USC student startup Aqus expands across the globe, offering affordable clean water solution to impacted communities

USC student startup Aqus expands across the globe, offering affordable clean water solution to impacted communities

By Peijean Tsai, USC Stevens Center for Innovation

Watch 24 USC student startups compete for over $30,000 at the 11th Annual USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase on Friday, October 13, 2017. We recently spoke with past Showcase winners to see how they have progressed since competing in the Showcase.

When USC student Kevin Kassel won the Global Impact award last year for his business Aqus at the USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase, the $5,000 he earned helped with his startup’s early costs, including product testing, marketing, and inventory.

“The $5,000 was huge. Every amount helped,” said Kassel, who bootstrapped costs and used his own savings to start Aqus, a water filter business that provides affordable access to clean water.

But being able to present to the public at the Showcase about Aqus proved to be even more valuable to growing his business.

“The money you can win at the Showcase is big; the publicity is even bigger,” said Kassel in an interview this summer. As a result of the October 2016 competition, Kassel was contacted by a non-profit accelerator in Panama that read an article about his win at the Showcase. This led to Aqus competing in a water challenge competition in Panama and working with the Panama government to distribute water filters. The business made connections and became active in Central America, where there is a great demand for more clean water solutions.

“(The Showcase) was the first thing that put Aqus on the map and gave us credibility,” said Kassel, a USC Dornsife and USC Marshall student finishing his dual degree in the fall at the University of Southern California. “It’s how we got to Panama, because they saw we won the award and they reached out. It was one of the first things that put us on that trajectory.”

Today Aqus has its water filters in 17 countries. Kassel and his team sell directly to customers and work with government and non-profit organizations to distribute water filters. In addition to Latin America, Aqus is targeting emerging markets such as countries in Eastern and Western Africa and parts of Asia and India where access to safe drinking water is difficult. Aqus is also developing an outdoor product for backpackers to be sold on Amazon later this year.

Kassel’s business Aqus was one of the 24 teams that competed at the 2016 USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase, where over $30,000 in awards was earned by USC student entrepreneurs. The showcase is an annual USC student business competition hosted by the USC Stevens Center for Innovation. USC students in all disciplines present their startup ideas and inventions to members of the business community, competing for thousands of dollars in USC-sponsored prizes.

The 2016 winners of the USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase included USC students from the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, USC School of Cinema, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, USC Marshall School of Business, and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The annual competition has distributed over $117,000 in awards to USC students from 2007 to 2016.

In addition to the USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase, Aqus also competed in other competitions at the University of Southern California hosted by the USC Marshall Center for Global Innovation, Tamid Tank at USC, and the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. Aqus is currently one of the startups participating in the Laudato Si Rome Accelerator 2017, a new program at the Vatican inspired by Pope Francis Laudato Si to solve global problems of water, energy, health, transportation, food, waste, and human migration.

Kevin Kassel, a USC Dornsife & USC Marshall School of Business student, delivers his business pitch about his startup Aqus, which creates affordable water filters, at the 10th Annual USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase in October 2016.