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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

How This Entrepreneur Seeks Scale To Help People Get Clean Water After Disasters

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

While working on her master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, Tricia Compas-Markman, 32, helped to invent the Waterbag, a “water treatment plant in a backpack.” Having distributed 20,000 units around the world following disasters, she is focusing now on scaling DayOne Response by at least one order of magnitude.

Kellee Joost invested in the business and joined the board of directors after hearing Compas-Markman’s pitch. There were two reasons she invested, she says. First, DayOne Response set out to solve a big, hairy problem.” Second, “the co-founders of DayOneResponse had a good balance of experience and background, but even more important for me was that they were fearless.”

The Waterbag works by filling the bag with fresh water from a river or stream, adding a chemical water purification pack produced by P&G and then pouring the water through a filter. The bag holds about ten liters, enough for a family to survive. The bag is reusable for about a year so long as the supply of water purification packets lasts.

The Waterbag is particularly well suited for disaster relief because the relief agencies don’t have to ship water, just the relatively light weight bags and packets. These can be stored for lengthy periods of time where disasters are more likely to occur or are more likely to have devastating impact on the community due to a lack of clean water infrastructure.

Compas-Markman has led pilot distribution efforts following several disasters, including Hurricane Matthew’s tragic impact, which left more than 1300 people dead.

What she’s learned is that the bags can’t be sitting in the United States when a disaster strikes in Africa or Asia. The bags need to be much closer, optimally in country.

The company is expanding its distribution channels to include commercial distributors who will sell the bags to NGOs when they are needed. At present, Compas-Markman says DayOne Response is focused on developing its distribution network in Kenya and Ethiopia in East Africa. The company is also working a partnership in the UAE.

Rod Jackson was working for World Vision’s global WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) initiative in Nairobi, Kenya when he was first approached by DayOne Response for help and feedback on the initial product design. That relationship continued after he returned to his native Australia. Today, he serves on the board. He says he was impressed by the company’s desire to help and willingness to learn.

Joost says the company has already built a supply chain capable of delivering at higher scale. It also has developed “solid NGO connections” so that the market is familiar with the product.

Tricia Compas-Markman

To grow the company from its current scale selling thousands of bags each year to selling hundreds of thousands, Joost says the company needs to build out the local distribution agreements. She believes building on the efforts in the UAE and East Africa will accelerate the path to “global scale.”

Jackson adds that developing new products–some of which are already in the pipeline–will also be key to increasing the company’s scale.

Compas Markman points out that scaling the business isn’t all about the business, rather it is about the impact. For every Waterbag sold, the company knows the amount of clean water than can be produced and how many people that can serve. “The more revenue DayOne can generate the larger the social impact we can make,” she says.

She notes that the Company is a finalist in the 2017 Chivas Regal global search for social startups where the prize is $250,000. That’s capital she hopes will accelerate her efforts to scale.

The need is critical, she says. “Each year, 255+ million people are affected by natural disasters, and without access to clean water, they face potentially life-threatening waterborne illnesses.”

Quoting The American Red Cross, she says, “Providing clean drinking water is our #1 challenge in disaster zones.”

Here’s hoping that her efforts to scale quickly are successful.


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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

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