Feb 19, 2019
This Simple Device Could Prevent Widespread Damage From Future Flint Water Crisis
Spout isn’t Ari Kaufman’s first venture. Far from it. The water safety testing device startup is the serial entrepreneur’s seventh company — and perhaps his most game-changing yet.
The company’s mission is crystal clear: safe water for everyone, everywhere. It sounds lofty, but Spout’s deceptively simple-looking tech is actually a powerful tool for identifying potentially life-threatening water contaminants.
The smartphone-enabled device tests for the presence of lead in water that comes through a home’s taps. That data can then be used not only to improve water quality within the home but also to map water quality across the community and help prevent damage from water quality catastrophes like that in Flint, Michigan.
Since founding Spout in late 2017, Ari’s focus has been on refining the business model and establishing relationships that can help get Spout in homes around the world. To that end, Spout joined the inaugural cohort of 100+ Accelerator — a sustainability accelerator by Anheuser-Busch InBev and Highline BETA.
100+ Accelerator is helping startups like Spout accelerate a path to a commercial deal with AB InBev, while helping AB InBev meet its 2025 sustainability goals:
"Brewing great beer relies on natural ingredients and a thriving community. What could be more essential to that than clean water? We want to empower our consumers with the tools and information they need to ensure that the water coming out of their taps is safe to drink. Spout is making it convenient and low-cost to test water in-home or on-the-go so that our consumers can make better, safer decisions about the water they (and their families) are using every day.”
– Maisie Devine, Global Director AB InBev Sustainability Fund & Accelerator
Here’s Ari on the catalyst for Spout, its life-saving potential, and how 100+ Accelerator has changed his business.
Where, how and why was Spout conceived?
I sold my last company and was looking to d do something radically different from what I had been doing. I was given an opportunity through the 10.10.10 Cities program to look at wicked problems. These are problems that you and I would look at as non- solvable.
Flint, Michigan was a big topic of conversation. How could we stop the wide-spread damage caused by the lead crisis from proliferating like that again? I realized that knowing what comes out of the taps in people’s homes is a key part of that prevention.
I leveraged my technical background to reimagine portable water quality sampling. I asked myself: could we build a device that consumers could use to simply and easily analyze water quality?
That evolved over the course of 10 days into an actionable idea then called the Waterlyzer: a handheld device that would connect to a smartphone and sent to consumers to be used in their homes. The plan was to crowdsource water quality measurements across a whole city – and eventually across the entire country – to build a data map and identify where bad-quality water is, and the failing infrastructure that carries it.
Ten days later, I had a 3-D printed prototype. Two weeks later I launched the company.
What makes Spout different from other devices?
There are a lot of commercial-grade, very expensive products – $1000 or $2000 devices made for professional water technologists. Most of these solutions require water samples to be transported to a lab – which means more time and money are needed to get a result.
We built our device to be a faster, more affordable solution to allow consumers to test their water anytime and anywhere. With our device and a smartphone, our users know within minutes if there’s lead on tap in their home.
Spout has a unique model because we help consumers, but also leverage their help to crowd-source data from across communities to help utilities aggregate water quality data. By sharing results, users can help water companies map and isolate potential problems from service lines, and respond more quickly and comprehensively.
Raising money, building a team and perfecting the tech was going well. Why join an accelerator?
We applied to 100+ Accelerator not really understanding the program. When I began to see that it was a path to commercial relationships with AB InBev, I started to realize how the program could completely change our go-to-market strategy.
The 100+ Accelerator program has been exceeding our expectations. Our whole business model has changed because of the accelerator. We’ve even rebranded.
Working with AB InBev, we’ve seen that a new generation of executives is ready to really change the world. To have the opportunity to let my product be part of AB InBev’s sustainability goals is about more than creating a successful venture for the company. It allows Spout to be a part of a game-changing movement – which is every entrepreneur’s dream.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.