By establishing the first registered distillery in the country, Jack Daniel built his success on two fundamental ingredients: identifying a need in the community and crafting a quality process to satisfy that need. Today, Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey honors the makers who follow this time-honored success model of finding the sweet spot of where demand and innovation intersect.
Before entering this year’s Pitch Distilled competition, Doll Avant was already an accomplished entrepreneur, data scientist and businesswoman. But when she took the stage in Atlanta to pitch her latest venture, she didn’t talk about these credentials. Instead, she talked about her dad.
“Out of the blue, he was diagnosed with diabetes,” Avant recalls. The diagnosis came about a year after her father, who passed away last summer, had moved to a new home. Otherwise, she said, he had a healthy lifestyle.
“I was in the middle of this big research project at the time, and that's when I came across this really obscure report about arsenic in local water supplies—including the area where he lived. It's been linked in studies to diabetes.” The experience got Avant thinking: how many health issues are related to our water supply?
In 2014, the question came up again with the revelation of poor water quality in Flint, Michigan. She volunteered to help, and made a startling discovery in the process: After reviewing available data, she found there are actually thousands of locations in the U.S. that have as much, if not more, lead in their water than Flint. It’s a problem she’s determined to solve with her company, Aquagenuity.
Making Water Quality Data Accessible
Avant says she she knew the crowd was moved by her story, not only because they awarded her the top prize, but also because of their enthusiasm about what Aquagenuity is setting out to do: simply, make water quality data easy to understand and available—so everyone from consumers to businesses to governments can start using it to make more informed decisions.
“Folks were coming up to me afterwards…[they] really wanted to know what's in my water, and what do I do? What kind of filter do I need? How could that affect my health, and what else should I be doing?” she says. “It really started a conversation for folks that I hope will drive them to action.”
The Aquagenuity app that will make all of this data accessible is set to launch this spring in Atlanta—which is where the company is based, and is Avant’s hometown. She and her team of six are working with the City to gather relevant water quality data for the app’s database. Most of the data is publicly available through the EPA and other research organizations, but Avant says it’s often difficult to access and understand.
“It's really obscure to get this information, so we digitize it, make it visual, color code it, [and make it] super easy to understand,” she says.
With the freemium model of the app, consumers can enter their zip code to access water quality data about their area. A paid version of the app will serve up recommendations based on the data: from what kinds of diseases these chemicals put you at risk for, to what kind of filter to purchase to avoid those chemicals. In a later phase of the company’s growth, Avant says consumers will be able to contribute data to the platform with in-home testing kits.
In addition to being available to consumers, Aquagenuity also has a paid model for businesses and municipalities. By paying for access to Aquagenuity’s water quality database, businesses can make decisions about where to open new locations and, for beverage companies, commit to using or filtering water to meet EPA standards—and sport an Aquagenuity seal-of-approval on their products as a result.
Tackling The Water Quality Problem Nationwide
The ultimate goal, says Avant, is actually fixing the water-quality (and eventually, supply) problem across the country—and Aquagenuity is looking to use not only its data but also its subject-matter expertise to help. Later this year, the company will roll out educational materials to help spread the word about water quality issues. Avant says she’ll use the $5,000 she won at the Pitch Distilled competition toward the production of a book and documentary series—both titled, “The Great American Water Crisis: How To #PreventAnotherFlint”—set for release in the Fall.
Corporate partnerships are another important component of driving change. As they roll out to more cities (a total of 15 over the next 18 months, Flint included), Avant is looking for companies to work with that will help make this issue top-of-mind for local governments.
“Politicians don’t have to deal with the issues as much unless there’s a crisis like Flint, because it’s out of sight, out of mind. We work with corporate partners to stand behind us and say, hey, we also care about this issue.” Avant says Aquagenuity has partnered with Coca-Cola and several breweries, including Samuel Adams.
But Avant emphasizes that her company is focused completely on fixing this problem, not identifying wrongdoers.
“We're a solution company,” Avant says. “Here's the data, and here's something that we can do at the individual level, at the corporation level, and as government entities.”
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This article was produced by WIRED Brand Lab in partnership with Gentleman Jack.