Shannon Evanchec and Samantha Becker met while doing undergraduate research at Georgia Tech. While working on a project, they embarked on a journey to India where they experienced the issue of contaminated drinking water firsthand. While the water being pumped into the local residents’ houses came from a relatively clean source, by the time it reached the home it had been contaminated by animals or unhygienic conditions. After enrolling in Georgia Tech’s CREATE-X incubator, the duo founded TruePani and headed back to India to test their device on a second trip.
“Last October, we did a pilot study with our device in a very rural village in India,” said Evanchec. “We got some really good feedback, but we also learned a lot and realized that, while our device worked, it was a lot harder to get people to use it and have that behavior change, than we had originally thought.”
Putting customer discovery to work, Evanchec and Becker reached out to local non-profit organizations to see if their product was viable and could be adopted by local families. They realized the business model they were pushing wasn’t sustainable. The water purification market in India is crowded with non-profits that gave devices away for free and often were left unused, gathering dust.
“It leads to this problem of people not valuing anything that they’re just getting for free. And then, when they don’t value it, they don’t use it, and they’re just waiting for the next device to come along. And that was what we were dealing with,” says Evanchec.
“When you’re just going B2C, you have to figure out what your price point is and what people are willing to pay, and the value that your product is bringing to them. That was a really big lesson for us moving forward because we have been, since then, iterating through different things that we can offer and figuring out the value that that would bring to the end users.”
Upon return to the U.S., they regrouped and decided to employ their passion for clean water in their own backyard.
“We are both passionate about water, but we thought the impact that we could make would be a better value if we took a step back, and tried to spend some time looking at the market in the U.S. and seeing if there was a fit there, and go from there,” says Evanchec.
During this time, Flint, Michigan’s lead-contamination water crisis was taking over media headlines after government officials saw the negative effects on the local population after the main source of their water was changed to the Flint River. This incident, while unique in its magnitude, isn’t isolated. More than 18 million Americans may have received water from lead-contaminated pipes, according to a 2015 study.
Drawing lessons from this, the TruePani team pivoted to their new product — Drinkably — to tackle the domestic market.
“Unfortunately, the infrastructure in the U.S. is aging and it’s not being replaced at the same rate that it’s aging,” says Evanchec. “Lead is a little bit complicated to understand. For instance, sometimes people think that you can boil your water to get rid of lead, which is not the case. Sometimes, in fact, a higher temperature will often cause higher concentrations of lead to be present in your water.”
Drinkably gives the power of water quality back to the consumer. It’s a small, narrow strip that you dip into a glass of water. While the team is still working on a prototype to be released later in 2018, they plan to test and monitor household and corporate drinking water quality. Customers can get instant feedback on their water quality by matching the indicators and colors on the strip.
Most water testing kits currently on the market come with long instruction manuals, quickly overwhelming customers, says Evanchec. “We just want to make the information accessible, and simple, and easy to act on.”
The TruePani team is fully focused on product development now that they’ve made their customer and market discoveries. With funds from CREATE-X and one additional investor, the team plans to launch their product next year and raise another round.
Evanchec and Becker have found a tight-knit community and helpful resources to continue growing their company in Atlanta.
“Since we were students at Georgia Tech when we started TruePani/Drinkably, it was natural for us to stay in Atlanta when we graduated because of the connections we had made during that time,” says Evanchec. “However, after graduating, Georgia Tech really helped us connect to resources outside of the institute that are contributing to our success.”
“The Atlanta startup community is vibrant and underrated, and we’re definitely taking advantage of the talent and community that is here.”