Foundation of the month: Vitru Water

PUBLISHED ON
22.05.2024
Author
Daniela Musial-Lemberg
Category
Founder of the month
Overview

What does your company stand for?

At Vitru Water, we want to use our ideas and products to contribute to a fairer water supply, especially in the Global South. No one should have to walk for kilometres just to get enough drinking water. To this end, we develop frugal innovations – simple, robust and low-maintenance solutions that can be used anywhere in the world.

 

Where and how did you get the brilliant idea to found the company?

Katrin and David worked for many years in a BMBF research project at KIT – IWG, in which a new type of water supply system was implemented for 10,000 people in northern Vietnam. The basic concepts of our solution were developed and tested here. Many things worked well as part of the research project, but the approaches were still too complex for the open market. After our time at KIT, we therefore considered how these concepts could also be successful on the open market. After a lot of tinkering and further development, our first product ‘Vitruvio’ was created.

How did the founding team come together?

Yannick and David are old sandbox friends and have known each other all their lives. With his experience in innovation and business management, Yannick brings many important aspects to the team. Katrin and David spent their entire civil engineering studies together. They both spent several months on a water project in Indonesia for their Bachelor’s thesis and built a suspension rope bridge in Sri Lanka together with the university group Engineers without Borders.

 

Where do you see the hurdles in the founding process? Where did you get support?

We have a strong purpose-driven / meaningful approach in our company. Profit maximisation is not our focus. In addition, working in the Global South, where our customers are mostly governments, brings with it many uncertainties. We are therefore not a classic investor case and are all the happier about financing models such as EXIST. The biggest hurdle at the moment is building a valid business model and generating predictable long-term sales.

What was one of your biggest challenges during the start-up phase?

None of us originally wanted to found a company. We all ‘slipped into’ founding through our product and the idea behind it, the positive feedback from third parties and also through successes in various innovation competitions. That’s why we first had to realise what and how we actually wanted to found a company. In addition to a pure corporation, we could also consider, for example, a non-profit organisation or even a hybrid of both types of company. The EXIST workshops at the beginning of our funding programme in particular gave us more clarity here.

 

From today’s perspective, what would you perhaps do/approach differently?

Self-employment was not an issue in our engineering degree programme. We would have liked to have dealt with the topic earlier, then we might have started to give our ideas and concepts a slightly different focus earlier.

What qualities do you think a founder should have?

Founding a company always means a lot of uncertainty and usually a difficult initial phase. So you should definitely be passionate about your topic and not just start up for the sake of starting up. Generally speaking, it’s a balancing act in many respects: short-sighted planning vs. a big vision; ease and confidence vs. doggedness and doubt.

 

Do you have any practical tips for other young company founders?

Deal with the topic of founding as early as possible. We have met many founders who have already founded or prepared their start-up during their studies or doctorate. This is a wonderful time to try out or play around with lots of things.

 

What are your plans for the future? What are your next big milestones?

Together with a local project partner, we have submitted two applications for water supply projects in the state of Assam in northern India. Funding from the Indian Ministry of Rural Development has already been approved. The projects aim to improve the water supply for 1,500 and 10,000 people using our concepts. The first project is due to start in September 2024. Our major milestone is therefore that our first products will go into operation in 2025 and thus lead to a fairer water supply.

 

Thank you for answering the questions!

 

PODCAST

Listen to the podcast episode with David and Yannick. Daniela talks to them about their founding stories, their mission, B2G start-ups, the challenges of their project in India and much more.

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