Drinkwell is poised to revolutionize the global water industry by transforming the world's water crisis into entrepreneurial opportunity by using a micro-franchise model to establish local water businesses in arsenic-affected areas. By providing affected villagers with water filtration technology and business tools, Drinkwell taps into the entrepreneurial spirit within these communities to create jobs, generate income, and improve health outcomes. Building off of 200 profitable deployments across India, Laos, and Cambodia through local partners, Drinkwell Systems deliver 60x more water, is 17x more energy efficient, and reduces waste by 7 orders of magnitude compared to Reverse Osmosis, the current best practice. Drinkwell aims to save the 200 million people from drinking arsenic and fluoride-contaminated water from death by giving them a healthier, profitable future.
The World Health Organization reports that the arsenic water crisis, affecting over 200 million people across 70 countries, is the largest mass poisoning in human history (World Health Organization, 2000). Despite millions of dollars being spent, over 48 million people in India and Bangladesh alone are affected by widespread arsenic poisoning due to drinking water drawn from underground sources containing arsenic at concentrations well above the permissible limit of 50 mg/L. In Bangladesh, one in every five deaths occurs due to arsenic-contaminated water (The Lancet, 2010).
Since the 1970s, tens of millions of people in West Bengal and Bangladesh have been at risk of an early death from groundwater containing toxic levels of arsenic.
In Bangladesh alone, 90 % of the nation’s population uses groundwater as their primary source of fresh water, and there are over 77 million villagers in rural Bangladesh whose only water source is contaminated by the toxin. As the population has grown throughout the decades, the problem has gotten worse, and attempts to mitigate the disaster have been unsuccessful.
According to the World Bank, the arsenic crisis, stunts intellectual development, creates gender inequalities, and has already cost the Bangladesh economy US$22.89 Billion in lost GDP due to its debilitating health effects.
Arsenic is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring metal that is found in dangerously high amounts within the groundwater of South Asia. Long-term exposure to such high levels of arsenic can lead to arsenicosis, an incurable cancer-causing disease.
Despite billions of dollars being spent, 780 million people still lack access to clean, potable drinking water. According to the UN Joint Monitoring Programme on Water and Sanitation, 50% of all water projects fail because communities have not or cannot assume responsibility for maintenance and repairs of water systems. Drinkwell leverages the profit incentive to sustain community involvement from project inception through maintenance and upkeep by using our "Select, Build, Sell, Collect" approach. We operate a network of entrepreneurs that generate an income by selling clean drinking water that can improve the health, wealth, and productivity of the world's poorest populations.
Drinkwell takes waste management very seriously, as the team has personally seen the adverse effects of improper waste management in current solutions that allow for arsenic to leach back into the soil, thereby repolluting the environment. Our system has an EPA-validated waste management process:
This disposal technique, developed and validated under rural conditions, is scientifically more appropriate than dumping arsenic-loaded adsorbents into landfills, which is the typical practice in developed nations.
A diagram of our media flow can be viewed here.
“Through this arsenic mitigation technology, we have been able to transform the health crisis into a revenue generating business while drinking safe water.”
- Sakti Sadhana Club Member (Ashoknagar, West Bengal, India)
Drinkwell uses award-winning technology developed by Dr. Arup SenGupta of Lehigh University. The technology has seen 200 successful deployments across Laos, Cambodia, and West Bengal (India) through investment of over $1 million as well as mentorship from the following public, private, and non-profit organizations:
Over the past decade, the SenGupta Research Lab of Lehigh University has partnered with Bengal Engineering and Science University in Bengal, India, and Water for People in Denver, Colorado to install 200 community-based wellhead arsenic removal units in remote villages in West Bengal, India. These systems supply nearly 200,000 villagers with arsenic-safe water. Each village manages the system through a local community-based committee and have been running successfully for several years.
In 2008, the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation was formed to introduce the technology using an innovative school-based business model. The work revealed the enormous potential for scaling a micro-franchise model that spurs entrepreneurship at the individual level, clean water access at the household level, and economic growth and global health improvement at the community level.
Throughout this process, the technology has won countless awards (for a full list of honors and awards please visit the Technology Milestones section).
Drinkwell was established in May 2013 as a part of WIST, Inc., to capitalize on the lessons learned of the over 200 implementations and take advantage of the enormous market opportunity of providing clean drinking water to rural and peri-urban communities that lack access to affordable sources of clean drinking water.
Drinkwell is born from over 30+ years of collective on-the-ground experience in the arsenic water space in India and Bangladesh.
Dr. Arup K. SenGupta (R&D Director/Co-Founder) has been a Chemical Engineering Professor at Lehigh University for over 25 years. He is an expert on groundwater remediation and under his non-profit, the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation, he has led the installation of 200+ community-operated arsenic treatment systems across Southeast Asia that today provides safe water to over 200,000 people. He has received many U.S. and international awards and honors, delivered several invited and/or keynote and plenary lectures in both the U. S. and overseas, and is a highly cited scholar with over 75 publications and 9 patents. Dr. SenGupta was a 2011 Fulbright Scholar in India and is the inventor of Drinkwell's technology.
