The case of Aqus


When Kevin Kassel went to Ecuador to teach English as a volunteer for young students, he did not expect that this experience could change dramatically his life. Kevin was only a 22 years old American student with the passion to help others and travel the world. After a few weeks of lectures, he noticed that one of his best students inexplicably stopped showing in class. Kevin started wondering whether it was his fault, maybe the guy didn’t like his teaching method. He decided to go and talk directly with the principal of the school, to shed some light on the issue. What he discovered then left him shocked.

His student died from water intoxication. Although clean water access still represents daily struggle in developing countries, never would he ever imagined that such a tragedy could have happened among his students. As an American citizen , Kevin wondered why there’s no big corporation from the U.S. willing to take some real steps towards a solution to such a serious situation. This is how Kevin decided to come up with an original idea and found Aqus.
Aqus is a start-up which aims at solving the global water crisis, by designing and manufacturing affordable water filters. These filters are targeting the poorest sections of population in developing countries, and being affordable is a key feature in order to enlarge the adoption rate.

In this way, water access is guaranteed to everyone: filters are able to clean water, removing 99,9999% of bacteria, and therefore eliminate the need for poor people to purchase bottled water, providing a more affordable, safer and environmentally friendly alternative. Filters can treat up to 1400 liters per day and its safety is guaranteed by the IPE laboratory in the U.S. Its functioning is energy-efficient: filters do not require electricity, since they are gravity-operating (i.e. water gets cleaned simply by entering the filter).

This product has not only a social scope – providing an easy and cheap access to water – but also an economic one. In fact, especially in small and poor villages, a new kind of entrepreneur would be created by this innovation: water entrepreneurs. Despite the low manufacturing costs, filters will not be accessible for everyone: shipments will represent a major factor for indirect costs, since low-income countries are generally far from the United States. Therefore, only few people per village can afford this product, and a way for them to recover from these costs is by asking a small fee in order to have access to clean water, generating a supplemental income by selling water to people in their community.

The potential for this innovation is huge, and at least in the medium-term the demand is going to exceed the offer: a product able to save millions of lives per year, solving the problem of global water supply – among the main environmental issues – would need to be produced in large scale to satisfy the needs of developing economies and third world countries. Its key market is currently West Africa, but Aqus has a broader vision: recently, it has exported 70 water filters to Nepal, after the tragic earthquake in 2015.

After being able to deliver water filters in more than 31 countries – operating almost alone – now Kevin Kassel is trying to upscale its production, leveraging on external capitals and starting hiring people in order to make Aqus a global company. He was selected among the most promising social entrepreneurs in California, and recently won the Daniel Floersheimer Global Impact Prize at the USC Stevens Student Innovators Showcase, attracting the major venture capital firms in the United States.

Now it comes the most challenging part for Aqus. The company would need not only financial support, but also institutional support in order to export successfully its water filters where the demand for them is more relevant. Currently, government in third world countries are not aware of this issue, focusing more on development of local economy, and they are not likely to listen to a 22-year-old American student. As many social entrepreneurs had to do in the past, the success of Aqus will depend on how Kevin Kassel will be able to educate consumers – government and supranational organizations – about this critical need.

Francesco Toschi