In well-developed countries, clean water is readily accessible at the mere turn of knob almost anywhere. But in many poorer and less developed countries, clean water can be expensive and difficult to come by.
Ola Filter has a solution. This women-owned business creates simple, affordable water filters that can be distributed in less developed countries. We reached out to its CEO and co-founder Elizabeth Clandos to learn the origins of the company and its goals going forward.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
The Ola Filter is an ultra-affordable, easy-to-use water filter for low-income families in developing countries. We’re moving water filters from the gifting economy to the market economy. We’ve created a model by which our filters can be manufactured, distributed, and sold at scale.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
In the rural highlands of Guatemala, we were working on a solar power installation for a community without access to basic infrastructure. We brought a water filter for the team to use — the type of filter made for backpackers. A local man approached us, asking where he could buy a water filter. The answer was that he couldn’t.
The reality in developing countries is that there aren’t affordable water filters for sale. This has profound economic and public health repercussions. The poor pay a disproportionate amount of their limited income on bottled or boiled water. Ola Filter is changing that. We’re building a product people need, sold in stores where they shop, at a price they can afford.
There are 2 billion people with contaminated tap water and enough money to buy our filter. Contaminated water is a ubiquitous problem in developing countries and also presents a large market opportunity.
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
My background is in international economic development, and I have extensive experience with growing social businesses in resource-poor settings. I’ve worked with rural microentrepreneurs in Mexico, founded a design studio in Los Angeles, and led the successful growth of three Guatemalan social businesses.
Which countries are your immediate targets, and where is your manufacturing location?
Initially we’ll focus on Guatemala, where our executive team has extensive experience and existing partnerships, and will scale quickly throughout Central and South America. By manufacturing in Guatemala, we can leverage free trade agreements and low production costs — reducing the product price while growing the local economy.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
We are moving the needle on products for low-income consumers in developing countries. As incomes in developing countries increase, so does the market demand for aspirational and necessary technology such as water filters.
By targeting extreme affordability and designing for the usage context, we can set the industry standard for products for this large and underserved consumer segment.
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
Ola Filter is a 100% women-founded, triple bottom line social business. Together we have 40 years combined in engineering and prototype design, social enterprise, and deep expertise in developing countries.
Monika, our chief operating officer, and I met while working on economic development projects in Guatemala. Monika has 15 years of experience in developing countries, most recently in creating rural distribution pathways for solar power in the Guatemalan Highlands. Theresa, our chief technical officer, was a lead prototype engineer at Toyota for 20 years and is building the filter design and the manufacturing process.
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
The Ola Filter will be sold at $19 — less than half the price of other water filters currently on the market in developing countries. It’s intuitive for low-literate users and lasts for five years with no replacement parts. Importantly, its small size allows for efficient shipment over rough terrain.
Other filter companies rely on cross-product subsidization, using profits from up-market products to fund filter donations. Because our core product is profitable, we can focus our marketing efforts on our target consumer segment — low income households — and create an aspirational brand that speaks to their unique needs.
What does your business model look like?
We’re a social business. Impact is the core of who we are. We have a 45% profit margin so that we can be profitable and sustainable over the long term as we scale this solution. Filter sales are two-pronged: domestic distribution through existing retail outlets and wholesale sales to global humanitarian aid organizations.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
Our product and our business are perfect for crowdfunding. This is a direct solution to an obvious need — with a large market potential. The trend in investing is towards market-based, impact-driven solutions, making Ola Filter ideal for crowd impact investing.
The investments from this raise are foundational for Ola Filter to enter the market this year: supporting the purchase of capital equipment, the establishment of local headquarters, and a strong initial market push as we capitalize on our first mover’s advantage.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
Low-income consumers in emerging markets have the means to purchase our water filter. The market demand for point of use water treatment is robust. Currently, consumers in developing countries are spending $20 billion annually on drinking water solutions. By leveraging existing consumer knowledge of tap water hazards, we can address this demand in an affordable and sustainable way.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
Our impact goal is to sell 1 million filters in the first five years, impacting 5 million people. Scaling from million to billion will be achieved by selling our brand to an established company with strong global distribution networks.
Our company has created a product and will build a brand that resonates with our unique customer segment and will disrupt this industry. Our ultimate goal is to end water poverty — and globally, there is the capacity, technology, and infrastructure to do so.
We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Elizabeth and her team take the company. Ola Filter is currently raising on Raise Green.