Reusable metal water bottles have provided business opportunities for two alumni: Bryan Papé (left) of MiiR and Tim Andis (above) of Liberty Bottleworks.
When Tim Andis '91 met Bryan Pape '07, he had one question on his mind: "Are you my kindred spirit?"
Both alumni — who quickly discovered their common SPU roots — have recently started water bottle companies. "We have similar passions," says Andis. "We both saw an opportunity to make a difference in the world through a project that's commercially viable."
Before MiiR, Papé was vice president of marketing and operations at Little Hotties Warmers. While testing hand warmers at REI's headquarters in Kent, Washington, he learned about the results of a water-bottle audit that found three major problems in the industry: The openings were too small or too big. It took too many turns to open and close a bottle, and they didn't fit in cup holders. The results resonated with Papé, who had been splashed in the face, annoyed by excessive cap twisting, and often drove while his water bottle rolled around on the car floor.
"I can build a better bottle," Papé thought, and he began spending his off-work hours on a business plan for a water bottle company he named MiiR. About six months later, after developing molds that addressed the three major issues, Papé saw something on Hulu that left him stunned.
It was an ad for Charity Water that said it took only $20 to give someone clean water for 20 years. "That's all? That's insane!" Papé thought.
He started to research the clean-water crisis and was shocked to find that nearly one billion people lack access to clean water, and that lack is the world's leading cause of death. He felt compelled to do something."How could I not?" he asks.
MiiR has since partnered with an organization that builds wells in Liberia, Well Done Organization, and Papé travelled to Liberia with them in January 2011 to build and document two wells.Giving $1 for each bottle sold, MiiR has provided clean water for 3,890 people for decades to come.
When Papé was a business student at Seattle Pacific University, his professors taught that the primary goal of a business is not profit, but serving the common good through creating valuable products or services, employing others, and meeting needs in the world.
"We talked about benefitting the stakeholders, not just the shareholders," Papé says. SPU's School of Business and Economics calls this "another way of doing business."
Tim Andis '91, founder and "chief bottle washer" at Liberty Bottleworks, found his business
philosophy in bringing stakeholders and shareholders closer together. After earning degrees
in humanities and business from SPU, he found a foothold in outdoor equipment sales, eventually
running an agency that sold highend gear to retailers such as REI.
When the Swiss bottle manufacturer SIGG got into hot water for not telling customers their bottles contained the controversial chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), retailers started asking Andis where they could get an American-made, 100 percent recycled aluminum water bottle.
"They said, go find me a domestic source," he recalls. "So I traveled the country looking for someone who could make a metal water bottle."
He didn't find anybody. Finally, he told the retailers, "I don't know who could do this, but I've found all the machinery, and I think I could do it myself." With all American-made machinery, high-resolution 3-D printing, and zero waste, Liberty Bottleworks' unique Yakima-based factory opened doors in autumn of 2010.
The transition from sales to manufacturing hasn't been easy, but Andis is proud of how quickly they were able to get the factory up and running. "Sometimes it's better not to know how difficult things are," he says.
Now, 18 months in business, Liberty employs 22 people and has filled custom orders for Coca-Cola, JanSport, and others, while his retail customers include REI, Whole Foods, and Amazon.
I didn't know that it couldn't be done," says Andis, ever the entrepreneur. "So I just did it."