By Mattie Kropf
Have you ever wanted to avoid buying bottled water because it is expensive or harmful for the earth? Students Josh Smith, Zach Fortney, Christina Takens and Hardip Singh are teaming up to solve this dillema and bring a new way of drinking to GRCC. Hoping to prevent the overuse of bottled water, the originally designed machine called the “Phillup” Water Filtration Model will be introduced to GRCC’s campuses next fall. According to Fortney, although other campuses like GVSU, have given the team positive feedback, none are as willing as CC to let students get involved.
“We want to make sure CC is the first to have these machines. We’ve all had roots here,” Fortney said.
The company the team started is called REthink Water and they are “devoted to reducing the sale and production of bottled water by providing an efficient alternative to the pourable portion of water we have come to love,” Smith said.
The brainchild of Smith, Fortney, Takens and Singh, the “Phillup” Water Filtration Model was designed to be a cross between a vending machine and a drinking fountain.
Starting as an in class project about bottled water, REthink Water has developed into a full on business plan.
To make the machine a reality, they sought out the help of Tyler Rix, a graphic design student at Kendall and Kyle Reith, an engineering student at Michigan State. Rix designed a computerized model of the machine that aided the team in their pitch at the Accelerated Michigan Innovation Competition in early December. Reith is “the brains behind the mechanics of it all,” Smith said. Reith is responsible for the inter working of the machine.
The team entered into the Accelerated Michigan Innovation Competition along with students statewide in the Fall 2010 Semester.
According to the Accelerated Michigan Innovation Competition’s website, the competition “targets mid-to-late stage business startups with potential to generate an immediate impact on Michigan’s economy as well as student concepts with longer-term business viability.”
The REthink Water team was one of 28 teams to advance to the semi-final round out of over 300 entries. For the semi-finals the team was responsible for making a three-minute video explaining their idea; with the help of Klass Kwant and others, the video is available for viewing on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/RethinkWater.
Unfortunately they did not advance to the final round, but that hasn’t slowed them down. Having become one of ten finalists in the first ever GRCC Innovation Challenge that began in the Fall 2010 semester, they still are working hard to make this dream business a reality.
According to GRCC’s website, each team has until March 1 to work on pilot projects that attempt to prove to the judges that their idea is the best. The question the teams have to answer is, “How can we reduce our energy costs so that we can use these savings to benefit programs that support student success?”
The winners for the Innovation Challenge Competition will be announced April 19, 2011. The winning prizes are $3,000 for first place, $1,500 for second and $750 for third. Thanks to the donations of GRCC alumni and philanthropist, Armen Oumedian, the school hopes to continue the challenge for at least three years.
The most recent competition the team participated in was West Michigan’s Startup Weekend at The Factory in downtown Grand Rapids. According to Startup Weekend’s website, it’s a 54 hour event that goes from January 14 to January 16 where “a roomful of smart, connected, action-oriented and experienced people” come together.
According to Smith, there were approximately 75 attendees and 21 ideas pitched. Of all the ideas pitched, ten are picked by the crowd to be further worked on.
REthink Water was one of the ten picked and gained two new team members. Randy Hook and Jason Johnson, web programmers, are helping REthink Water to have a functioning website which will be available soon Smith said.
With REthink Water, the team hopes to phase out the use of bottled water on campuses by providing students with an alternative. Originally designed filtered water dispensers will be available throughout campus to refill re-useable water bottles starting Fall of next year.
According to Smith, the machines will stand a little over 5 feet high and have a width of about 2 feet. They will not be as deep as vending machines and will have a 13-inch monitor above the water dispenser that will run continuous local advertisements to bring in revenue for the machines. This is how they are able to offer them freely to the school and students.
According to Smith, the machines will pay for themselves by running continuous advertisements on their 13-inch screens. The screen will be split into four sections with different information on each part of the screen. In addition to advertisements, school announcements and events can be run on the screen.
An addition to the machine is the card swipe system. Similar to the raider card, each student can apply for a free card that they can swipe every time they use the machine. This card will keep track of their progress, and show them how many bottles of water they have saved. At the time of refill, one of the four ads will be interrupted to show the user how much they have saved.
Also, it will enter them into local business promotions and give them the chance to win prizes. The cards are optional, and the machines will dispense water without a card swipe.
The team is planning on having at least two machines on campus for the Fall 2011 semester and plans on having a tent at Welcome Week 2011 to provide students with information about the machines, give them free reusable water bottles and a chance to sign up for a progress-tracking card.
Fortney has met with Student Congress over the past semester to discuss ways to make the college more sustainable and environmentally conscious. According to Fortney, when he first met with them, they were already discussing the reduction of bottled water on campus, hoping to potentially ban it. Fortney believed he had a solution for them with REthink Water, and since has been working with them.
Student Congress has even developed an additional committee to work on this called the Sustainability Committee.
According to Fortney, the Student Congress is also working with the school to potentially provide scholarships to students that are working to make the school more sustainable and environmentally conscious.
Fortney mentioned that once the machines start to pull in revenue, he’d like to give back to GRCC in the form of scholarships for budding entrepeneuers like himself, Smith, Singh and Takens.
“We’re not just here trying to make money, it is more about giving back and being sustainable,” Fortney said.
Smith, Fortney and Takens have attended CC for a number of years and are looking to major in business administration. Fortney has already earned his associates degree in marketing and plans to transfer to Davenport next year. Hardip, a former GRCC student now attends GVSU, where he first met and teamed up with Fortney.
After proving college campuses with the “Phillup” Water Filtration Model, the team would like to sell them to fitness centers and other businesses in the area. They would also like to have them available at sporting events.