Minhaj Chowdhury (CEO/Co-Founder) has 5 years of experience implementing arsenic projects with the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (“BRAC”), the largest NGO in the world, and Johns Hopkins University. As a Fulbright Fellow to Bangladesh, he researched villager willingness to pay for clean water. His work has been acclaimed by UNICEF, WaterAid Bangladesh, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh Health Secretary, and serves as the basis for Drinkwell's growth strategy. Minhaj has prior experience as a Consultant with Exeter Group where he held roles in product development for state-based health insurance exchanges as well as project management for an operational turnaround of a large non-profit organization with an annual budget of $3B. Minhaj holds a BA in Public Health from Johns Hopkins and has won multiple awards from organizations such as the US State Department, SXSW, and others. He is a 2014 Echoing Green Fellow as well as a 2015 Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur.
Mike German (CTO/Co-Founder) was a 2013 Fulbright-Nehru Fellow to India where his research was titled "Empowering Women to Transform a Water Crisis into Water Business in the Indian Sub-Continent." He is applying technology and infrastructure lessons learned from the non-profit operations of the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation to Drinkwell's growth strategy. Currently pursuing his PhD in Environmental Engineering under Professor SenGupta, he has helped develop the resin technology within the SenGupta Research Lab. Mike's findings in discovering social business models to tackle the arsenic and fluoride water crisis has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Mike holds a Masters in Environmental Engineering from Lehigh University and a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from University of Maryland - Baltimore County.
Sanjay Verma (Board Member/Co-Founder) works with start-ups and small organizations by helping them use strategic principles of building businesses and elicit support and resources to bring the impact of creative technologies to the “bottom of the pyramid.” Sanjay was the Founder and CEO of ITC InfoTech, a key player in the planning and execution of “e-Choupal,” a rural initiative empowering farmers across India with an Internet infrastructure offering up-to-date marketing and agriculture information for the procurement of agri- and aqua-cultural products. He currently serves as Divisional Vice President for PTC's Global Services where he manages worldwide operations, strategic planning and global initiatives. He is also a contributor to Celebrity Series of Boston in the roles of a Board Member and a member of the Executive Committee.
5.25.2015 / The Diplomat / Bringing Safe Water to South Asia
4.17.2015 / Reuters / Village women run safe water franchises in arsenic-hit India, Bangladesh
2.24.2015 / Yahoo Finance UK / 8 rules for start-up success
2.19.2015 / Washington Post / 6 innovations to cope with the threat of a megadrought
2.3.2015 / The Alternative / AFI's Silicon Valley Challenge 2015 announces its 5 winners
1.6.2015 / Forbes /Introducing FORBES' 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, Class of 2015
11.25.2014 / Lehigh / Grad student's water startup wins US-India grant
10.30.2014/ CNN Money / Strongest Clean Technology Innovators Win Northeast Regional Business Competition
10.29.2014/ Boston Business Journal / Meet the startup winners of the 2014 MassChallenge class
10.23.2014/ Fast Company / Cleaning Up South Asia's Arsenic Pollution With Thousands Of Money-Making Franchises
10.22.2014/ Gratitude Fund / Gratitude Award Winners Announced for 2014
10.9.2014/ Popular Science / Visionary Ideas From The South by Southwest Eco Awards
9.18.2014/ Johns Hopkins University / Public Health Studies Graduate Is a CEO With a Mission
8.31.2014/ USAID / The $1 Trillion Market Opportunity: Taking Innovations to the Next Level
8.7.2014 / Cleantech Open Northeast / Making Water Work: How Two East Coast Startups are Unlocking Potential in the Developing World
6.26.2014 / BostInno / 3 MassChallenge Entrepreneurs Awarded Top Fellowship for Social Innovation
6.10.2014 / Boston Business Journal / Fourteen cleantech startups from Mass. to participate in accelerator program
5.25.2014/ Boston Herald / Startup lets clean water flow
5.21.2014/ WGBH / MassChallenge: Hear From One Of 128 Finalists
5.13.2014 / BostInno / Meet the 3 Boston Companies That Scored a Piece of the Startup Jackpot
2.28.2014 / Stanford GSB Center for Social Innovation/ Turning Poison into Economic Opportunity
2.06.2014/ TiE Boston / A Look Back at TiE Challenge 2013
10.29.2013/ International Development Discourse Group / Three Lessons from Bangladesh
10.24.2013/ Lokvani / ForSE 2013: Conference For Social Entrepreneurs
9.25.2013/ TiE Boston / Minhaj Chowdhury, Drinkwell: TiE Challenge Featured Winner
6.4.2013/ Boston Business Journal / TiE Boston kicks off 2013 Challenge accelerator program
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