WaterStep International isn't the traditional accelerator program participant, as it is the only nonprofit organization in the inaugural cohort of Pipeline H2O.
“We are doing things a little backward,” says Mark Hogg, WaterStep's CEO and founder. “Usually, a corporation eventually forms a nonprofit to give back. We’re trying to figure out how we can sell, market and develop a plan for our products that will bring financial strength to our nonprofit.”
As a nonprofit, WaterStep works in developing countries to help communities get access to safe water solutions by providing water purification systems and health education, and by teaching residents how to repair and maintain their own wells. The solutions offered by WaterStep are often technologies it developed with community partners.
“There are so many engineers and innovators who want to be part of our work,” Hogg says. “During the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, we received a call from Project Hope requesting help obtaining bleach. We had developed a chlorine generator for other purposes, but we were able to work with GE and the University of Louisville to develop the product they needed.”
The chlorine generator, also known as the M-100 Chlorinator, was recognized in 2013 by Sustania as one of the 100 most promising solutions and projects in the world. The small device generates chlorine gas, which can be used to kill pathogens in water.
The portable bleach maker also won the New Product of the Year award from Environmental Protection, an online resource for environmental professionals. The device uses water, salt and a 12-volt car battery to make bleach on demand through electrolysis.
WaterStep came to Pipeline for help forming a business and for assistance in developing its latest product, a portable system that can provide safe drinking water in an emergency or disaster.
“The City of Louisville had a couple of major water main breaks and emergency management came to us asking if we had a response to provide safe water fast,” Hogg says.
The solution is a mini water-chlorination plant, about the size of a housekeeping cart at a hotel. WaterStep has already sold several to regional cities, including Louisville and Indianapolis, and is interested in expanding its market to hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities where access to clean water is critical.
In addition to seeking new clients, WaterStep has several other challenges it is exploring through Pipeline. The culture and language of nonprofits and businesses can be quite different, yet Hogg hopes to form a corporation with a culture that will complement WaterStep's existing nonprofit. In addition, WaterStep is learning how to tell its story to investors rather than philanthropists.
“We’ve proven ourselves in the developing world,” Hogg says. “We manufacture our own products. So we’re not coming to this hat in hand. Pipeline takes us seriously and challenges us. Everyone in Pipeline wants to change the world. This is the greatest moment to be working in the water field when we can do things that impact lives now and could still be making a difference in 100 years."
Read profiles of other Pipeline members Searen, ANDalyze and kW Hydroelectric.