As America's fastest growing tech startup conference, Collision has brought thousands of startup founders, corporation CEOs and leading investors together to further the progress of the tech industry one company at a time. The two-year-old conference has seen nearly 8,000 attendees from more than 50 countries in their short tenure, expanding yearly to accommodate an expanding industry. This year, the conference hosted the Launch Pad PITCH competition, which was held last week – and the winner is a company that could save the world.
Rorus Inc came away with the title of the Launch Pad PITCH 2016 winner and they deserved it. Their water filtration pack is a simple and cost-effective means of purifying water for people around the world. Using nanotechnology, this startup creates packs that filter dirty water on the spot to assist with humanitarian and emergency relief efforts in developed and developing countries alike. They beat out 106 other startups in the Launch Pad portion of the competition to move on, beating the other two (Beagle and Portfolium) in the finals at the end of last week.
We spoke with cofounder and CEO of Rorus Inc, Corinne Clinch, about how their technology stands out, how this startup will affect the environment and what the next steps for Rorus Inc are after the victory.
What first got you interested in working on water filtration?
Clinch: “I have an uncle from Cameroon who told me when I was very young that, in his country, people didn’t die because of malaria; they died because they couldn’t get transportation to clinics where the proper malaria treatment was available. I have learned to see those kinds of “close, but no cigar” failures, evident all over developing countries, as areas where a really directed effort can unlock so much human potential.”
From my family and a few good books, I learned that worrying about the basics of survival can affect every aspect of your life: your cognitive development and chances for education; your decision making, especially in family planning; and your ability to elevate yourself or your family from poverty. As Paul Farmer (an amazing medical anthropologist) puts it, working to alleviate this kind of suffering and to end systematic inequality is an “area of moral clarity.” It just makes sense to start there.
How did you get the idea for Rorus?
Clinch: “While I was living and working in Africa, I saw how water filters were dangerously misused because providers expected people to be trained and to carefully manage their own water supplies. Once I became involved in water purification research, I had the academic skills and the field experience to make a better water filter for the masses. I realized we needed a for-profit startup to truly scale the idea globally.”
How is Rorus' water-filtration system different than other products currently on the market?
Clinch: “Rorus filters are unique because they are simple enough for a 5 year old to use! A more technical answer to your question is that Rorus is making the first rapid, gravity-fed filters for comprehensive biological and chemical safety. That means there are no measurements, no waiting periods, and no added chemicals.
The Youtube video below shows me using the Filter Pack at a drainage pipe in Frick Park. A water-carrying backpack is just one of the many containers that can be used with our modular cartridge and spout; almost any water container or jug can be turned into a safe drinking water tap.
Usability is the priority for all Rorus filters because it’s the real reason people don’t have clean water. Six hours of direct sunlight can disinfect a plastic bottle full of clear water, but 8,000 people, mostly young children, are dying every day because that process is time consuming and doesn’t make the water taste or look good. We make filters that are convenient to use every day, easy to trust, and difficult to misuse.”
What do you think the overall impact of Rorus will be on the environment? What do you hope it will be?
Clinch: “We provide tools that enable people protect themselves and their natural resources. Rorus filters will be replacing bottled water in some cases, which creates a 99 percent reduction in both plastic waste and transportation footprint. When used instead of Chlorine or Chlor-Floc tablets, we're just as efficient to ship and we never release disinfection by-product chemicals like THMs into the water system.”
What hopes/goalposts do you have for your product? What's your timeline for making it commercially available?
Clinch: “Our goal is to make the world’s best point-of-use water filters. I’d like to see our filters become one of the technologies that help developing communities to help themselves. For example, bicycles and cell phones enable people in developing countries to learn and do more every day for themselves and their families.
We’re finalizing manufacturing for our cartridge and spout right now. We’ll be able to sell at scale by the end of this summer. Most of our filters are being purchased by NGOs right now, but we will be inexpensive enough for middle class households in India to purchase too.”
Have there been any surprises or unexpected challenges you've experienced with founding Rorus?
Clinch: “Most people learn how to do their first full-time job from someone else who has done it before. One of the unexpected challenges that I find interesting is that as an entrepreneur, you can’t just rely on advice from experts in your field, or else you wouldn’t be trying anything new.
One of my more personal challenges is remembering to take risks for the company. It’s easier as an engineer to wait until you have the data you want before making a decision, but for the startup to grow, it needs to move quickly and grow beyond my personal control. For example, we’re considering a Crowd Equity campaign on May 16. We could be one of the very first companies to take advantage of the new legislation allowing anyone to invest as little as $100! This would be great for getting our supporters actively involved with Rorus, but it means being very public about our successes and failures. It means being responsible to all those stakeholders. It’s intimidating, but it might be the right way to go towards our goal of creating the world’s best point-of-use water filters.”
After the win at Collision 2016, what are the next steps for Rorus?
Clinch: “We're considering a crowd equity campaign on May 16th and getting tooling ready for full scale manufacturing! We have orders coming in, and we can't wait to get products going out.”
Other than the victory, what is your favorite “success story” so far in regards to Rorus?
Clinch: “During our pilot in India, we had a health care manager explain to us how other filters they have used are complicated, and that ours is simple and immediate! We saw little kids using the filter on their own without contaminating their drinking water! It was such a huge relief to see our design goals become a reality.
On top of that, I realized that there's no better filter on the market for us while we were in India! I used to buy bottled water when I traveled, but now I only want to use my own product. It saves me time and money, and it really does taste better.”