Take old friends from the army, mix in equal parts problem-solving and innovation, and what do you get? Water from air, of course. Sounds like a fairy tale but it’s a true story coming out of Tel Aviv, Israel.
As David Gillo, Vice President of Business Development, shared in our recent interview, Water-Gen, founded in 2009, is a perfect example of an R&D company that started with one great idea—solving the logistical challenge of getting clean water to military troops in remote locations—and then spring-boarded into other state-of-the art solutions for water supply, including treatment of air conditioning run-off water and battery-operated mobile water purification units, which they sell to armies around the world.
Now Water-Gen is poised to innovate in other exciting new directions. In fact, according to a report in Fast Company, where Water-Gen made the 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2014 list, the small company’s revenue grew 50% in 2013, and it expects 300% growth in 2014. Along the way company leaders are instilling a wellbeing culture that puts innovation, rejuvenation, and family first.
Water-Gen’s Outside-the-Box Thinking
“We began in the military market, but we’re looking to grow to many other places,” says Gillo. “We’re thinking about areas where our units can add value for civilians, such as humanitarian and disaster relief, specifically first responders. Because, often when you have a flood or an earthquake there’s water all over the place but you can’t use that water.”
Water-Gen’s water-from-air technology works like this: air sent through a unit goes through a humidification process that gathers the water and purifies it for drinking. Beyond use in military and disaster environments, Gillo believes Water-Gen technology can be useful in developing countries like India, which needs a drinking water alternative to unclean tap water and pricey bottled water.
“India is a country of a billion people and its water problem is just going to grow. Millions, probably tens of millions, of water bottles are consumed there,” making this a trash issue as well as a clean drinking water challenge, Gillo says. In the future, Water-Gen could see working with India to create residential water units that would greatly lower the cost of clean water and reduce the amount of plastic-bottle trash.
Whether it’s helping India address a long-standing problem or getting clean water to soldiers in Afghanistan, Gillo says, “you need to open your mind to the array of possibilities around the world. If you open your mind, everything can come to you. It’s all about asking, ‘Where can I add human value with my technology into places that no one thought about before?’ You just need to think about it differently. You need to think outside the box.”
One of Water-Gen’s out-of-the-box projects that answers the “where can I add value” question doesn’t involve drinking water at all. Instead the company is looking at how to improve the efficiency of household consumer products such as air conditioners, humidifiers, and clothes dryers. “Now, if we were very narrow-minded in only making water from air, we wouldn’t see this option to suddenly expand into many other ways that we can add value,” says Gillo. “We wouldn’t see this option to use our technology to expand from the military to a whole new idea of consumer product.”
How Wellbeing Fuels Business at Water-Gen
When a company is going full-tilt ahead with innovation and successful product launches it can be hugely fulfilling, but Gillo and Water-Gen’s other leaders know that the work alone is not enough. They believe that the company’s commitment to careful hiring contributes to its wellbeing: “We are aware of how the company looks—that there’s diversity with women, men, people from different backgrounds,” Gillo says. And the company couldn’t think out of the box so well if it wasn’t also breaking out of the work box now and then, he says. “We had a large public holiday here in Israel where there were 3 days of work, and so my CO said, ‘Okay, everybody take a one-week vacation just to escape from the burden of the work that we’re doing.’”
Because the company is small—just 20 people so far—it still has a family feeling that is very important to its success, Gillo says. “We’re very connected and we take care of each other personally alongside of the work. So it really adds to everybody’s motivation; they don’t come only for the innovative work we do, they come for the people and the purpose.”