IF AAKASH MATHUR, 25, of South Philadelphia, has his way, the bottled-water industry could become obsolete. He's chief executive of Hydros Bottle, which manufactures and sells a water bottle that uses a "fast-flo" technology to filter water in 20 seconds.
Mathur, a Wharton graduate, and co-founders Jay Parekh and Winston Ibrahim started Hydros, which is headquartered on the ground floor of Marketplace Design Center at 23rd and Market, in 2009 in the basement of a University of Pennsylvania study hall.
Q: How was Hydros born?
A: I was in a class on how to use business to address social issues. I was looking at bottled water and how 60 million plastic bottles end up in landfills every day, a $15-billion industry that just seemed wasteful.
I was also interested in water access. So the idea was, let's sell a useful, sustainable product here and donate some of the proceeds to fund water projects around the world.
Q: How did you get funded?
A: We're backed by angels [private investors].
Q: How does the product work?
A: It's the only water bottle that filters water from the tap into a to-go bottle. The water flows through a filter, takes about 20-25 seconds to fill the bottle, so it's easy, convenient and makes the water taste great. The bottle is BPA-free, will not break if you drop it, and has a side-fill port. [BPA is a chemical found in plastic that has negative health effects.]
Q: Whole Foods is distributing it. How did that come about?
A: We were at a trade show and a reporter saw a prototype and wrote about it. A Whole Foods store contacted us after they saw the story, and we got approval for that one store and expanded out.
When we started the business, Whole Foods was the retailer we wanted to carry our product. We wholesale to them. We also sell through natural grocers, do some cobranding and sell directly from hydrosbottle.com.
Q: So how's the business doing?
A: We actually just launched. We spent a year developing a prototype, launched that and then spent another year collecting research and began selling the current product several months ago. We'll probably have close to $700,000 in sales this year.
Q: You gonna put the bottled-water industry out of business?
A: One of the main draws of this is it's designed to be a substitute for bottled water. We figure it saves the consumer $600 a year.
Q: Tell me about Operation Hydros.
A: We invest a portion of our proceeds in projects that address the global water crisis. We look at sustainable development, which basically means local labor, local material and local management.
Our first project was in Gundom, in Cameroon. We helped to build a spring-water-distribution system to pipe water into the village from the source.