In the lead-up to this year’s Sustainable Brands Innovation Open — our competition for startups poised to make scalable, sustainable impacts — we’re catching up with some of our favorite game-changing solutions from past years. This week, we have an update from SBIO 2014 finalist and Target Award winner Amazi.
Last year, Amazi blew the competition out of the proverbial water at the SB ‘14 San Diego Innovation Open, securing the prestigious Target Award, which comes with a cash prize and consultation with Target’s sustainability and merchandising teams to strengthen the winner’s business model. Amazi is, in the words of founder and CEO Crystal Plew, “like Yelp for water”: an app and website that makes it easy to find water stations throughout businesses, campuses and cities, reducing the need for disposable water bottles by providing plenty of options for thirsty users to refill their reusable containers on the go.
On top of aggregating the location data, Plew and her team also mine cities for data on their water quality — information that is publicly available, but that the CEO says few residents understand or know where to find.
“Water treatment facilities send water quality updates to residents every year but nobody knows what it means,” Plew said in a recent interview. “I have people who are water specialists and get that data for us. If it says there is arsenic in the water, they know what it means and go through the science of it. Amazi takes it to the next step and tells you what it means for you.”
After participating in SBIO, Amazi — which means “water” in Rwanda — gained significant traction and attention: Plew says many of the people she interacted with at the conference are now either partners or consultants with the company, and the press gave her bootstrapped startup the opportunity and means to nationally scale its app.
“SB was truly a collective of like-minded companies,” she said. “Anybody I came in contact with, there was some kind of connection and some kind of business thing we could do together. Even if it was something outside of water and plastic, there was something that we could do for each other and piggyback our initiatives on one another.”
Amazi has finished mining water data for California and partnered with the City of San Francisco, which last year banned the sale of single-use plastic water bottles; the goal is to connect with more cities and city planners as they follow in San Francisco’s footsteps. Now working and mining in Michigan and the Chicago area, Plew says Amazi hopes to work with organizations such as The Green Airport Initiative and focus on regions that are struggling with clean water access, as well as national parks and zoos in Michigan that have already begun to join the ban on water bottles. Within the next year, Plew plans to expand Amazi to the East Coast as well — specifically between Baltimore and DC.
The CEO says Target’s expertise in particular has been invaluable to the growth of the company.
“Through the award, we have developed a strong relationship with Target — they have given me incredible insight into how we can go forward,” she said. “Target has introduced me to the companies that sell products at Target as well, connecting me with water bottle companies and fitness companies. We are working with Target vendors to include Amazi pamphlets inside these water bottles, so when people buy a reusable water bottle, they can download the app and find water stations to fill up their bottles.”
Plew said next on her agenda is the development of Amazi water machines, which she will work to place in sustainable and forward-thinking companies with multiple locations around the country. Though focused on building relationships with existing water distribution businesses right now, Plew hopes to eventually put Amazi water stations in homes as well as businesses.