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Clean Water For All

July 23, 2020 by Kyle Lubinsky

What Happened Next? | FastForward U venture Aquatas perfects portable pump

Clean drinking water is vital to human life. Despite this, many countries around the world struggle to supply their citizens with non-contaminated water. Enter Aquatas, a venture founded by alumni Paarth Sharma, Engr ’20, and Anish Mokha, A&S ’20, as well as Maya Foster, A&S ’20, Zach Schmidt, Engr ’20, and Shivam Rastogi, Engr ’20. Aquatas is developing a portable, manual-pump filter that removes harmful pathogens and metals from water.

A rendering of a portable water pump featuring a tall rectangular reservoir and three thin tubes leading to a small attached cylinder
The Aquatas portable water purification device.

Formed in a dorm room, Aquatas grew as a part of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures‘ FastForward U and Social Innovation Lab programs. In November 2019, Aquatas won a $10,000 prize at FastForward U’s inaugural Demo Day. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Aquatas was preparing to conduct pilot tests in several international locations this year. Now, they’re planning to complete this last step in developing a market-ready product sometime in 2021.

We spoke with Sharma and Mokha to learn more about Aquatas’ future in this installment of What Happened Next?

What inspired you to start Aquatas?

Sharma: When I came to Hopkins, I was really interested in the Global Health Project, and that’s something I want to continue in the future with medical devices. I had experience in high school working with the water problem that Aquatas aims to solve.

Mokha: In high school, I ran my own nonprofit in the Bay Area of California. When I got to Hopkins, I wanted to get involved in a similar project but on a larger scale. Paarth and I have been friends since freshman year, and we found ourselves talking a lot about ideas. He brought up the problems the world is facing with water contamination, and we formed the team that became Aquatas in the spring of our freshman year.

“The coolest thing for me is what we’ve been able to accomplish with a laptop, a phone, and a Hopkins student ID. We’ve been able to go out and convince people that, ‘yes, this is something meaningful. This is something that needs to be implemented in the world.’”

Anish Mokha, A&S '20 Aquatas co-founder

How has FastForwardU helped push Aquatas forward?

Sharma: When we first started, we had no funding and we were working out of our dorm rooms. Then we got the Spark Grant from FastForward U, which is $1,000, and that allowed us to create our first prototype. FastForward U really helped us cultivate the organizational structure of Aquatas. I’m good at the engineering side of things, but it helped me understand how to differentiate between creating a solution and being able to implement it.

Mokha: FastForward U has been a trampoline for us in what they provided in networking and infrastructure. Usually, startups take months or years to build up, and this has opened a lot of doors for us, especially with local companies here in the Baltimore area who are very familiar with Hopkins and with what FastForward U has been doing.

From left to right, three men and one woman stand for a portrait.
(l-r) Aquatas members Zach Schmidt, Anish Mokha, Paarth Sharma, and Maya Foster take part in the 2019 JHTV DemoDay.

What has the Social Innovation Lab taught you about running your own company?

Sharma: The Social Innovation Lab has helped me learn more about social entrepreneurship. Aquatas is for-profit, but we want to have a social impact by distributing clean drinking water to areas of the world that may not have it. We’re learning how to deliver the social impact we’re promising and also how to adequately measure it. If we’re not delivering [that impact], we want to be able to change internally so we can.

Mokha: For the first few years, we were really focused on convincing people that our business model is sustainable, that we could meet our bottom line, and that they should give us money so we could continue our work. The Social Innovation Lab has helped us re-emphasize the amount of social impact that we want to have before making our next leap as a company.

What are you most proud of so far?

Sharma: None of us had any experience in this area before this project. We realized that having a network at Hopkins made it possible to do this project. At the beginning of our freshman years, you would’ve thought it was not feasible at all given our experience and our background. Going from there to being at the Demo Day and having people ask to buy our device is awesome.

Mokha: The coolest thing for me is what we’ve been able to accomplish with a laptop, a phone, and a Hopkins student ID. We’ve been able to go out and convince people that, “yes, this is something meaningful. This is something that needs to be implemented in the world.” That, for me, has been the most rewarding aspect.

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Topics: Alumni, Corporations, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, Whiting School of Engineering, Fuel Discovery