Making an impact with water and data

A fascination with water and the shocking realisation about the huge number of people who do not have access to clean drinking water pushed two young business partners RSM alumnus Marc van Zuylen (MSc Strategic Management 2020) and Marnix Stokvis (MSc Financial Economics, Erasmus School of Economics 2018) to co-found Aquablu. Their mission? To provide safe drinking water for everyone, everywhere!

What’s more, they have been nominated as one of the ’25 Under 25 2020’ young entrepreneurs by, an information hub for entrepreneurs and start-ups. You can vote for them on the Sprout website until 24 June 2020 – read on to find out how Marnix and Marc are making a positive impact in business and for people around the world.

How does Aquablu work?
“Our machines take local water and filter it so that more people can have safe, clean drinking water straight from their taps, which in turn will discourage buying water in bottled in plastic. The way we do this has three steps: pre-filtration, purification, and adding minerals. We’ve created smart purifiers that are able to self-clean and have an in-built system for monitoring the water quality.

“The water purification market is already huge. What sets us apart from others is not only that we add minerals to the water but also that we integrated smart technology into our purifiers. With the data that we get from the machines, we are able to continuously improve the way that the machine works, and most importantly ensure the quality that comes out of them is clean and safe drinking water. Our machines actually stop working when the water quality is not up to par; if it has detected that there is a problem, such as the filter needs a replacement, no water will come out of the machine until it’s been fixed. There is an app that tracks the data and notifies you when something needs to be done to the machine.”

What have you achieved so far?
“We have travelled to numerous countries in Europe and in Africa. A lot of countries in both continents actually have issues with access to clean water. For now, we have focused on countries in Europe, because we’ve developed a ‘drop for drop’ method. For every machine, or ‘drop’ that is bought in Europe, we give one to an African country, to a country where they aren’t able to afford it.

“We recently ran a campaign in which we drank water from the Amsterdam canals to show that even with water known to be so dirty, it’s possible to filter and purify it so it’s safe, clean drinking water without using plastic in the process. The stunt not only helped us to raise awareness but also money which we will donate to a foundation aligned to our mission. We sold each glass bottle for € 39, so people that bought them supported our mission.”

In the last four years, Aquablu has sold thousands of machines across Europe.

"When we started a business, we wanted to be future-proof so that we could continue making impact." 

Why the choice to work with water?
“Ever since I was a small kid, I have always had a fascination with water,” says Marc. “I’d say it’s a combination between this and the fact that so many people do not have access to clean water – it’s really absurd. It’s an area where so much impact can be made.

“Some people, particularly in the Netherlands, might not realize the luxury that we live in when it comes to water. We even take baths and flush toilets with clean drinking water. But if you travel just six hours from the Netherlands, there are so many places, even in Europe, where people have to buy bottled water because they don’t have good drinking water from their taps. While we have it extremely good here, there are a few places in the Netherlands – particularly in old and historic buildings – where the water pipes are still the old-style lead ones; that means the water needs to be filtered and purified”.

“When we started a business, we wanted to be future-proof so that we could continue making impact. Actually, everyone who starts a business needs to think about more than just themselves. Look at what needs to be solved in the market. We are a small start-up and we don’t claim to be solving the problem, but we’re contributing to start to solve a problem. We’re really strong believers that your business won’t be sustainable if you aren’t doing something that solves such a pertinent issue.”

"Persistence is also key. If you truly believe in your idea and what you are making, then you’ll be able to help others believe in it too." 

What are your ambitions?
Our ambition is to make it easy for people to turn to safe drinking water, without taxing the planet’s resources in the process. We hope to further expand to get closer to our dream, which is providing safe drinking water for everyone, everywhere!

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
“Our biggest advice would be if you have an idea, to make sure you validate your idea. Just because you think something is amazing and makes sense doesn’t mean other people automatically will too. Also make sure you have the right people around you. If you don’t have the right team, you’ll have a hard journey. Especially at the start, where you’ll be facing more obstacles and ‘down’ moments, it’s important to have people around you so you also have the ‘ups’. And persistence is also key. If you truly believe in your idea and what you are making, then you’ll be able to help others believe in it too.”