By Eller College
McGuire Entrepreneurship venture team Re+ nearly swept the Innovation Day at UA tradeshow awards last month, taking three of four awards, including best booth, best presentation, and People’s Choice Award.
The team — Samuel Claussen, Nick Costello, Ben Garland, and Harrison Roberts — developed a plan to deliver purified water to consumers through single-serve water bottle refill kiosks.
“Re+ was inspired by my sister Karin, who is currently a senior in high school,” explains Claussen. “Karin made a personal vow not to drink bottled water for an entire year. This pledge turned out to be really inconvenient because she did not trust the quality of tap water and had to plan ahead and fill bottles at home to get her through the day.”
Claussen says she was taking up to three bottles at a time to stay hydrated over the course of her very active day. “I did some research into the negative environmental impacts of bottled water and the inefficiencies of recycling,” he says. “Then I did further research into the deteriorating and unpredictable quality of tap water. I came to a very quick realization that this snowball was only getting bigger.”
He worked on the concept over the summer and brought it to the program in the fall. The team came together and began developing a plan to launch a state-of-the-art water vending machine designed to refill consumers’ bottles with chilled, purified water for half the price of a convenience store or vending machine.
“Early in the year, we struggled, trying to find someone to build our dream machine,” says Claussen. “We quickly realized that our concept was already being explored in other parts of the world, and trying to create a machine from scratch would be crazy.”
When the team regrouped after the winter break, the students began negotiating with manufacturers. “We would either not love the machine’s design, or the manufacturer didn’t share our underlying commitment to reducing plastic waste,” says Claussen. Then they had a breakthrough. “We found a list of water machine vendors on a Yellow Pages website and in the list of 30 we saw a 520 phone number.”
It was for Tucson-based Aqua Star International. The team had looked at the company early on, but at the time, Aqua Star wasn’t manufacturing a single-serve machine. Garland placed a call, and Claussen says, “We had a meeting the next day. The guys over there were great and shared our passion, and things have been rolling ever since.”
While Claussen’s sister provided the inspiration for the team’s concept, another family member helped inspire the team’s name. “I was at dinner with my dad, who wrote the name Ré on a napkin,” says Roberts. “The ‘Re’ provided for the catchy tagline ‘Refresh, Refill, Reuse,’ so in a moment of spontaneous inspiration, we added a + sign.”
The team has taken its first steps in launching, investigating test locations in Tucson. “We are using Tucson as a test market to solidify our financial projections and reduce risk for investors by proving that the concept works,” Claussen says. He points out that in the past two years, Seattle, San Francisco, the University of Washington, and the University of Portland have imposed bans on bottled water. “New York and Chicago are already taxing it heavily, and we believe it is only a matter of time until this trend grows exponentially.” When it does, Re+ will be there.
“We have worked to identify the most potentially profitable locations where we can achieve the greatest market acceptance,” Claussen says. “It has been a learning process and we have come a long way. We get a good laugh when we look back on some of our work from months ago.”
Re+ team members maintain an independent website about their venture, including blogs on their business plan and the consumer water landscape overall, at http://web.me.com/claussen/Re+/Welcome.html