Sun | May 31, 2020

Water entrepreneur seeks partnerships to take on the world

Published:Friday | September 13, 2019 | 12:00 AMHuntley Medley - Senior Business Writer
AquaFlow founder Jovan Evans speaks about his water-solution products on September 5.

Jovan Evans is building a complete water solutions business.

It’s nothing high-tech. Just practical solutions to everyday problems stemming from inadequate or unreliable water supply.

His immediate preoccupation is getting enough products to the Jamaican market, but the former full-time computer programmer, who quit his nine-to-five job to five at a prominent financial institution five years ago to kick-start his entrepreneurial journey, eventually wants to be a big player on the global stage.

It all started when the water lock-offs, now so familiar in most parts of Jamaica, and his failure to store water beforehand, forced him to go to bed without showering at the end of a long, hot day at work. He pretty much spent the night awake, brainstorming how to ensure it never happened to him again.

The knack for making things and solving problems, which he figures he picked up from his grandfather, led to the invention, three weeks later, of the pump and spray technology – which he initially called “the thing” – that creates a foot-powered shower from a showerhead and hose attached to any container of water, even a five-litre bottle.

With a design patent now in hand and a $2.5-million grant from the Development Bank of Jamaica, through its Ignite programme, and mentorship from the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship, Evans has gone on to create other products, including the fitting of pipe taps on to just about anything that can store and dispense liquids, and building portable handwash stations suitable for itinerant food vendors as well as in natural disaster and refugee situations.

The business has also been helped by a small loan which he secured after winning an entrepreneurial competition hosted by the Branson Centre.

Just around the time his start-up AquaFlow Products and Services Limited was registered in 2015, his shower invention featured in helping to bring relief to the town of Flint, Michigan, in the United States, after more than 90,000 people faced a major water contamination problem.

Evans said the deployment of the portable pump and spray shower, still then in rudimentary development, helped to iron out for him some design and manufacturing kinks, which have since been improved.

The Jamaica Social Investment Fund has been an important client, bulk-purchasing tap-fitted water containers and portable handwash stations as part of the state agency’s efforts to improve social conditions in communities where the Government and security forces have established zones of special operations.

Fitting pipes to water storage vessels eliminates the need for scooping up water for use and therefore reduces the risk of contamination from dirty containers.

Evans says demand for the product has been the greatest among the lower socio-economic groups, especially in rural areas. Pipe-fitted water bottles and the pump and spray shower are popular in urban areas. The Government, through a programme funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, has bought more than 100 of his handwash stations.

Sought out training

In preparing for the entrepreneurship, Evans, whose family roots are in rural St Mary, says he acquired all the knowledge he could and sought out training from the Branson Centre and elsewhere.

As with most start-ups, it hasn’t been an easy road for Evans and AquaFlow. For starters, an early, heavy out-of-pocket investment in bulk-buying materials from China off the Internet during the 2015 drought, followed by nearly two years of constant heavy rains, left his bottled water solutions unsold and forced him into new inventions that didn’t rely on water scarcity. Customised honey collection and dispensing containers for beekeepers, and others for industrial chemical retailers, are now among his growing array of products.

The early financial boosts aside, the small company has not been able to secure bank loans, and Evans says investors have not exactly been beating a path to his door. Operations and growth so far have been largely financed out of savings and sales to the tune of more than $4 million.

“I am open to discussions with the right strategic partners who could help to grow the business and who share the entrepreneurial vision, as well as the broader goal of being a major player in the global water and sanitation solutions space, as a brand that provides safe water and engenders confidence while solving people’s water needs,” he told the Financial Gleaner in an interview.

He is also keen on further improving efficiencies in his manufacturing processes by learning from established large manufacturers who are willing to provide his business with mentorship.

From the early days of operating solely from the trunk of his car, AquaFlow now occupies 8,000 square feet of rental space at Dumbarton Avenue in Kingston. The company employs five persons part-time – four to do product assembly and one for administrative and marketing support.

Marketing is done by direct sell, merchandising in one store – Azan’s Centre – and promotion via social media. There have been modest overseas sales, with deliveries done through the post office.

Evans is preparing for more distribution arrangements, a nationwide direct-sell sales force and partnerships to enter the rental space, particularly for the portable handwash stations. “I think the future of the business is bright and I am ready for the next phase of the company’s development,” he said optimistically.