How one young entrepreneur will use a $75 invention to boost access to clean water

CEO of Everwaters, Adrian Lievano visiting a local community to talk about the filtration system in Kenya.
Source: Everwaters

Since he's only a year out of college, Adrian Lievano could be working a stable job. Instead he runs a company focused on tackling the global water crisis.

The company, called Everwaters, is a product of a trip he took to Kenya last year for a senior design project. The idea was to build a catch-water system. But when he was there, he realized his efforts could be used to create more long-lasting solutions for the community.

Solutions, Lievano said, were not something he could effect in one trip.

"You have to be on the ground bringing the product to bring their clean water issues," Lievano said, adding. "It takes years of work."

So he scratched the original plans and interviewed locals and NGOs in the area instead. He asked them about their relationship with water and what their needs were.

A year has passed, and Everwaters has completed its first product to fit those needs. Lievano has built the company with the company's co-founder, Matt Lisle.

The result? A coconut-based carbon and earth-based ceramic container that purifies water. It sits perfectly on the back of a bike or motorcycle, which many people use to transport water home. The product stores about three gallons of water and filters a liter an hour. In American dollars, a year's supply of water would cost $75, including a $25 replacement cartridge that helps filter the water.

But price points around the world would vary, Lievano said, who has stressed that he wants to make clean water affordable by communities of all incomes. Everwaters has plans to distribute the product within the United States, but also in East Africa and Latin America.

Becoming a first-generation entrepreneur

To Lievano, the decision to become an entrepreneur came naturally. It involves skills he has been honing since the age of six.

"I'm always curious to see how things work," he said. He recalls that his parents always encouraged him to find inventive solutions to his problems.

When he and his siblings wanted a new Xbox, the money to pay for it came from their own work. At age 12, he was charging five dollars to repair Nintendo DS machines in his school's playground.

"That worked out for us," he recalled.

Starting a company was not as organic. His parents, who are immigrants from Cuba and El Salvador, did not have experience running a business or even college educations.

Lievano graduated cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a master's in mechanical engineering in 2015. Everwaters was founded the same year.

He expected that being the first in his circle to start and run a company without a business background would be challenging.

"There was lot of self-learning I had to do," he said. "It was a stressful process."

A more pleasant surprise, he discovered as he built his company, was that though entrepreneurship was at times very lonely, it was also often a joint effort with friends and mentors.

Among the people supporting the young entrepreneurs was Lievano's grandfather, Osvaldo Calienes, who recently invested in Everwaters.

Bringing the project full circle

The water filter system designed by Everwaters.
Source: Everwaters

A year after his initial trip, the team revisited the village that sparked the idea for the company. There was a lot on the line, and Lievano was fully aware of it.

"If we can distribute 100 of thousands of filters through a local business in North Africa, it will significantly reduce water-related illnesses," he said an interview with CNBC leading up to the trip.

When the team finally shared the prototype with future customers, Lievano said locals were excited. But he also realized the responsibility that comes with moving the project forward.

"[The visit we paid to Kenya] really invigorated me," he said. "Now there's a whole community in Kenya who is counting on us and inspired by our energy."

A second product is already in the works and uses the Moringa seed to clean the water. It's a method that academic papers have discussed for years, but which was never put into effect until now, Lievano said.

The uses for this purification method go beyond providing safe, drinkable water. "We could also see ourselves branching out from drinking water to a wide range of other applications where clean water is important, from gardening to medical applications," Lisle wrote in an email.

Come November, the duo will launch a Kickstarter video for Everwaters. In the meantime, they are up pitching their idea to the investors on "Make Me A Millionaire Inventor." The season premiered on October 6 on CNBC.