WaterHealth International sells water filtration centers to rural villages in India. A village's water supply is piped into a center (about the size of a typical suburban garage), filtered, then subjected to a UV device that knocks out the DNA of the pathogens that cause waterborne disease. Villagers can tap a clean-water tank for about a penny per six liters. The entire process is 6,000 times more energy efficient than boiling water.
The brilliance of this technology, however (it was invented by Ashok Gadgil, an Indian-born physicist who is now WaterHealth's head of scientific affairs), is not why investors have backed WaterHealth to the tune of $22 million. The key to that was a revamped business model courtesy of CEO Tralance Addy.
WaterHealth's early attempts faltered because it tried to sell a device rather than a service, says Addy, who joined the Irvine, California, company in 2004 after his venture firm invested $2 million in it. But Addy, a native of Ghana who had grown up standing in line at the water pump in Accra, knew there was a market for clean water.
Under the new approach, Addy partnered with NGOs to educate villagers about the importance of clean water. He built a network of local professionals to service and maintain the equipment. Then he set up a financing structure so that communities that were able to cobble together a 30 percent to 40 percent down payment for a $65,000 unit could pay off the rest in a loan arranged by WaterHealth. By making clean water affordable to families that earn just $2 a day, the company will soon become profitable.
In late September, the company scored $30 million in loan guarantees from Dow Chemical (also one of its investors); the money will make possible 2,000 more centers over the next couple of years.
Last updated: Dec 1, 2007
Reporter NITASHA TIKU covers technology, finance, green business, and social entrepreneurship for Inc. magazine and contributes to the staff’s daily links blog. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, The Villager, Chelsea Now, and on nymag.com. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. @nitashatiku