Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness. Startling statistics like these can make it hard to stomach the millions of dollars funneled into the latest social networking or e-commerce app, but a new wave of social entrepreneurship is taking on the idea that doing good and making money are mutually exclusive concepts.
Hydros manufactures reusable water bottles with built-in filters. Reusable water bottles are hardly innovative but Hydros’ unique approach to social entrepreneurship and use of internet platforms to spread its mandate is.
The water crisis is a massive global problem. 1 in 7 people lack access to clean water and 3.575 million people die each year from water-related diseases. Furthermore, 38 billion (billion!) water bottles are discarded into landfills every year. After learning about these issues, founders Jay Parekh, Aakash Mathur, and Winston Ibrahim forsook traditional career paths to tackle the crisis head on.
The water bottle is the consumer product that funds Operation Hydros, “the movement to fight the global water crisis.” For every bottle purchased, $1 dollar is contributed to a rural water project. The company is still in the early stages of distribution, but has already helped implement a water piping system in Cameroon and a sanitation project in Kenya. Hydros recently partnered with Engineers Without Borders to ensure each water system is implemented effectively and well maintained.
“People think there is either the nonprofit world where you won’t make any money, or the business world where you won’t do anything good,” he said. “I want to dedicate my life to proving this wrong. I want to prove you can create a successful business that returns money to founders and shareholders, while still addressing a social issue.”
Ibrahim was raised in Silicon Valley and leveraged his knowledge of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to get Operation Hydros off the ground. He reached out to investors, recruited renowned entrepreneurs to the advisory board, and spearheaded digital sales and marketing efforts. Hydros has received investment from angel investors, venture firms, and from crowdfunding site Fundable to bring the product to market.
Now, the company is starting its major distribution push. It is sold in Whole Foods in certain markets around the country and has worked with tech startups and other organizations on “cobranding” initiatives. The bottles are also available online on e-commerce sites like Amazon and Groupon. There are even potential celebrity sponsorships in the pipeline.
The bottle itself filters out toxins and chemicals in 20 seconds. Hydros also seeks to combat the water crisis by promoting more eco-friendly habits, like cutting down on bottled water waste. Ibrahim said there is strong interest amongst consumers for this type of product and business model.
“A feature of our generation is to care about the broader world,” he said. “Millenials were raised in this internet age, we have so much access to information and see the issues that are going on. There is opportunity inherent in problems of the word. Our generation is primed to see lack of food, lack of water, lack of jobs as a chance to create benefits for society and cause change.”
Ibrahim recently visited the White House as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, “the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.” The massive growth of this event (115 countries; nearly 24,000 partner organizations; more than 37,000 activities; directly engaging more than 7 million people” is a testament to the growing belief around the world, amongst entrepreneurs, business people, politicians, and development agencies, that startups can cause widespread, meaningful change.