About five years ago, I traveled to Ecuador and experienced something that would change my life. As part of a school trip, I delivered a water filter to an elementary school. When we got there, we learned that a little girl had died from diarrhea as a result of contaminated water only the week before.
I was shocked. We don’t think of diarrhea as fatal, and the fact that the solution was so simple and inexpensive — a $60 water filter — made me think: Maybe if we had been there a week earlier, that little girl might still be alive.
When I got home, I started a charity called Club H2O. The idea was that anyone traveling to a developing country for tourism or charity could get a water filter from us and deliver it to a school or community in need. Since then, we have delivered filters to 31 countries. For instance, when USC sent a team of doctors to help with disaster relief efforts after the Nepal earthquake, we sent 60 or 70 filters with them. With very little demand on their time, people could make a lasting impact in the world.
Clean Water Solution
Now, as a senior at USC with a double major in business at Marshall and environmental studies at Dornsife, I am preparing to launch a global business spun off from that charity — Aqus.
Aqus sells simple water filters to people in developing countries who currently rely on boiling water or buying bottled water. For local entrepreneurs, Aqus filters provide them with enough safe water to generate a supplemental income by providing a lifesaving service to their community. It’s an example of what social entrepreneurship can achieve.
I came to USC Marshall because I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and no other university would support me more. I never intended to start a business related to my charity. However, the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab at the Marshall School of Business saw the seeds of something greater.
The Light Bulb Moment
I was still talking about Club H2O as a charity until Abby Fifer Mandell, executive director of the BSEL, introduced me to the idea of social enterprise in a pitch competition.
My “light bulb” moment came last year, when I was in an Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship class, listening to Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva.org, and Ben Goldhirsh, co-founder of GOOD. I suddenly realized that there was a tremendous unmet demand for water filters in developing nations, and that I knew exactly what kind of filter I needed to create to meet both the needs and budget of my customer. I almost jumped from my seat in the middle of that lecture.
In a short amount of time, I made quick progress. I found mentors in the Social Enterprise Lab, like Fifer Mandell and BSEL Founding Director and David C. Bohnett Professor of Social Entrepreneurship Adlai Wertman, as well as the Blackstone Launchpad and the USC Incubator. The classes I have taken at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies have given me all the tools I needed to start my company and avoid painful or costly mistakes. Through these electives, I’ve been able to listen to inspirational guest speakers and make important connections. All of my professors have been genuinely excited and passionate about offering their support and encouragement.
Over 10 pitch competitions at USC, I have refined how to communicate my passion and vision for the company to potential investors, partners, employees and customers. I was a finalist in the Greif Center’s New Venture Seed Competition, and what I learned about customer validation models has been tremendous in where the company is today. Just recently, my pitch won the Global Impact Award in the Stevens Institute Innovation Showcase.
When I graduate in May, there is no question that I will give back to this school and this community of entrepreneurs and mentors that has done so much for me. I want to help fellow Trojans like they have helped me…to help others.
Kevin Kassel ’17
USC Marshall Student, Entrepreneur and Founder of Aqus