Imagine living in a country where 70% of the population does not have direct access to clean water. If your family had to spend up to five hours a day just to obtain the little water available and even still, you had to worry about waterborne illness. That is what life in Haiti and many other low and middle-income countries are like today. But those devastating facts are about to change, with the help of seventeen and sixteen-year-olds Mihika Nadig and Sanya Verma, co-founders of Vivaflow.
Vivaflow is an energy efficient portable desalination and decontamination system. With the push of a simple hand pump, this product is on its way to filtering one gallon of water every five minutes, essentially changing the world’s water crisis one pump at a time. A crisis that has left 780 million people with inadequate access to clean water, causing 2.2 million people to die annually from water-related diseases and disasters.
Recently, while at Disruptrs (disruptrs.co), a monthly reality series that showcases the top innovative companies globally to investors and potential customers, I was fortunate enough to meet Mihika. After hearing about Vivaflow, I had to know more. There are water shortages all over the world, including in the United States, and we’ve been working on conquering that (Three Ways To Solve The Water Crisis Now - Forbes
), but with so many pressing issues in Haiti and in other struggling countries, I had to know how Vivaflow come to be? Here is what she told me:
What inspired you to create a company around such a large social initiative?
We wanted to provide an easily implementable solution that would also be cost-effective, portable, and independent of an external energy source; a solution nonexistent in third world communities. It’s frustrating to think that Haiti, an island nation surrounded by water whose ecosystem is threatened by rising ocean levels, has a water crisis. However, these water sources contained high concentrations of salt and bacteria along with other contaminants, making it unsafe to drink. We realized that nothing in the market combined both desalination and decontamination in a single system because of the high pressure necessary for desalination, thus this process was restricted to an industrial level. Vivaflow aimed to provide the technology to utilize these existing bodies of saltwater.
Do you have mentors and how have they helped you?
Because we got our start at MIT Launch, we had access to many professors, students, and facilities to develop our product. Professor Martin Culpepper helped us through the design and prototyping process. After pitching at the end of Launch and Disruptrs, we got into contact with many investors and individuals who gave us advice on conducting primary market research and beginning our first pilot test.
You have LOIs from some huge nonprofit organizations. Who have you received an LOI from and how did you find, connect with, and convince these organizations to work with you?
We received Letters of intent from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and chemical manufacturing companies such as FEDCO. We reached out to contacts at NGOs where we pitched the vision of our product. When we finished our first prototype, they were convinced by its potential to start solving the water crisis in countries like Haiti and expressed interest and support.
How do people respond to you when they hear about your company? Do you think that being so young is helping your goal or hurting it? How so?
People are usually surprised that there isn’t already a product out there and surprised when they hear about Vivaflow. Our product had ultimately been developed by combining pieces of existing technology with additional appendages made of standard engineering materials. This inspired me to focus more on seeing technological advancements as tools for social progress. I don’t think I’m at a disadvantage being young growing a company like Vivaflow. We really took the time to learn about the subtleties of the crisis, the market, the engineering barriers, and the people we are trying to help which I think is the key to solving these huge issues. We are always really open to guidance from individuals and I think when you show people you’ve done your research, they are willing to listen no matter your age.
What are your plans for VivaFlow over the next 2-years?
In the next year, we are planning on beginning our first pilot test in Haiti to do primary market research using our current prototypes. In order to do so and alter product design based on the feedback we receive, we are currently in contact with investors for additional guidance and resources. Ultimately, we want to continue product development and begin distribution as soon as possible.
What are your personal plans over the next 2-years? Will you finish school and attend college?
Both my partner and I plan to attend college after high school. However, we both are extremely invested in our work with Vivaflow. We live on opposite sides of the country and we’ve continued to make great progress and I don’t think going to college should have to change that. I also think college will allow me to gain a stronger educational foundation which I want to apply to solving other worldwide issues and improve Vivaflow. I don’t think young entrepreneurs should think of growing a startup and going to college as mutually exclusive. They’re both incredible opportunities to learn and help the world so in fact, I think they should go hand in hand.