from the academy so he could fulfill his dream of becoming a SEAL or naval aviator.
But then a senior professor walked into the lab. He wanted to hear about Page’s project.
Over the next few hours, Page explained a new kind of water treatment technology, an idea he had since high school. When the student finished his presentation, the teacher flipped his notebook over and looked at him.
“Do you know what you’re doing here?” Page recalled the professor asking, anticipating either criticism or advice. “You could change the world with this. Do you understand?”
You could say Page is a born engineer. Raised in Chico, California, by a father who owned an auto body shop and a mother who previously worked in defense contracting, Page was rebuilding cars at 14.
At 17, he experimented with metal mixtures called alloys. In one experiment, he realized he could remove salt from water by passing it between two electrified plates made of different alloys.
Although Page excelled in math and science, he said he needed some structure in his adolescence. He found it in the martial arts. As Page worked his way toward a second-degree black belt, his teacher, a former Navy SEAL, realized the student’s potential and suggested he apply to attend a military service academy after high school.
My sensei helped me see I wanted to be part of something bigger and better than just myself.
I wanted to serve my country.
The summer before his senior year, Page attended a program at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, that was designed to acquaint hopefuls with academy life. The people he met, the atmosphere and the location on Chesapeake Bay convinced him it was the right fit.
During his freshman year in 2010, academy instructors and older midshipmen pushed him to his physical limits. And being enrolled in one of the country’s best undergraduate engineering programs did the same mentally.
It was here where he would revisit his water treatment concept, and where the professor would tell him he was onto something.
Page then met with attorneys who suggested he could keep the intellectual property he was developing. The original idea and early work predated his enrollment, after all.
“As soon as I found out I could keep the intellectual property, I knew I had to go for it,” he said.
He also figured he could focus on his military service and spend his off-duty time developing a company.
Page then made a hard decision: Instead of pursuing his dream of becoming a SEAL or jet pilot, he became a surface warfare officer, a track that would allow him to complete his service in four years. The job would allow him to serve his country, fulfill his military commitment, and then he could shift his focus to the idea that “could change the world.”
In the span of two weeks in June 2014—between graduating from the academy and reporting as an ensign aboard the U.S.S. Mason—Page launched Magna Imperio Systems.
He reported for duty in Norfolk, Virginia, where the destroyer was docked. He then began a grueling schedule that would span the next two years: leading a naval team through stressful operations while on duty and running his business outside work hours in a makeshift lab he had built in his home’s garage off base.
MIS grew faster than he could have imagined. During the first friends-and-family funding round, the company was already valued at $2 million, he said. By the end of 2014, the startup had a handful of employees. Later seed funding brought in $1.4 million on an $8 million valuation. By the age of 23, Page led a company with a seven-member executive board.
Amid explosive company growth in mid-2016, Page deployed with the Mason to the Middle East for six months. He led a team of 40 people to conduct boat operations, search and rescue, ship maintenance and other jobs.
“Deployment was really hard,” he said. “You’re always sleep-deprived. I’m glad I went through it, but it wasn’t happy-go-lucky.”
In January 2017, MIS conducted a Series A funding round that raised $6.6 million on a $20 million valuation even though it had not yet marketed a single product, Page said.
Seven months later, the Navy granted Page, then holding the rank of lieutenant junior grade, a request to be discharged one year early.
After becoming a full-time business leader, Page saw a potentially huge opportunity. Clean water is sought by industrial manufacturers, municipalities, food and beverage companies, as well as those responding to disasters.
What started as a trickle of processed water in 2014 had increased to a torrent by 2018. His system could now produce 25,000 gallons of water a day at a competitive price.
MIS sold its first units in late 2018. As his product advanced, Page said it outpaced competing technologies: MIS systems can accept source water up to 15 times dirtier than reverse osmosis or electrodialysis reversal units while offering a 40% lower total cost of ownership. It is also a greener product, achieving 60% in energy savings compared with competitors, he said.
In early 2019, the company raised another $16 million during its Series B funding round, a clear signal that Page’s work had matured to the point that investors were seeing the technology’s potential to change the world. The latest valuation for MIS: $118 million.
Now 28, Page leads MIS as president and chairman from a 5,000-square-foot headquarters in northwest Houston. Inside on a recent winter day, a few of the company’s 50 workers separated parts just cut by a large flatbed machine. Others worked on processors that continuously monitor water quality. A robot stacked components nearby.
In the parking lot sat two 20-foot trailers, which together can treat 1 million gallons a day. These units would soon ship to Piru, California, where they will supply clean drinking water to upward of 700,000 residents a day. Page is also fielding interest from leaders in parched regions around the globe where powerful and efficient water treatment could make a big difference.
Though Page comes across as a business leader focused on innovation and his company’s future, he remembers his academy days and service fondly. The Navy, he said, is where he learned some universal truths that became invaluable as he evolved into an entrepreneur. It’s also where he first understood that perseverance could transform a good idea into something that improves people’s lives on a global scale.
The Navy made me realize that life is a game that’s 90% mental. And they made me appreciate the small successes that come when you invest your time and hard work.
This article was created under contract between the Forbes content studio and the Department of Defense Joint Advertising Marketing Research & Studies office. It originally ran on Forbes under the title “Military Made.” This collaboration does not constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation, or favoring of Forbes or any companies mentioned in these articles, including their services, products, clients or partners by the Department of Defense.
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