The social impact focus of Hydros Bottle, the nearly four-year-old quick-fill, water-filtering reusable bottle company from a pair of University of Pennsylvania alumni, continues to spread.
Partnered with Whole Foods for retailing, the model always included donating a portion of proceeds to potable water projects abroad, and now Hydros is boasting new, more durable packaging made with vegetable inks and wind energy and their team is testing the footprint of American manufacturing, having rolled out its newest bottle version earlier this year.
“Philadelphia has tremendous underutilized manufacturing capacity that is ideal for a startup that prides itself on American manufacturing,” said cofounder and COO Jay Parekh, who lives in Rittenhouse and grew up in Miami.
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So if their story is light on technology — though product manufacturing has for generations been a source for innovation — it’s heavy on entrepreneurship, particularly of the social venture stripe.
In spring 2009, the Hydros team splashed onto the entrepreneurship scene with its design for a fast-moving, “in-filtration” water bottle that was billed as a sustainable and convenient alternative to plastic bottled water. Water is filtered of chlorine, chloramine and particulates in about 15 seconds as it enters the bottle, they boast.
The Hydros crew also turned the business into a movement to fight potable water shortages by promising to donate portions of the company’s profit to different water projects across the globe. So far, Hydros helped implement a water piping system in Cameroon and a sanitation project in Kenya.
Still, the team also has a focus on building at home.
“Philadelphia is a great place to start a company,” said cofounder and CEO Aakash Mathur, 25, who lives in South Philly and was raised in Maryland. “We can rely on the low cost of living and talent from the many universities nearby to grow Hydros quickly.”
Hydros aims to keep that local balance between its Philadelphia origins and its global mission, the founders say.
“The most important elements in really starting a scalable social enterprise are to have a lot of passion, really believe in what you’re doing,” said co-founder and executive chairman Winston Ibrahim, 26, who grew up in Greenwich, CT and now lives in Center City. “A lot of people are going to tell you no. And you’re going to need to really stick to your guns from time to time and follow what you believe in strongly.”
Hydros first started on a shoe-string budget, but has flourished throughout the years in a market that he considers “mature,” said COO Parekh, who initially partnered with Mathur on the concept, before Johns Hopkins graduate Ibrahim helped launch the company and drive broad strategy, investment and partnerships.
CEO Mathur said Hydros spent the first year of its development phase getting the prototype out. After receiving feedback from customers, the Hydros team was able to design and launch a new version early this year.
“It took us a while to get going but now we’re finally up to speed,” Mathur said.
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Hydros’ first offices were on Penn’s campus, and they later moved to 20th and Walnut streets. Now, the company â€“ with six full-time employees and several part time workers who do assembly in the office â€“ recently moved to 2400 Market St.
Hydros has not only been increasing the size of its offices and its team, but also has been growing its business by retailing at a variety of Whole Foods Markets on the East Coast. Hydros Bottle â€“ which are marketed as American-made â€“ has a California presence too, Mathur said, and can reach customers world-wide with its accessibility online.
“The opportunity is certainly there,” Parekh said. “More people are aware of [the bottle], making our lives easier. All we have to do is sell a great product.”
This report was done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods program, the capstone class for the Temple’s Department of Journalism. Additional reporting was provided by editor Christopher Wink.