Wishing Wells: A start-up starting up

I sat down a few days ago with Brent Packer ’15 and Tavo True-Alcalá ’15, the two co-founders of Wishing Wells, an up and coming water bottle filling station startup. Wishing Wells reduces plastic water bottle waste for big events on campus and is soon looking to expand with a bigger team and a larger impact.   wwell_crop

 Brent (L) and Tavo (R), just two great dudes doing really cool shit. 
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sheninagans: What are Wishing Wells?

Tavo: Wishing Wells are portable water distribution stations that provide chilled, filtered water for events like football games or reunion and commencement. The goal is to reduce the amount of disposable water bottles that people use at events like that. All you need is ice and a hose connection. It’s great.

Brent: The reason that this came about is because Wesleyan, and a lot of other universities across North America, have committed to reducing, or eliminating water bottle sales on their campuses.  Wesleyan has been really great about that, you won’t find bottled water in Weshop or anywhere else.  But the one area where they’ve had a lot of trouble was with these large outdoor events, reunion and commencement and football games are the main ones.  They needed a way to hydrate people without breaking the commitment they made of being a bottled water free campus.  They knew there would be a solution out there.  They had some expensive ideas, like renting water bottle filling stations, but they thought there could be an easier and more cost effective way to do that.  So two years ago they sponsored a competition.  A bunch of students, with no engineering background, put together some designs. And our team, which was Tavo, Nina Gerona, Madeleine O’Brian, and myself just scrappily put together a plan and won the competition. Then our design was built with the help of Dave and Bruce in the machine shop and since then, Wishing Wells have saved 10,500 water bottles, mostly from the past two reunion and commencements and a few other events.

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What are you doing with Wishing Wells right now?

T:  Inspired by the success of the two prototype Wishing Wells that we made for the Wesleyan competition, we want to try to expand beyond just Wesleyan’s influence.  So last spring we applied for the Patricelli Seed Grant and were one of three teams to get that grant.  Now we have been working to form a plan to make more Wishing Wells and to market them to other colleges across the country to have similar goals to Wesleyan.

B: There are tons of other schools that have the same water bottle commitment and it is very, very likely that they have the same problem that we have. We have already had schools contacting Wesleyan asking how to purchase these Wishing Wells to use on their campuses.  So we know that there is demand for it, we know that other people want this and we are just putting all the things in place to get it as far and wide and fast as possible so universities can start reaping the benefits of it.

 

How how exactly are you looking to expand Wishing Wells?

T:  So while we were trying to set up some sort of business model, pretty much from the get-go, Brent and I both decided that even though we are looking to turn this into some sort of startup company, it is not about making money but it’s about the change.  So with that in mind Brent came up with a pretty interesting business model that we are going to try and implement moving forward, I’ll let him explain that.

B: Yea, I call it the ‘open-source-knowledge-traditional-business-ish’ model. That’s the official name for it.  There are two different branches of Wishing Wells business plan, like Tavo said, our drive is for impact and to get this out as far and fast and effectively as possible.  We are planning to publish all of our design plans and material lists on our website, wwells.org.  So if any university, organization, really anyone, has the time, resources and drive to build a Wishing Well all on their own, they have the complete knowledge to make exactly what we did.  They can tweak it if they want to, but it is our way of getting that out as far and wide as possible.  But it is likely that a lot of organizations won’t be able to build this on their own, for various reasons, so as the second branch of Wishing Wells business model, we are looking to sell low cost, prefabricated Wishing Wells to anyone who wants to buy one.  It’s a pretty ambitious project.

So you’re looking to manufacture all the parts and put them together?

T: Yes, and neither Brent nor I really have any experience with that so that will be a challenge moving forward.  We are working on a re-design that will make the “mass production” of these more streamlined and easier to replicate.  Once we have that, we will need to find a place that can put it all together for us because we don’t have anyone on the team right now with that technical skill or the place to do it.  So if you’re hiding any welding equipment in your room…..Wishing Well at RC 2013

Right I heard you’re looking for some help with this project.

B: Yea that would be great!  We are looking to bring in university students and recent graduates, with preference to Wesleyan students, to help with a lot of the cool plans that we have for the coming months.  No experience is necessary.  We are just looking for people who are ambitious and want to commit to helping us grow.

T: One of the most exciting parts about the Wishing Wells venture is that it is all student driven.  So we are trying to make that a strong part of our core moving forward.  You know this started from a small idea here at Wesleyan and is growing from just a few students to now, hopefully, a bigger team and then reaching out and stirring a lot of energy for sustainable behaviors, good vibes…

…and cold water.

T: Yea, nice refreshing water

For more information about the Wishing Wells project check out wwells.org and some of the other media attention that it has received.

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Wesleyan Sustainability